Why is love addictive?

love-addiction copy

Brain imaging has confirmed what lovers have long-known. The crazy fixation we call romantic love is an addiction. . . maybe that’s why the Greeks called romantic love “the madness of the gods.”

Anyone who has ever been in the clutches of irrational infatuation knows the symptoms. Seemingly inexhaustible energy allows you to talk until dawn.  Satiated with love, you don’t need to eat; you feel you can live on air. Elated when things are going well, you sink into despair when things look like collapsing.

Noticeably there is a real dependence on the relationship, says Dr Helen Fisher, an expert on romantic love whose books including Why We Love trace the physical and psychological dependence of this primary human drive.

And dependence it is. Brain scans of love-stricken couples compared with men and women injected with cocaine, show many of the same brain regions become active.  So how does this happen?

Three Classic Symptoms

Directly or indirectly, all “drugs of abuse” affect a single pathway in the brain, the reward centres activated by dopamine. Romantic love stimulates parts of the same pathway with the same chemical.

In response to dopamine, the bewitched lover shows three classic symptoms of addiction: tolerance, withdrawal and relapse.

Tolerance: At first you’re happy to see loved one now and then… but very quickly you need them more and more until you “can’t live without them.”

Withdrawal: Dropped by your lover? The rejected one shows all the classic signs of drug withdrawal – depression, crying, anxiety, insomnia, loss or appetite or binge eating, irritability and chronic loneliness. You’ll also go to humiliating lengths to “procure a fix” – to see your lover, and try and renew the relationship.

Relapse: Long after the affair is over, hearing a particular song, or revisiting an old haunt can trigger the craving and initiate compulsive calling or writing to get another “high”. The lover is “a slave of passion.” Or rather – a slave to dopamine.

The Dopamine High

Dopamine. It’s at the core of our sexual drives and survival needs, and it motivates us to do just about everything. This mechanism within the reward circuitry of the primitive brain has been around for millions of years.

It’s behind a lot of the desire we associate with eating and sexual intercourse. Similarly, all addictive drugs trigger dopamine (the “craving neurochemical”) to stimulate the pleasure/reward circuitry. So do gambling, shopping, overeating, sexual climax and other, seemingly unrelated, activities. They all work somewhat differently on the brain, but all raise your dopamine.

You get a bigger blast of dopamine eating high-calorie, high-fat foods than eating low-calorie vegetables. You may believe that you love ice cream, but you really love your blast of dopamine. You’re genetically programmed to seek out high-calorie foods over others. Similarly, dopamine drives you to have sex over most other activities.

Boost Sexual Health

Many of the hormones involved in sex and love – including dopamine, serotonin and testosterone – are susceptible to stress or aging. They can be boosted by eating the right foods – including cottage cheese, chicken, dark chocolate, yoghurt, eggs, and oats, or by herbal and nutritional supplements like Herbal Ignite.