Love - More like an addiction than we think

Racing heart, sweating palms, all-consuming and obsessive longing, inability to think of anything else, irrational thoughts and behaviour… sounds like a shopping list of symptoms for addiction doesn’t it?

If you’ve ever fallen head over heels in love, you probably counted at least some of these in yourself. New love has many of the same characteristics as an addiction.

People who are newly in love tend to think only of their beloved and spend inordinate amounts of time and energy pursuing this love object often to the detriment of other important aspects of daily life.

It’s not a coincidence that popular sayings about new love sound like descriptors of addiction - “I’ve got it bad”, “head over heels”, “crazy in love” or even “falling in love” etc. all imply a loss of control.

Of course falling in love isn’t necessarily a problem the way a drug or gambling addiction is. It doesn’t always lead to ruin and can lead to a beautiful relationship with someone who shares similar life goals and values – and is a wonderfully intoxicating feeling.

But I do want to advise you to be careful who you fall in love with.

When you are physically attracted to another person and begin dating you put yourself in a vulnerable position and you may become attached in spite of red flags indicating a less than ideal match.

A recent study performed brain scans of individuals happily in love as well as people who were in love, but had recently experienced a breakup of the relationship. Those in the rejected group showed greater activity in an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens – associated with risk taking, intense motivation to win and ruminations on the intentions and actions of others.

Scans also found activity in the orbital frontal cortex – a region linked to controlling anger and obsessive-compulsive behaviour.

The findings of this study could have implications for domestic violence (which I will discuss in next week’s column), but they also show a brain reaction to the addiction-like symptoms of love and what they can lead to in cases of unwanted break up.

My advice to lovers today – be careful who you fall in love with. It is a powerful force and should not be entered into lightly. Wait until you find someone who is right for you – with whom you share interests, goals and values. Under the right circumstances, with the right person love is a wonderful experience.

But for those of you who are already in love with the wrong person and have been rejected: treat this the way you would if you were giving up another addiction.

Steer clear of your ex – don’t call, email or write. Distract yourself – get a hobby, spend time with friends or exercise.

Eventually, the chemistry recedes just as it does when you give up smoking or drinking. Have patience.


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