Drug would keep couples in love

Emily Mills

Arguments and bouts of unhappiness are essentially inevitable in long-term relationships and marriages. Some couples, however, are unhappier than others and struggle with issues of intimacy, affection and companionship.

In an effort to prevent these issues and keep couples happy and in love, doctors are working on a nasal spray containing an artificial form of the hormone oxytocin, often called the “love hormone.”

A recent report published in Current Opinion in Psychiatry examines the implications of using a drug to keep couples happy in their relationships. For an in-depth look at the report, visit http://bit.ly/15DFrLl.

According to the report, several factors could keep oxytocin from being an effective love drug. The drug has different effects on different people depending on a number of biological and personal factors. Many large-scale studies would need to be conducted. One of the biggest concerns is an ethical one stemming from the use of a drug to create artificial happiness.

Oxytocin is a hormone released from the pituitary gland in the brain. The neurotransmitter is important in social bonding, said Heather Caldwell, a biology professor at Kent State who researches the hormone.

“Those feelings you have of falling in love have to do with the release of oxytocin (in the brain),” Caldwell said.

What is your opinion on maintaining a long-term relationship while in college?

“I think it’s a great idea to maintain a long-term relationship. Going into college is a bit of a change. You can have someone there to relate with.”

– Devin Allen, PSEOP student from Field High School

“People shouldn’t be in college looking for a long-term relationship, but if you’re in a good one, you should try to maintain it. Don’t forget about what you’re here for, though.”

– Karene Diabre, sophomore psychology/pre-med major

“I think it could work, but both parties would have to be mentally and physically ready. College requires so much work, and both parties have to be mutually holding it together.”

– Stephanie Donell, freshman pre-nursing major

“It depends on what you’re looking for. If you view it as going beyond college, it’s a good idea. If you don’t view it as going beyond college, it’s not a good idea.”

– James Magda, senior construction management major

“If you feel you can handle it, with all the stresses, it’s possible.”

– Andrew Weaver, freshman architecture major

“I would rather be single in college. It’s a lot of effort trying to make things work, and there’s not enough time for me to even study for all my classes, so I don’t have time for a boyfriend. You can get distracted fast.”

– Sia-Mary Weima, junior public health/pre-med major

The artificial form being considered for an intranasal spray would mimic these effects, according to the report in “Current Opinion in Psychiatry”.

In studies of oxytocin, the drug has improved participants’ social bonding and trust skills. It has also improved their ability to read facial expressions, Caldwell said. However, these studies have been small, and the long-term effects of oxytocin are unknown.

The drug is still in the very early research stages, so little is known about how effective it may be, Caldwell said.

“There are couples who struggle with intimacy for a variety of reasons,” said Donna Bernert, a human sexuality professor at Kent State. “This may be an authentic option for those couples.”

However, Bernert says much more research needs to be done on the drug.

A significant concern Bernert has with the drug is the underlying issues causing unhappiness in the relationship aren’t being resolved.

“Lifelong relationships require lots of work. I’m concerned a nasal spray may be viewed as a cure-all for relationship issues, and it’s just not realistic,” Bernert said.

Bernert is not the only one with hesitations. Karene Diabre, sophomore psychology and pre-med major, said she does not expect the drug to be effective.

“Those things can’t last. It’s a superficial solution to a deeper problem. Most relationships can be saved, but if it can’t, separation might be the better thing,” Diabre said.

Freshman architecture major Andrew Weaver said he is a bit more hopeful.

“It could work, but it’s getting away from the issues you might need a marriage counselor for,” Weaver said.

The fact that the medical community is considering this drug raises a serious question: Are human beings meant to be in lifelong relationships?

Bernert says the answer is yes.

“It really depends on the individual and what they want in their lives,” she said.

Susan Roxburgh, a sociology professor at Kent State, said just because the nation is experiencing a high rate of divorce does not mean the institution of marriage no longer works in our society.

“Marriage is a highly valued role. Long-term, stable relationships are healthy for people. The divorce rate is high because people value marriage. They don’t want to be in a low-quality marriage,” Roxburgh said.

However, Bernert said, if couples are experiencing problems in their marriages, they should resort not to a drug, but to a tried-and-true method to fixing relationships: open and honest communication.

Caldwell agreed, saying it’s important to remember taking this drug would be a temporary fix.

“Something like oxytocin doesn’t cause behavior to happen,” Caldwell said. “If the context isn’t right, you can squirt oxytocin up your nose all day and nothing’s going to happen. It’s not going to make someone fall in love with you. It’s not going to be a love potion.”

Contact Emily Mills at [email protected].