Love may be a many-splendored thing, but love addiction is no romantic walk in the park.
Insufferable cliches aside, addiction to love can be quite a serious business. Brain scans have shown that an intense romance and all its side effects are similar to the effects of drug addiction in the brain.
What's it like when we fall in love or fall into the throes of romance? For one thing, we feel euphoric. We crave the good, fuzzy feelings we get from being in love. However it might not stop there. We then experience dependence, withdrawal, and relapse—much like the things that people with substance addictions experience.
But can people develop love addiction? This can be quite problematic, after all. It all boils down to the consensus on what “love” and “addiction” mean. The problem is that there is no consensus. There are contentions on the meaning and nature of both love and addiction.
However, a team of researchers at Oxford University has found a workable definition of what being addicted to love looks like. Apparently, when feelings of love begin causing negative effects on a person's life, it begins to resemble addiction.
The researchers found that there are two kinds of love addiction: a “narrow” and a “broad” kind.
We can find the narrow form of love addiction in people who are serial daters and cannot stand not being in a relationship. Once they break up with a partner, they need to find a replacement right away. They may also feel a strong need to constantly be around the object of their affection, which can lead to obsession or even stalking and murder.
Abnormal brain processes that involve reward signals often trigger behaviors that lead to substance abuse. The same is true for the narrow form of love addiction. Substances like drugs and alcohol flood the brain with dopamine and reward signals. This makes a person want to consume the substance again because of the good feelings it causes. The researchers found that feelings of love produce the same reward signals, which then make the person pursue those feelings again. Substance addiction can lead to destructive or socially unacceptable behaviors, and addiction to love can do so as well.
The broad form of the addiction apparently resembles “normal” love, but with the intense feelings of craving.
Of course, the study and its findings are not without their detractors. Lucy Brown, a neuroscientist who had been the first to suggest that love is akin to addiction, does not agree with the two classifications. She thinks that the study is “strange” and that the “broad” form is more agreeable. She also asserts that heartbreak is the phenomenon that needs treatment.
In the future, heartbreak and getting over someone may be easier to deal with. Certain drugs that can disrupt our affection for someone else may be able to treat love addiction. Our brains may also have “anti-love” networks that decrease our feelings of attachment. Knowing more about these networks may help people get over their affection for another person.
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!