Love Addiction: The Role of Dopamine in the “Warm and Fuzzies”

Love Addiction: The Role of Dopamine in the “Warm and Fuzzies”

A well-dressed and decidedly pale Robert Palmer made his fortune by telling us that we were “Addicted to Love”, and that a certain someone in his life was “Simply Irresistible”. While Mr. Palmer may not have actually realized it, there’s factual basis for such claims. In case we haven’t said it enough, or commerce hasn’t beaten you over the head with it, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. While we certainly don’t wish to spoil whatever feelings of love that may be amplified for the next 24-48 hours, Recovery Unplugged wants to remind everyone that there’s a perfectly logical and scientific explanation for love, and it’s very similar to the forces that drive substance use disorder.

Is Love Addiction Real?

Yes folks, Cupid’s arrow is laced with dopamine, and love addiction is just as real as any other. In recent years, the American Psychological Association (APA) has started exploring addictions outside of the realm of substance use disorder, and while only gambling addiction has found its way into the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM V), sex and love addiction has remained a top priority in the scientific research community. It has been definitively established that dopamine, the neurotransmitter that regulates the brain’s rewards-based responses, and is so prevalent in drug and alcohol addiction, drives the love we feel for our partners and the sense of validation and support we get when that love is reciprocated.

Until very recently, research findings have been largely fragmented; however, a 2017 consolidation of data from Oxford University provides a comprehensive framework for discussion, and compiles multiples studies that point to the neurobiological similarities of “being in love” and “being addicted”.

Am I Addicted to Love?

Love addiction doesn’t necessarily have to include romantic love: it can also include love from family, friends and the world around us. It just so happens that the dopaminergic responses we get from validation, support, acceptance and affection are often most accessible within romantic relationships. That feeling we get from being our partner’s “one and only someone” gives us an inherent neurobiological sense of belonging and worth, for which many of us go to great, potentially extreme lengths, often shaping our whole lives. When we “come down” from this feeling, whether it’s through a fight, break-up or any kind of setback in our relationship can trigger extremely negative psychological and even physical responses.

Some of the most common signs of romantic love addiction include an inability to permanently remove yourself from a failed or questionable relationship, physical and psychological reactions to negative events within the relationship, feeling empty or lost without your partner, sleeplessness and other quality-of-life issues following a break-up, and a particularly intense “high” from reconnecting.

Love Yourself First

The many effects of love addiction have been, pardon the pun, romanticized in virtually every aspect of media and popular culture (think Purple Rain and Casablanca); however, the reality is that, when taken to the extreme, these reactions can, and often do, lead to self-destructive behaviors like drug or alcohol abuse. This Valentine’s Day, Recovery Unplugged encourages all to spread the love…just not too much. Additionally,  If you or someone you care about is suffering from relationship-related substance use disorder, we’re here to help you.