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Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2014 Apr;119:39-48. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2013.07.015. Epub 2013 Aug 1.

Why social attachment and oxytocin protect against addiction and stress: Insights from the dynamics between ventral and dorsal corticostriatal systems.

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Department of Clinical Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, van der Boechorststraat 1, NL-1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Electronic address:
Department of Clinical Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, van der Boechorststraat 1, NL-1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Electronic address:
School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Tilburg University, Warandelaan 2, 5037 AB Tilburg, The Netherlands. Electronic address:
Discipline of Pharmacology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia. Electronic address:


The present article advances a neurobiological model of the reciprocal associations between social attachment and drug abuse, and social attachment and chronic stress, as overlapping systems are involved in stress coping and social attachment. In terms of coping, responding to a novel stressor or challenge involves initial novelty processing and activation of learning mechanisms that allow habituation to the stressor through familiarization. Similarly, social attachments are initially formed by being attracted by rewarding properties of an as-yet novel individual, and subsequently developing feelings of attachment towards the familiarized individual. Attachment and familiarization increase the availability of "internal working models" for the control of behavior and emotion, which may explain why secure attachments are associated with increased resilience in the face of stress, accompanied by less reactive reward responding (i.e., increased resilience against drug addiction). The present article seeks to illuminate the role of the neuropeptide oxytocin, which may be involved in the overlapping mechanisms of stable attachment formation and stress coping by shifting processing from novelty and reward seeking to appreciation of familiarity. Oxytocin may accomplish this by facilitating a ventral-to-dorsal shift in activation in corticostriatal loops, which produces a shift from a reactive reward drive (wanting) to stable appreciation of familiar social aspects ("liking" or "loving"). The authors suggest that through dopaminergic, serotonergic and endogenous opioid mechanisms, oxytocin is involved in shifting the balance between wanting and liking in corticostriatal loops by facilitating consolidation of social information from ventral reactive reward systems to dorsal internal working models that aid in prospectively selecting optimal actions in the future, increasing resilience in the face of stress and addiction.


Addiction; Attachment; Derogation of alternatives; Dopamine; Novelty seeking; Oxytocin

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