love

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Your Love Is My Drug: The Science Of A Broken Heart

By Nicole Tay
CommonHealth Intern

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and we know what that means. Cheesy cards and too many heart-shaped candies, yes, but also, possibly: a break-up.

According to an analysis of Facebook statuses, the weeks following Valentine’s Day mark one of the most common periods during the year to end a relationship. A break-up at any time is miserable, but perhaps a scan of the latest brain science might ease some of the agony. Maybe.

(Nicholas Raymond/Flickr)

(Nicholas Raymond/Flickr)

NPR recently dove into this topic and took a look at some psychological therapies for a broken heart. But what about chemical, neurobiological and other treatments? Could a brain implant for a broken heart be in your future?

First, a quick look at the chemicals driving our desire to please, the yearning for our lovers and our addiction to love. Many of us are familiar with the euphoria associated with the feeling of being in love, and its counterpart, the crushing grief that can accompany a break-up.

When a romantic relationship ends, our brains work tirelessly to rewire our associations with our ex-lovers.

Similar to cases of drug addiction, falling out of love can entail a physically and emotionally painful withdrawal period. In fact, addiction to another person appears to parallel drug addiction anatomically and functionally. In a 2012 review of social attachment, love and addiction, researchers identified numerous areas of neurological overlap between love and other drugs.

Not only do we utilize some of the same neurotransmitters and regions of our brain to maintain these addictions, the researchers found, but we also exhibit the same “reward-seeking” behavior when we do not get our fix. The difference (or at least one difference) is that love is a socially acceptable form of drug addiction. Continue reading

Love Is A Drug — A Pain Reliever

It sure does feel like a drug when you’re madly in love. I just read a description in the novel “The Spirit of the Place: “…that “astonishing feeling when your heart seems made of feathers and diamonds and floats up sparkling in your chest.”

Turns out love acts in your brain like a drug, too — it lights up your reward centers just like cocaine, and dampens pain like a good anesthetic.

A new Stanford study just out in the journal PLOS ONE — weird name but excellent scientific journal — scanned the brains of undergraduates as they experienced the pain of a “thermal stimulator” on the palms of their hands. When a picture of their beloved was flashed before them, it provided not just distraction but actual relief. And the brain pathways resembled those involved in the highs of illicit drugs.
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