Your Brain on Love

October 9th, 2006

A recent study (2000) using brain scan technology, performed at the University College in London, showed that people who were “madly in love” have brains that look very different from people experiencing other strong emotions such as anger and fear.  The brains of people in love have the same appearance as people who have euphoric experience on drugs like cocaine.  In fact the process of falling in love travels the same pathways associated with addiction.

The chemistry of love changes in different phases of relationships.  There really is no drug that is as good as the chemistry that the brain experiences in the early phases of love.  The experience is so vital and real, that many people leave long-term relationships for the experience.  This is especially true when an individual’s long-term relationship loses the feelings of security, comfort and calm that characterize healthy long-term attachments.  These feelings are generated chemically too, by oxytocin and vasopressin, both chemicals released with orgasm.  Couples who are not physically intimate are especially vulnerable to being literally swept off their feet by a chance encounter that stirs a strong chemical reaction in their brain.

I witnessed the pull of these strong chemical reactions on the relationship board of More magazine.  The top two issues were “unhappily married” and “married with a crush.”   The feelings that love creates are real- they occur on a cellular level and create powerful emotions- powerful enough to change lives.

I think it is important to recognize a few things about these chemical stages of love, the first euphoric love is easy, addictive, and unstable.  The attachment and comfort from later stages of love requires a good deal of commitment and hard work to sustain.  But if you can take some lessons from the incredible initial ride and bring them, at least every now and again into the work of staying in love- well that’s really a chemical shake worth drinking…

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