Love activates addiction areas of the brain: study

Carolyn Morris
Shine OnJune 20, 2012

Madly in love? You may be an addict.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, feelings of love activate the same area of the brain as drug addiction.

"Addiction is probably a bonding mechanism," explains one of the researchers on the study, Concordia psychology professor Jim Pfaus. "It's essentially usurping systems that make us bond to our partners."

He says that you pine for a lover in the same way an addict might crave cocaine.

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"They're very similar phenomena, it's just that we tag them differently," he says. "But the systems that underlie it are very similar, if not identical."

Pfaus and his fellow researchers analyzed the results of 20 studies examining brain activity in response to sexual desire and to love.

Not only did they find that love seems to happen in the same place as addiction — in the stratium, a subcortical area associated with emotive action — but they also noticed a large overlap in the pathways of desire and those of love.

"The overlap tells us that maybe it's not possible to have love at first sight without some sort of desire component," says Pfaus.

"Do you really have love at first sight and not want to consummate this thing immediately? I don't think so."

The results seem to boil the magic of love down to a dependence on satisfying our sexual desires.

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And in fact, human brains in love do not look that different from the brains of animals that have bonded, says Pfaus. After working on this study, he started re-examining data from his animal research and noticed the similarities.

"I think there's a love and desire system in the mammalian brain that is influenced by bonding and by desire and craving," he says. "When they get connected, they create this thing that's greater than the sum of the parts. You're in love and you're bonded."

And just like with any addiction, once bonded, it's not easy to get un-bonded.

"You can go through withdrawal when somebody takes it away from you," says Pfaus.

He thinks that looking at drug addiction as a normal phenomenon might change the way we approach treatment.

"If it's got this bonding thing associated with it, this is why it has staying power," he says.

Watch the video below about three romantic date ideas that cost less than $20.

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