Love Affects Brain Much Like Addiction, Scientists Say

NEW YORK | Friday, February 24th, 2012 6:10pm EDT

American scientists have found that romance stimulates the brain in a similar way to recreational drugs.

Love Affects Brain Much Like Addiction Scientists Say 01

You start to crave the person you're in love with like a drug, the researchers said. Photo: MassonForStock/Flickr

“You can feel happy when you’re in love, but you can also feel anxious,” said Lucy Brown, a neuroscientist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “The other person becomes a goal in life.”

Researchers compared magnetic resonance images of the brains of 10 women and seven men who claimed to be fallen in love.

As The Telegraph notes, the length of their relationships varies from one month to less than two years. Participants were shown photographs of their beloved, and photos of a similar-looking person.

So, the experiment showed that while participants were looking at images of their second halves, their brain were producing emotional responses in the same parts of the brain normally involved with motivation and reward.

“Intense passionate love uses the same system in the brain that gets activated when a person is addicted to drugs,” said study co-author Arthur Aron, a psychologist at the State University.

Experts have previously claimed that love is one of the most powerful emotions a person can have. Humans’ brains have been wired to choose and win over a mate, sometimes going to extremes to get their attention and affection.

Dr Aron is sure: “For most people, the standard pattern is a slow decline in passionate love but a growth in bonding.”

That bonding allows for the partners to stay together long enough to have and raise children. However, with the decline in passionate means a decrease in anxiety.

“As long as love remains, we get used to the relationship, and we’re not afraid our partner will leave us, so we’re not as focused on the craving,” Dr Aron said.

Dr Sean Mackey, the study leader and head of the Division of Pain Management at Stanford University Medical Center in California, said: “When people are in this passionate, all-consuming phase of love, there are significant alterations in their mood that are impacting their experience of pain.”

“It appears to involve more primitive aspects of the brain, activating deep structures that may block pain at a spinal level – similar to how opioid analgesics( the most effective analgesics by far) work,” he added.

Dr Jarred Younger, the co-researcher also from Stanford, agreed: “Love-induced analgesia is much more associated with the reward centers. The scientists concluded that that both love and distraction combat pain, but they act on very different brain pathways.

Back in 2004, Professor Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University, published a book on the phenomenon of love and the brain called “Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love.”

She found that love does manufacture a glorious chemical cocktail of four compounds inside our brains that produces what we define as love: dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and oxytocin, says The Washington Times.

Scientific American reviewed Fisher’s book, saying: “Most people think of romantic love as a feeling. Fisher, however, views it as a drive so powerful that it can override other drives….”

He added: “While emphasizing the complex and subtle interplay among multiple brain chemicals, Fisher argues convincingly that dopamine deserves center stage.”

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