…Are you addicted to love? Well our brains certainly seem to think so. From sexual attraction to long lasting love, the chemical powerhouse that is our brain is intricately involved with our reactions and desires for love. Most of us know or have at least heard of dopamine and its role in the brain to promote happiness. But further research into those ‘in love’ has found that love in the brain is far more complex than first thought.
To understand more the role that our brain chemistry plays, it is worth noting Helen Fisher, whose work with MRI scans has revealed much about the origins of dopamine in the brain. Focusing on individuals who classed themselves as ‘in love’, Fisher’s team have revealed the effect of A10 cells, those responsible for releasing dopamine, and discovered its role as part of the brains reward system – the same part of the brain associated with the rush of addictive drugs. Fisher argues this release of dopamine is what creates romantic love – a base desire, not unlike our sex drives that strives to focus our desire to mate on one specific partner. Though it may not sound as romantic as a moonlit stroll or a bouquet of flowers on Valentines, Fisher has found that romantic love is not just a prerequisite of human behaviour, but is found across the animal kingdom with studies linking the release of chemicals in the reward system region of the brain.
What is more startling is the links that other studies have found behind neurochemicals and love. Much like Fisher’s research, it seems that not only are our brains capable of producing the rush of emotions associated with being in love, but that these feelings may well have an addictive quality. The fact is our brains in love are strikingly similar to our brains on drugs – certainly explaining the reckless behaviour we are all familiar with. Repeated studies have shown that love activates both the striatum and insula sections of our brains, areas associated with pleasure and assigning value. What is shocking is that these parts of the brain are the same areas affected by the use of addictive drugs such as heroin. Much like drug addiction, love is a habit formed from desires and the reward of such desire – in this case sexual. The neurochemical similarity between these two behaviours has certainly helped to explain the strength of erratic behaviour often associated with love, and the good and bad behaviour that love can prompt us towards.
That isn’t to say that those bubbly feelings you have when looking at the one you love are a bad thing however – the studies are quick to state that those in healthy relationships are not considered ‘addicted’ like those on drugs. But these chemical reactions do help explain the scarier aspects to love such as depression, particularly when it comes to obsessive and forsaken love. Perhaps Robert Palmer had something with that song after all…