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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Title: Love is the Crack Cocaine of Emotions
Author: Fraser Trevor
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Author: Bagande (Photo credit: Wikipedia ) Of great interest to researchers and clinicians alike is the fact that the striatum and ins...
Author: Bagande
Author: Bagande (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of great interest to researchers and clinicians alike is the fact that the striatum and insula are also the parts of the brain most directly associated with the formation and maintenance of addiction. The same process of anticipation, craving, and reward upon connection that occurs with love also occurs with addiction. As Concordia University Professor Jim Pfaus, co-author of the study linking sexual desire and love, states, “Love is actually a habit that is formed from sexual desire as desire is rewarded. It works the same way in the brain as when people become addicted to drugs.” iii
The fascinating and evolving discovery that romantic love and substance (cocaine, crystal meth, heroin, etc.) or behavioral addictions (gambling, sex, spending, etc.) share the same neurobiological motivation and activation systems may help to explain the strength of obsessive behaviors in certain rejection-sensitive lovelorn individuals, as cross-culturally we see high rates of “love-related” stalking, homicide, suicide, and clinical depression. iv In a simplistic way, romantic love could be viewed as a constructive form of addiction (much like disciplined, regular exercise for some, or a passionate and creative relationship to work for others) when that love is returned. Yet love can also look like a destructive form of addiction – with out-of-control behavior and negative consequences – when that love is rejected, unavailable, or inconsistent.
This is not to say that the experience of love is in any way pathological or that everyone who falls in love is “clinically addicted” to the object of his or her affection. For most of us the process of falling in love is healthy, joyful, and life affirming – not to mention completely necessary to the survival of our species. By the way, we get hungry, crave food, and eat regularly for very similar reasons (survival of the individual/species), and clearly not everyone who gets hungry or enjoys food has an eating disorder. Similarly, not everyone who drinks alcohol or uses drugs recreationally is an alcoholic or addict. Addiction does occur, however, when the individual repeatedly loses control over his/her behavior choices and those experiences directly lead to negative life consequences.
So What is Addiction to Love?
This distinction between healthy behavioral choices and self-destructive/addictive ones is especially important when talking aboutlove or romance addiction. As nearly all of us discover by age 25 or earlier, even healthy love relationships can appear enmeshed, obsessive, or “addictive” in the early stages of limerence (the involuntary state of mind that occurs with intense romantic attraction), when the other person’s thoughts, feelings, desires, and activities seem like the most important thing on earth. Thus the early, undifferentiated, intense stage of a new romantic relationship (that we now know as a neurobiological process) absolutely creates an emotional state of feeling “high” or “in love” that in essence pushes us toward being with the person we desire. In healthy relationships, this carefully synchronized play of emotions pulls us toward the slow but steady development of mature intimacy that characterizes longer term, lasting love.
Unfortunately, some less emotionally healthy individuals – those who suffer from social anxiety, depression, maladaptive attachment, personality challenges, childhood trauma, and similar issues – can get “hooked,” if you will, on the bio-emotional high of budding romance or limerence. These people can and do abuse the natural, appropriate excitement and arousal of limerence as a way to escape or self-medicate life’s stressors and intolerable emotions. Often intimacy-phobic, yet longing for connection as we all do, these folks repeat the early stages of romantic love over and over again with different individuals, believing this transitory intensity to be the real thingrather than a stage in the progression toward mature attachment or intimacy. When an individual seeks an experientially based neurochemical high over and over in this way, even when he or she wishes to stop and when that behavior creates negative life consequences (relationship issues, trouble at work, ever deepening anxiety and depression, etc.), that person’s behavior qualifies, in a clinical sense, as “love addiction.” The individual’s treatment will require traditional psychodynamic psychotherapies combined with cognitive behavioral therapies designed to help that person recognize the cues that leave him/her wanting to stay, run, avoid, and obsess.

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