The Love Drug




Since man first walked the Earth, the quest for love has been a constant preoccupation and the loss of love has been a source of the most dramatic events, including suicide, homicide, and even terrible wars. Breakups can be perceived as failure and a promise of future loneliness, and they can have severe consequences such as depression and anxiety. Rejection in love can in fact be so dramatic, that it has been compared to withdrawal from addictive substances.

Characteristics of romantic love that make it akin to an addiction include mood swings, obsession, emotional dependence, loss of self-control and other potentially dangerous behavior patterns. According to Dr. Helen Fisher, a reputable expert on love and the brain, this addiction can become very destructive when the object of love is withdrawn, much in the same way as what happens when addicts stop taking their drug of choice.

In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Neuropsychology attempted to prove that what happens in the brain after a breakup is very similar to what takes place during an addict’s withdrawal period. This was done by comparing brain imaging from people going through a breakup with similar data from cocaine craving individuals, which showed some remarkable coincidences.

The scientists behind this research believe that their findings present further evidence that the passion of romantic love is not an emotion but rather “a goal-oriented motivation state,” as stated by Dr. Arthur Aron of Stony Brook University as early as 1991.

Although the samples of this and other similar studies are rather small, the neurological evidence does present a very strong case. In fact, when subjects were shown photographs of their former lover, the areas of the brain appearing stimulated included:

  • the ventral tegmental, which is in control of motivation and reward;
  • the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal/prefrontal cortex, which are associated with the dopaminergic reward system of cocaine addiction; and
  • the insular cortex and the anterior cingulate, both associated with physical pain and distress.

In a rather remarkable turn of events, it would appear that romantic love, arguably the highest of human emotions has been proven to have some very politically incorrect connections with certain drugs that enjoy a far less flattering reputation.

For all the different assumptions and anxieties people from all the different cultures of the world may encounter in the quest for a soulmate and for all the high art that romantic love has fathered throughout history, it would seem that, after all, we may well be all addicted as Cerati claimed in his song.

References

Aron A., Aron E. Love and sexuality. In: Sexuality in Close Relationships, edited by McKinney K., Sprecher S. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1991, 25–48.

Fisher HE, Brown LL, Aron A, Strong G, & Mashek D (2010). Reward, addiction, and emotion regulation systems associated with rejection in love. Journal of neurophysiology, 104 (1), 51-60 PMID: 20445032

Bartels A, & Zeki S (2000). The neural basis of romantic love. Neuroreport, 11 (17), 3829-34 PMID: 11117499

  • An earlier version of Ecstasy, known as MDA, was called the “love drug” back in the 60s and 70s, for its tendency to produce deep feelings of empathy and romantic love.

    • niraj yogi

      love creates poison when it is in failure and becomes drug when it is in mountain

  • Love a matter of believe. I appreciate Journal of Neuropsychology attempts. All is counts from psychology. Not at all… But i think so.. Very informative. keep it..

  • You would certainly appreciate the work of McAullife and McAullife The Essentials of Chemical Dependency. They make a strong statement in their definition of chemical dependency (addiction). It says, Chemical dependency is a pathological relationship to a mood altering chemical with the expectation of a rewarding experience. They put no differentiation to narcotic, caffeine or brain chemistry.

    Very interesting.

    • That sounds way interesting too. Thanks for the info. I shall check it out!

  • baljinder

    love is a feeling. love is affection.

  • Just because love and illegal drugs both activate the reward system in the brain doesn’t imply that love is as dangerous as heroine/cocaine/etc. However, some would argue that love is actually just as, if not more, dangerous. Ah, the mystery of the brain and all its neurons.

    • I don´t think danger is the matter here.
      These are just very interesting connections that help us learn a bit about why we feel the way we do…

      • sam

        This is very much true what you are saying!!

  • sameeksha

    i think love can give u pain as well as heal your wounds.its basically depends on the understanding between two souls.due to my break up i really came to know about the originality of this world.i appreciate your work and i think all must have read this…………………

  • love is the only drug that can revitalise your body and soul

    • Tfitz

      …and leave you crushed in the dirt, like an insect. Just though I’d rain on that parade.

  • Craig

    On the serious side, the biochemistry of emotion appears to be coincidental with the referenced “goal-orientated motivational state. Perhaps, analagous to memory, the biochemistry of emotion serves to tag an event in a manner that fosters accessibility.

    On the unserious side, please don’t mention this topic ever again. Do you really want it to be regulated and taxed?

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  • Chirine

    Love. This word makes me laugh now, it has been used and abused, talked about, complained about. Used for attaining a certain goal (sex), for creating jealousy, for keeping ones job and even as far as beeing kept on a parent’s will.

    What does Love really mean anyways? If we reflect on to ourselves and study what the needs of humans are, we realise that the list is long and rarely does it ever start with LOVE. IT is a broad word, it’s like the basket that holds all the necessities to reach self satisfaction. Moreover, not every “love” is the same. Let’s take The mother towards her child for exemple; what they share is magical, is unforgettable, is…unconditional and using the word love in this context takes the brain roboticaly to that same place where the word has been abused and many a time been stained by negative emotions that it loses the real representation of this magical bond. In addition and in the romantic context, we come to realise that our strongest feelings of love leading to feeling “addicted to this drug” and demonstrating withdrawal symptoms, were in our teenage years and specifically while living our first crush. This is when our need to be seen and accepted was the strongest and someone came along satisfying those two elements of our basket. Between parenthesis, we are made in a way that each and every single one of us perceives the world revolving around us, so we are crucial to ourselves, therefore having the need of beeing told how important we are. He, or she comes along and embrasses our traits, leaving us wanting more…attention? Why is it that Love transforms in a mariage from a passionated, lit up romanticaly, Titanic movie to a more dull lenghty soap opera? It is not the “love” that changes. It’s,again, the necessities. At first, we were told how beautiful/handsome charming, funny, sexy, pleasant to be around, fun to listen to, exciting to make love to… all leading to discovering one another, then as the years progress and perhaps the needs shit(financial problems, children, in-laws …)leaving us saddened of no longer beeing the other’s center of the universe (and I quote you in your poem 🙂 ) Our necessities become short of beeing met and our “love” takes on a new colour, a darker one and the line between love and hate becomes so fine that, we don’t realise when we cross it, and that is on a daily basis.

    Yes, its a beautiful word and yes it makes our heart beat a tad faster when beeing told the famous treesome : I love you, but unfortunately in many contexts it takes away from our true emotions of the real message we want to bring accross. Instead of saying “I love you”, next time give it a meaning by saying ” I appreciate your presence” or “I admire your intelligence” or simply “you make me happy”, this will force the brain to analyse un poco mas instead of throwing us back in that familiar and numbed area. On an other and final note, what exactely did they mean by “love can move mountains” they clearly must have been intoxicated, and yet people quote it, beeing intoxicated with that four letter word. Love.

  • Arun

    love is the only drug that can revitalise your body and soul

  • robert

    thankyou mam for u nice information, LOVE plays a dual role in Life, it acts as a rejuvinating drug for any kind of depression&sorrows at the same time Love acts as poision in case if True love FAILS.

    great work u have done

    thankyou

    Robert

  • TWITCH

    “LOVE” is a chemically driven urge, that not only leads to reproduction, but also ensures that a couple will remain together for, on average, at least 2 years; long enough to ensure the health of a child. This is NO different than our stomachs aching to drive us to eat. Our body has primal needs, and in order to keep us from dying due to basic-idiotic laziness, we have unpleasant-or-extremely-pleasureful urges. Hunger, fear, exhaustion, sex drive, and yes, even “love”, are ALL mere chemical impulses stemming from the pituitary gland, driven by our primal instincts to ensure survival of the species, and fruitful reproduction.

Veronica Pamoukaghlian, MA

Veronica Pamoukaghlian, MA, holds a Masters in Creative Writing. She has directed two documentaries shot in psychiatric wards and a feature documentary about the 77-year old senior Decathlon champion of the world, Raul. Her last production is Monstruo, a short film about non-voluntary euthanasia. She is the CEO of Uruguayan film production company Nektar FIlms. You may visit her blog at The Wander Life
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