Category: Couples / Close Relationships

PS8- #A1 - Effects of Oxytocin on Emotional and Physiological Responses to a Conflict Resolution Task in Couples With Substance Misuse

Saturday, Nov 18
8:30 AM – 9:30 AM
Location: Indigo Ballroom CDGH, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Addictive Behaviors | Couples / Close Relationships | Psychophysiology

Scientific inquiry regarding the therapeutic use of the neuropeptide oxytocin has increased significantly (Guastella et al., 2009). Oxytocin is a neuropeptide with mitigating effects on withdrawal, tolerance development, and self-administration of substances of abuse (McGregor & Bowen, 2012). In addition, oxytocin has been shown to have positive impacts on interpersonal functioning, and therefore may be useful in the treatment of distressed couples with substance misuse. However, literature demonstrating negative effects of oxytocin (e.g., Bartz et al., 2011; DeWall et al., 2014) and gender differences in oxytocin response highlight the need for further research before it can be used therapeutically. Furthermore, although the literature base on the effects of oxytocin in humans is growing, little research to date has examined the utility of oxytocin in the context of dyads. Relatively fewer studies have investigated certain subjective and physiological outcomes. Thus, the current study examined the effects of oxytocin on subjective (e.g., feelings of warmth and closeness towards one’s partner) and physiological (skin conductance) reactivity in 30 heterosexual, substance-misusing couples (N=60). Using a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled design, both partners within each dyad were randomized to the same treatment condition. Participants completed a standardized conflict resolution task at baseline and at 45 minutes following administration of oxytocin or placebo. Because oxytocin has demonstrated positive effects on other physiological measures such as HPA-axis dysregulation (Ditzen et al., 2009), we hypothesized that oxytocin would have more positive effects on both subjective and physiological outcomes. For each outcome a two-intercept multi-level growth curve model was used to examine the impact of gender and drug condition on scores over 5 time points (occurring over 1 hour) while controlling for baseline measures. Results indicate that positive subjective experiences and skin conductance measures increased over time. Neither drug condition nor gender was significantly related to outcomes, and no interaction effects were observed. Previous research with the same sample indicated that both gender and drug condition had an impact on couples’ behavior and cortisol levels (Flanagan et al., under review). Other research has also indicated that among male Veterans, the relationship between oxytocin and subjective reactivity to a laboratory social stress paradigm was not mediated by cortisol (Flanagan et al., in preparation). These findings further highlight the complexities involved in translating oxytocin into therapeutic interventions and suggest that the mechanisms by which oxytocin impacts human behavior require further exploration.

David T. Solomon

Assistant Professor
Western Carolina University
Waynesville, North Carolina

Paul Nietert

Medical University of South Carolina

Sudie E. Back

Professor, Addiction Sciences Division
Medical University of South Carolina/Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
Charleston, South Carolina

Daniel Smith

Professor/Clinical Training Director
Medical Unversity of South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina

Kathleen Brady

Medical University of South Carolina, Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center

Julianne C. Flanagan

Assistant Professor
Medical University of South Carolina/Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
Charleston, South Carolina