Potential for limited reinforcing and abuse-related subjective effects of intranasal oxytocin

Sean B. Dolan, Meredith S. Berry, Patrick S. Johnson, Matthew W. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: There has been growing interest in using oxytocin as a pharmacotherapy for psychiatric disorders, including substance use disorder. Limited data exist regarding oxytocin’s reinforcing efficacy, which is a necessary consideration for novel pharmacotherapies, especially in substance-using populations. Aims: This study aimed to determine the potential reinforcing effects of intranasally administered oxytocin by assessing behavioral economic demand and subjective effects. Methods: Healthy adults (n = 23) participated in a double-blind, repeated-measures, laboratory study wherein they received intranasal oxytocin (40 IU) or placebo in a randomized order across two sessions. Participants completed drug purchasing tasks at the conclusion of both sessions. Throughout both sessions, subjective and physiological effects were assessed. Results: Demand-curve analysis of purchasing tasks revealed greater median purchasing for oxytocin relative to placebo. Physiological and subjective effects did not significantly differ between oxytocin and placebo. However, a nonsignificant trend was observed for moderately greater drug liking for oxytocin relative to placebo. There was a significant, positive correlation between the difference in drug liking (between oxytocin and placebo) and the difference in lowest-price purchasing (between oxytocin and placebo). Conclusions: These data suggest the potential for limited reinforcing and abuse-related subjective effects of intranasal oxytocin. Given the small sample, the greater drug liking of oxytocin compared to placebo, and the positive relation between demand and drug liking, it is possible that oxytocin may produce reinforcing effects in some participants. Therefore, additional studies of oxytocin reinforcement are warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)336-347
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Oxytocin
  • abuse liability
  • behavioral economics
  • subjective effects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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