Now that Valentine’s Day is near, let’s take a look at how love can make you do certain things, like act strange and be fixated about one thing–the ‘love of your life’.
Don’t you think a person in love acts somewhat life a person who is addicted?
As an old adage says, “Love has caused more wars than hate”–or any other catalyst, for that matter. Money, politics, alcohol, drugs, and sports, they all pale in front of one’s strong desire to love and be love. In fact, love may have started more brawls and adult feuds more than any other.
The effects of love on the brain, and on a person, are strikingly the same when compared to how drugs affect the brain.
If you can remember that famous 80’s ad of ‘Your Brain on Drugs’ where a man fries an egg and creates a metaphor of one’s brains out of it, you can imagine your brain as such as well–when in love.
Before you find this notion ludicrous, there is actually a study that uses Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) technology to examine the brain. An fMRI track the blood flow to certain parts of the brain when that part is activated by certain stimuli. With fMRI, you can watch what happens in your brain in real time. Science was able to map the effects of various addictive drugs, thanks to this technology.
In a study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, researchers examined the effects of passionate romance. Through fMRI, they tracked the brain activity of 17 individual subjects who reportedly are intensely in love. Researchers monitored each participant’s brain responses as they were showed random photographs of his or her loved ones and other familiar but not beloved people.
The study concluded with the following findings:
- Intense romantic love stimulates the striatum, which is in the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain responsible for our “pleasure center.”
- Intense romantic love also activates a specific part of the brain that assigns value to pleasurable and life-sustaining activities, called the insula. This part of the brain allows us to continue engaging in things that we like and value.
Another study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, examines the difference between sexual attraction and long-term love using fMRI data from 20 subjects shown photos of loved ones, familiar people, and pornographic materials. They have found that both long-term love and sexual attraction, also known as limerence, activates the nucleus accumbens, but only love activates the insula.
How Does This Relate To Addiction?
These parts of the brain, the striatum and the insula, are the parts of the brain that are most heavily affected by addictive drugs. The feelings of limerence and love that a person feels is common when a person is addicted to substances such as cocaine and heroin.
“Love is actually a habit that is formed from sexual desire as desire is rewarded. It works the same way in the brain as when people become addicted to drugs,” states Dr. Jim Pfaus, the lead author of the second study.
This means that attraction, desire, and lasting love has neurochemical effects that are the same as addictive substances. This is why people who are in love are as obsessive as people who are on drugs. So to an extent, it can be seen that love can be formed as an addiction. Those who have unrequited or forsaken love, or are heartbroken, can be as devastated to commit stalking, suicide, murder, or homicide. It becomes constructive addiction when it is reciprocated and valued by the other party.
Addiction can be similar to love in the sense that those who are in a budding romance can feel a certain neurochemical “rush” that makes us want to keep seeing the person or prolong the relationship.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that people who are in love needs to go into treatment or rehab. Loving does not mean you are clinically addicted. In fact, healthy relationships are encouraged and is far from addiction. For something to be called addiction, negative consequences to one’s life, livelihood, relationships, and health much be present.
Love is something that feels good and must be celebrated! Happy Valentine’s Day to all!
If you or your loved one is suffering from substance or behavioral addiction that threatens to create multitude of negative effects to his or her life, don’t hesitate and give us a text or call: