Is Love a Drug?

“Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love.” – Robert Palmer

New love is an amazing thing. It’s warm, fuzzy, comforting, and makes you smile at the most random times during the day. You will find yourself humming miscellaneous Sarah McLachlan songs, replaying romantic comedy scenes in your mind with yourself as the lead, and endlessly googling to find just the right pet names to describe your person. Colors are brighter, food smells better, and regardless of how shitty your mattress was last week now all you want is to be in bed with your partner. You feel wanted, cared for, desirable, and happy, all the time. It becomes hard to remember a time before you felt this way, and difficult to relate to people who don’t. And all you want all the time is more of that feeling. 

This kind of obsession and preoccupation with anything else would be considered an addiction, and something to be avoided, treated, or cured. Physically ‘falling in love’ triggers exactly the same feel good hormones as many drugs; dopamine, oxytocin, opioids, and serotonin. Relationships follow a similar path as addiction. In the beginning everything feels great, like your first dose of something wonderful. As relationships develop we build up a resistance to those hormones, and it becomes harder and harder to feel the same hit that we did at the beginning. When the relationship ends and the break up happens we suffer withdrawal symptoms, which combined with stress hormones make us feel sick and leave us looking for our next fix. We do everything we can to find that ‘feel good’ feeling again. 

Despite all of this evidence we as a society are in love with being in love. Countless books have been published on how to find it, endless songs have been written trying to describe it, and there are always new movies coming out telling us stories about it. We spend our lives chasing it when we don’t have it, and wallowing in it when we do. So does this mean love is a drug that we misuse and abuse, or are we smart enough to know a good thing when we see it and hang on?

We have all seen the people out there who react to falling in love like an addict does to their drug. Take a look at the short term serial monogamist. They meet someone, fall in love, are deliriously happy, and yet a short time later the relationship ends, and they are on to the next ‘love of their life’. They are addicted to that initial dose of love, but lose interest when the hormonal reaction starts to drop off, and they go out looking for something similar but just different enough to count as new. Or look at those couples that are so wrapped up in each other that they forget about everything else in their life. They become completely dependent on each other for their happiness and have difficulty finding it anywhere else, much like an addict becomes dependent on their elixir of choice. Their only positive emotion comes from their partner, and it becomes an unhealthy obsession and attachment that can be extremely difficult to break.

Does this mean we should all start avoiding love, out of fear of developing our own addictions? Of course not. Love doesn’t only feel good; it can also be very good for you. It can help you build a more positive self-image, introduce you to new ways of thinking and living, and give you a feeling of security and support that you may not be able to find anywhere else. These are all good things. So how do you know if this love is a good one, or an addictive one? Keep in mind a few key points. A healthy relationship isn’t possessive and is based on mutual respect; encourages growth and serious interests outside of the relationship; leaves you feeling improved by the relationship and not stifled by it; and is a part of your life, rather than separate from it. There are millions of healthy, loving relationships out there, and like anything else we cannot let a few negative examples destroy our image of them.