“Love is one of the most extraordinary sensations that human beings can enjoy. But have you ever broken your soul? Have you broken your heart to bits?”
The drug of love: why is love addictive?
The chemistry of love is able to make you feel the most awesome sensations or make you suffer a downer. That love is like a drug is totally true, and it has certain really curious side effects.
As a study of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine points out, when love is broken, just as when a person is addicted to drugs, the consequences of addiction are so strong that they can lead to serious depressive and obsessive behaviors. As we have seen in a recent article, love can cause emotional dependence. In the following lines you will know why.
The chemical compounds and hormones that love generates
Love releases dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, so when we fall in love we feel excited, full of energy and our perception of life is magnificent. But the neurochemicals of falling in love come in jets and over time, just as happens when someone uses drugs for a long period of a long period, tolerance or what is commonly known as habituation.
When the chemical cascade drops, there are many people who interpret it as a loss of love (MacDonald & MacDonald, 2010). What really happens is that neuronal receptors have already become accustomed to this excess of chemical flow and the lover needs to increase the dose to continue feeling the same. That can turn a natural fluctuation into a crisis, and the beautiful phrase can come: “I do not feel the same”. But leaving a relationship is not always so simple.
The brain needs a recovery process to return to normal levels of chemical flow and it is necessary to allow time to recover stability.
Oxytocin: a hug is worth a thousand words
The chemical cascade can make us lose our reason, but why is this happening?
Expert neurologists such as Gareth Leng believe that oxytocin helps forge permanent bonds between lovers after the first wave of emotion. The hormone acts by “changing the connections” of the billions of neural circuits. This hormone is known as the neurotransmitter of trust or hugs and is released in large amounts during orgasm and in smaller amounts when you are held by the hand or when animals lick their babies.
Oxytocin is an endogenous substance (secreted by the body) and acts as a drug (exogenous substance introduced into the body from the outside), releasing transmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine (norepinephrine) or serotonin. These neurotransmitters allow the brain to flood with phenylethylamine. This chemical compound is from the amphetamine family, and has a duration in the brain of about 4 years according to the theory of Donald F. Klein and Michael Lebowitz emerged in the 80s. Chocolate is rich in this compound, for that is usual that during the “love affair” excessive amounts are consumed.
Reptiles release oxytocin during sex, but mammals produce it all the time. That is why reptiles stay away from other reptiles except when they mate, while mammals form attachments with relatives, litters or herds. The more oxytocin is released, the more attached you feel to the other person. But we must bear in mind, that the levels of segregation of neurotransmitters or hormones, also depend on our beliefs and our perception of things. The ideas, the prejudices, the values, the experiences, the expectations, or the fantasies that we have, can cause us to release more or less chemicals. This process follows a fixed pattern: more contact, more oxytocin, more confidence (more strengthening of neuronal connections). Expectations or imagination, also act as a form of contact and follow that pattern.
But we do not realize that obviously, lovers do not always meet the expectations they have of each other, whether they are realistic or not. That can lead to a state of frustration. In addition, contact with an ex-partner can relive that pattern or connection between the neurons, and that is why most expert psychologists in love recommend an all-or-nothing therapy to overcome a rupture. When you stop contacting your loved one, connections weaken, and over time, relapses become less frequent.
Oxytocin also plays an important role in jealousy. For the mammals’ brain, any loss of confidence is a life-threatening emergency. When a sheep separates from its herd, oxytocin levels decrease and cortisol levels rise. Cortisol is the sensation we experience as fear, panic or anxiety. It works for the sheep by motivating them to reconnect with their flock before they eat it alive. In humans, cortisol converts frustrated expectations or lack of confidence in emergency situations.
Serotonin: the neurotransmitter of happiness
Getting respect feels good since it stimulates the release of serotonin (Cozolino, 2006). In the animal world, social dominance brings more mating opportunities and more offspring. Animals do not master long-term conscious goals, they dominate because serotonin makes them feel good.
This can be seen in many people, and in itself, you must admit that romantic attention by a person of higher status, triggers strong feelings and makes you feel good. The problem arises because your brain always wants more respect to get more serotonin. Your partner can give you that feeling at the beginning and can give you the respect you need or help you feel respected by others. But his brain takes for granted the respect he already has, and with the passage of time, he wants more and more to get a bigger dose of good feelings. That’s why some people always make more demands on their loved ones, and others, constantly seek partners or lovers of higher status. Self-esteem plays an important role in this aspect and to avoid falling into error, it helps to better understand the origins of our neurochemical impulses.
Serotonin acts on emotions and mood. She is responsible for well-being, generates optimism, good humor and sociability and is known to play an important role in the inhibition of anger and aggression. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression and obsession (symptoms of heartbreak). The antidepressant drugs, are responsible for increasing serotonin levels to correct the neurochemical deficit, and that is why Prozac (the most famous antidepressant on the planet) is called the drug of happiness. Constant positive experiences and positive thoughts also increase serotonin levels. On the other hand unpleasant thoughts, bad news, talking about sad and worrying things or getting angry, completely inhibit the activation of serotonin.
Dopamine: addicted to love
Dopamine is related to pleasure, and it is the neurotransmitter that plays an important role in gambling, the use of drugs, and also in love. When we fall in love, dopamine is released, making couples feel euphoric and energetic. “If someone is unique in their life and focuses on that person, it’s because the dopamine system has been activated,” says Helen Fisher (2004), a biological anthropologist.
Dopamine is important since it is involved in the reward system. Pleasure makes us feel good, that we have sex, that we eat food, and that we do things that allow us to survive. But both in the drug and in love, when the external stimulus (drug) or intero (oxytocin) disappears, it can create serious problems for a person. Then the monkey appears and the obsession.
Noradrenaline: the dose of adrenaline
Norepinephrine or norepinephrine is the neurotransmitter that induces euphoria in the brain, exciting the body and giving it a dose of natural adrenaline. This makes the heart beat faster, the blood pressure rises and makes us breathe more heavily so that more oxygen reaches the blood. It causes the symptom of the sweaty palms and the flushes of the first stages of falling in love.
Love versus reason
The animals are surprisingly demanding with whom they come together. Free love is not something natural. In each species, sex, has something preliminary. The animals only have sexual relations when the female is actively fertile, except for the bonobos (who do it for food and to resolve conflicts). Female chimpanzees only have sex every five years.
The rest of the time they are pregnant or breastfeeding, and without ovulation, the males are not interested. When the opportunity calls, it is an important event. Natural selection produced in humans a brain that evolved to maximize reproduction, and the neurochemicals of happiness evolved to promote reproductive behaviors. That does not make much sense in a world with birth control and sustainability pressures. But in nature, you had to focus on reproducing many babies. Therefore, natural selection has created a brain with happy chemicals to reward reproductive behavior.
Love promotes reproduction, which causes a lot of chemical substances that produce happiness. Sex is only one aspect of reproductive behavior. Love motivates to travel the world in order to be alone with that special person. Of course, that reason is above those biological banalities but the neurochemicals of happiness, make it feel so good to be in love, that the brain is looking for ways to get more. The neurochemists do their work without words, and we look for words to explain the madness of our motivations.
Sometimes it is simpler to deceive or manipulate than to try to understand it.
In short, we want to be happy and have the maximum of neurochemicals of happiness. We hope that of love and other aspects of life. But no matter how many neurochemicals we get, in the long run, the brain becomes accustomed to falling in love as when there is tolerance to the drug. Knowing why this happens can help you manage your behavior despite confusing neurochemical signals.
There are good news. Do not blame yourself if you are not the same as the first day with your partner. You have to know how to distinguish love from falling in love. Love has to do with beliefs and values, and falling in love, are a series of chemical reactions produced in different brain regions that make us have an idyllic perception of a person.
Even so, it’s not bad at all, it’s just that you have to live with the operating system that has kept human beings alive for millions of years.