Addicted to Love

Posted by on 03 10 13 in Love Addiction News | Comments Off on Addicted to Love

Have you even wondered why some people fall so hopelessly in love that they begin to act like an obsessed stalker? How is it that most of us can refrain from acting certifiably insane while a few lose their minds over a new love interest?

Although the body part we most often associate with love is the heart, being “in love” with someone often triggers participation of other body parts, such as the brain. Like many human emotions, however, our ability to feel love is a complicated biological and chemical process that scientists have yet to fully understand.

There is some evidence to suggest that the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline play at least some role in being in love. And this would actually make sense as these chemicals allow us to more effectively focus attention, maintain absurdly high levels of energy and, in extreme cases, obsess about certain things. All of these behaviors are hallmarks of being madly in love.

Although the science behind love is, admittedly, not one of psychology’s more pressing issues, it is interesting enough to have caught the attention of at least a few medical researchers. For instance, one experiment conducted by Helen Fisher in association with Albert Einstein College of Medicine was deemed important enough to be featured in Time Magazine. Fisher wanted to determine both the biology and chemistry of love.

In Fisher’s experiment, a subject was shown both a picture of their love interest and a picture of someone for which they have no romantic feelings. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers were able to pinpoint the areas of the brain that were trigged for each of the photos — theses areas lit up like Christmas trees. And because certain chemicals are responsible for activating particular areas of the brain, researchers could also hypothesize which substances were activated when the subject visualized his or her obsession versus someone about which they felt neutral.

Although the experiment revealed that being in love is a complicated emotion that triggers more than one areas of the brain, the main thrust of the results was that thinking about the person you love triggers the reward or pleasure center of the brain.

The strongest responses occurred at one of the most primitive areas of the brain — the caudate nucleus, which is located at the center of the organ. Further, the stronger the level of “passion” reported by the subject, the brighter the caudate nucleus glowed. The caudate nucleus had previously been found to be part of our reward or “pleasure” system, the part of the brain most often blamed for addiction diseases like alcoholism and drug abuse.

In addition to the caudate nucleus, researchers also discovered that viewing a picture of the love interest triggered activity in the ventral tegmental area, a part of the brain also believed to be involved in the brain’s pleasure system. Further, because the ventral tegmental area is responsible for distributing dopamine throughout the brain, the results confirmed that dopamine plays just as big role in love as it does in addiction. Fisher used these findings to propose that the obsession we often feel during an intense love affair is akin to feelings experienced by people who are addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Now that we have discovered that the mechanism of love is similar to what happens in the brains of drug addicts and alcoholics, maybe doctors could use this newfound knowledge to devise a protocol for treating addiction to love.