You’ve probably heard the phrase, “love is like a drug”. This trite old quote may be more accurate than you think. According to new research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, falling in love triggers some of the same feelings and sensations as taking a drug like cocaine.
Is Falling in Love Like a Drug?
When a person takes a drug that stimulates the central nervous system, such as cocaine, it causes a feeling of euphoria, energy, and excitement – similar to the feelings people get when they first fall in love. This type of “giddy” love that occurs at the beginning of a passionate relationship activates up to twelve areas of the brain. These activated areas release neurotransmitters that cause that euphoric feeling – like one a drug addict gets when they take a stimulating drug – lending more credibility to the idea that love is like a drug.
One neurotransmitter responsible for that “loving” feeling is dopamine, a stimulating brain chemical that causes arousal. In one study, scientists found that dopamine levels rise when a person looks at a photo of a loved one.
Dopamine isn’t the only neurotransmitter that floods the brain when falling in love – so does adrenaline, oxytocin, and vasopressin – chemicals which all cause arousal. These neurotransmitters play an important role in sexual arousal too.
Falling in Love: Not All Love is the Same
Researchers are also studying a different kind of love – unconditional love. This kind of devoted love, which exists between mother and child and between husband and wife, loves without concern for their affection being reciprocated. This type of unselfish love stimulates a different part of the brain – the mid-portion. So, different types of love stimulate varying areas of the brain – further confirmation that not all love is the same.
What about Love at First Sight?
One could argue that love at first sight isn’t necessarily love – but passion. Nevertheless, researchers found this sudden and spontaneous burst of passion increases levels of nerve growth factor, a protein that stimulates nerve cell growth. Interestingly, levels of nerve growth hormone are only high during the first year of a romantic relationship and then return to baseline as the passion cools a bit.
The Bottom Line?
There’s still more to learn about how love, in all of its various forms, affects the brain. Suffice it to say, this emotion has a major impact on neurotransmitter levels much like a central nervous system stimulant. If love is like a drug, it’s one of the most powerful ones around.
Medical News Today. “Falling In Love Hits The Brain Like Cocaine Does”
Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism Vol. 65, No. 4 738-741