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Wired to Fail

Could Oxytocin Be Involved in "Off-His-Meds" Violence?

It's been widely reported that Stephen Phillip Kazmierczak, the Northern Illinois University student whose shooting rampage killed five and injured 20, had stopped taking anti-depressants a few weeks before he lost it.

On PsychCentral, psychologist John Grohol examines how likely it is that Kazmierczak -- or anyone else -- might be pushed over the edge of sanity by antidepressant withdrawal.

Antidepressants work by elevating the levels of serotonin available in the brain. Serotonin is a mood stabilizer, and it's assumed that more of it equals better. Grohol cites research showing that most of the fluoxetine (the generic name for Prozac, which the shooter presumably took) is gone from the body within three weeks. Therefore, his brain should have returned to its normal state, instead of pushing him into violence.

But Grohol points out that fluoxetine can influence the levels of other brain chemicals even after it's supposedly passed from the body -- and he uses oxytocin as an example. In a rat study,

During further withdrawal from fluoxetine, there was a gradual increase in the oxytocin response toward control levels. However, even 60 days after discontinuation of fluoxetine, the oxytocin response was still significantly reduced by 26% compared with controls.
Now, oxytocin has been shown to increase empathy and trust in people who inhale it, so it's extremely likely that the oxytocin our hypothalami put out does the same. Oxytocin also acts throughout the body to reduce the stress response.

So, could the lack of oxytocin in Mr. Kazmierczak's system have caused him to be extremely stressed out, unable to manage stressful situations?

Could he also have lost the ability to see other people as like himself, with needs and desires?

Could he have been unable to ask for and accept the consolation and affection from others that helps us overcome pain and loss?

Could all this have combined to make it easy to pull the trigger?