According to a new study, you really can be addicted (using that word in the most scientific way) to love.
After researchers looked at brain scans of those who had recently broken-up with loved ones, they found that recovering from a break-up is very similar to kicking an addiction to a drug.
“Romantic love is an addiction,” said Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University and author of a recent study. Fishers believes that more contemporary addictions to things like nicotine, drugs, sex, or gambling are modern adaptations to the same ancient brain pathway that evolved millions of years ago. That love pathway evolved as a way to glue individuals to one another, focusing intense energy on a particular individual to ensure the continuation of our species.
Fisher, who has studied love, sex and relationships for more than a decade, previously focused on those happily in love. More recently, Fisher wanted to find out what was going on in the brain when sudden loss of love happened. She sees her most recent study using the just-jilted and dejected is he most important study she’ll ever do.
“Nobody gets out of love alive,” Fisher said. “You turn into a menace or a pest when you’ve been rejected. That’s when people stalk or commit suicide. (Love is) a very powerful brain system that has a dramatic effect on your entire life.”
The rejected love study
To test her love-as-an-addiction hypothesis, Fisher recruited 15 college-age, heterosexual men and women still raw and reeling from a recent break-up. On average, the participants had been rejected about two months prior to the study and said they were still in love.
As the participants looked at images of their ex lovers, the researchers looked at images of the participants’ brains.
Interestingly, the parts of the brain that lit up in Fisher’s study were the same ones associated with cocaine and nicotine addiction. The brain showed real physical pain as well as distress and attachment.
“There really is such a thing as a love addict,” says Helen Fisher. “When you are in love you absolutely crave the object of your affection. You’re willing to do crazy, stupid things, just as a person would while fighting a drug addiction.”
While psychologists have long helped clients cope with obsessions with love and relationships, some say the backing of science supporting love as an addiction could further help those seeking treatment for the condition.
“People have always said time heals love — and now using neurofeedback, we can add ‘addiction and love’ to the list of addictions for which we can help our clients,” says Leanne O’Neil. “As time goes on, the pain of rejected love does begin to fade, but in the meantime, there is a lot we can do to help our clients with resiliency and moving forward with their lives.“