Research is backing up what songs have said for years – you can, truly, become addicted to love. Like cocaine or alcohol, recent studies are looking at how the brain reacts and responds to love in its pleasure centers, thereby creating an addiction.
Like other addictions, love addiction may create strong feelings of pleasure – but also strong cravings and feelings of anxiety, which can vary depending on the newness of the relationship.
As described in a Daily Mail article, scientists believe that the reaction at the brain level that is responsible for characteristics like rewards and motivation is also activated in a love relationship. Because people are wired at the brain level to find a partner, the brain may be involved in dramatic and intense motivation to find and keep that partner.
The result can sometimes be love addiction, with similar symptoms like obsessive thoughts and an inability to control cravings that alcohol or drugs would create.
Researchers in the study, managed by New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, also said that strong feelings of anxiety can also accompany a love-related addiction. Feelings of both pleasure and anxiety are believed to be part of survival mechanisms, similar to the urge for sex.
When the love is strong or passion-filled, say researchers, key areas of the brain can actually be activated in equal intensity to when a person becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs.
Scientists used MRI imaging to look at how the brain responded when participants viewed images for their loved one or someone who looked like their loved one. For couples who were in established relationships, certain areas of the brain related to enjoying rewards or attachment were more activated.
Although the areas like passion seemed to lessen over time for these couples, the areas of brain activity related to anxiety lessened, too.
In turn, the people in the committed relationships showed fewer symptoms related to love addiction, such as lessened preoccupations with cravings for love and fewer anxiety-related symptoms.