When we think of romantic love, especially at its beginning stages, we often think of lust, passion, excitement and euphoria; as love continues to grow, we go through stages such as emotional/physical dependence and tolerance, and if we separate from our significant other we may experience withdrawal, depression, and relapse. This sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it? In fact, the very stages we’ve just described for love tend to happen with addiction – how is this possible? In a way, love seems completely different from drug use, yet when we break things down, there are quite a few similarities. Many researchers have aimed to answer this very question: just how similar are love and addiction?
A 2016 study published in the journal Frontier Psychology proposed that romantic love is a natural and often positive form of addiction that dates back to our survival and reproduction nearly 4 million years ago. In fact, the study argues that brain image scanning shows “reward” regions and emotional regulation areas of the brain being activated when intense romantic love is experienced just as substance and behavioral addictions are experienced. Another piece of research written by scholars from China and the United States in 2016 also defended the argument that love and addiction affect dopamine in the brain, which the researchers argue could lead to new implications for treatment. Besides dopamine, what other similarities arise between the two?
Drug: Taken in larger amounts over longer periods of time, persistent desire to use, cravings
Love: Feeling as though “time flies” when with a partner, not being able to stay away, longing for one another
Drug: Important social, recreational, and occupational activities may be given up
Love: Less time may be spent with friends or family and more with the significant other
Drug: Continued use despite persistent physical or psychological problems that affect daily life
Love: In very small cases, physical or emotional abuse in a relationship
Drug: Tolerance for the drug and, later, withdrawal symptoms when drug use has stopped
Love: Relational transition from euphoria to contentment, grief or separation anxiety when not together
Of course, romantic love does not typically decrease a person’s quality of life, health and well-being the way addiction does. However, this information can give further insight into how the brain works, particularly the reward region that processes dopamine.
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