Barrak Denise Barrak Professor Newsom ENG 1020 November 12

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Denise Barrak
Professor Newsom
ENG 1020
November 12, 2010
Love IS A Drug
Love is a powerful and ambiguous emotion; it has the ability to take individuals on a
thrilling and unforgettable journey, overcoming minds and hearts with wonder and anticipation.
Although love is a basic human instinct, it has been the focal point of contemplation for
centuries. Since love is an abstract term and lacks a universal definition, it has developed into a
complex and individualized concept. Thus, numerous art, film, musical, and literary forms are
dedicated to showcasing this engaging emotion. Yet, although various outlooks on romantic
love exist, it is generally glamorized and as a result, it is coveted by many individuals. Oxford
English Dictionary characterizes love as “A feeling or disposition of deep affection or fondness
for someone, typically arising from a recognition of attractive qualities, from natural affinity, or
from sympathy and manifesting itself in concern for the other's welfare and pleasure in his or her
presence” (Love def 1a). However, similar to numerous other depictions of love, this definition
neglects to inform the audience about the negative components that accompany this
overwhelming emotion. Romantic love is better defined as a naturally occurring narcotic
because it is addictive, reduces pain, and is obstructive to one’s judgment and behavior.
Romantic love, similar to narcotics, is addictive. Those that have experienced love
firsthand are well aware of the inevitable sense of dependency that develops for the significant
other. Inadvertently, people in love constantly yearn for their significant other when they are
away, spend a great deal of time with their significant other and still feel like it is not an adequate
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amount, and begin to rely on their significant other for their own happiness. Although numerous
people equate these changes in attitude to merely being “part of love”, there is a more meticulous
explanation. In order to fully appreciate how love is addictive, one must be knowledgeable of
the characteristics required to categorize something as so.
There are three primary elements that are essential in order for something to be classified
as an addiction: “obsession or preoccupation, a feeling of being out of control, and continuation
of a behavior despite adverse physical or psychological consequences. Two other elements that
may or may not be present are tolerance and withdrawal symptoms” (Schaeffer 9). These
qualifications imply that what constitutes an addiction in principal is how the object of addiction
impacts a person’s life, rather than the quantity of the object consumed or experienced.
Consequently, through analysis of the modifications in one’s attitude that accompany love, love
qualifies as an object of addictive behavior.
Romantic love is addictive because it adequately satisfies all the requirements that are
necessary for an object to be considered addictive. Oftentimes, love results in fixation and
preoccupation with a companion. People in love generally begin to lose sight of everything
around them, including their interests and their friends; they begin to perceive their significant
other as the center of the universe and lose focus of other parts of their lives that require their
energy. These individuals become fixated with spending every last minute with their loved one.
This fixation is a byproduct of “feeling out of control” when they are in the company of their
loved one. This feeling is instigated by a release of certain hormones in the brain that cause a
euphoric state of mind. Among these hormones are dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine,
phenethylamine, and serotonin. (26) The discharge of these chemicals gives rise to a relaxed
mental state since serotonin is nature’s antidepressant, while norepinephrine and epinephrine
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trigger an adrenaline rush; the result is tenacious and merely impossible to control. These
chemicals consequently result in an individual’s fixation on their companion because they begin
to associate being with their loved one with feelings of ecstasy. “According to a study published
in the Journal of Neurophysiology, love ignites a craving and desire system in the brain, similar
to the center engaged during drug addiction” (Johnson para 1).
Correlating love with euphoria leads to the third criterion for an object to be addictive:
“continuation of a behavior despite adverse physical or psychological consequences” (Schaeffer
9). This is exemplified when countless people decide to remain in emotionally or physically
abusive relationships. Furthermore, on a more personal level, whenever I ask my friend why she
continues to date her boyfriend, who has been unfaithful to her on numerous occasions, her
response is, “because I love him.” Although this response may not make sense to many people,
it is not a farfetched reply; love is constantly used to justify why individuals remain in unhealthy
Although addiction may or may not involve symptoms of tolerance and withdrawals, in
reference to love, these symptoms are prevalent. Tolerance of love transpires during a long term
relationship. Oftentimes, a couple becomes accustomed to one another; their daily lives become
routine. While it may be unlikely that they have become tolerant of love all together, it is
plausible that the couple has developed tolerance to each other’s love. As a result, people in long
term relationships strive to continuously revamp their relationship. Couples’ attempt to renew
their love is parallel to craving a higher dosage of the drug of love. Marketers and journalists are
aware of this desire to constantly solidify romantic relationships. This is evident through the
numerous articles written about “keeping the romance alive”. Furthermore, various products,
such as jewelry and lingerie, are advertised to “make you fall in love all over again.” In addition,
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symptoms of withdrawal coincide with the addiction to love. Withdrawal is a direct
consequence of psychological or physical attachment to an object of addiction. Thus, when the
object is removed, it is inevitable that the person addicted suffers. A clinical neuroscientist,
Daniel Amen, M.D., proposes a scientific explanation for this phenomenon. He claims that
when humans bond romantically with someone, their companion is cognitively remembered in
the neurons and synapses of the emotional brain. When that person is removed, the brain gets
disoriented and frantically begins searching for that missing person. The over activity in the
brain results in low levels of the “feel-good chemicals” that are released in the presence of our
loved one. This results in depression, loss of appetite, obsession, and even physical pain. (25)
These symptoms collectively indicate what society defines as heartbreak. Among several other
outcomes, separation from a loved one affects a person’s ability to focus, which in turn interferes
with the normal social, recreational, occupational, emotional, and physical aspects of their life.
Withdrawal varies in intensity. Being away from a loved one for a short amount of time may
trigger emotions of sadness, due to simply missing your significant other. However, in extreme
circumstances, withdrawal may result in stalking due to obsession. In fact, “annually in the
United States, 503485 women and 185496 men are stalked by an intimate partner” (Statistics
para 23). Society is knowledgeable of this fact and has constructed restraining orders to contend
with love withdrawal. Since love meets the criterion that allows it to be regarded as addictive,
one can conclude that love and the neurochemistry that is associated with this emotion is
addicting. The neurochemistry of love can become a drug as difficult to give up as alcohol or
Romantic love is analogous to a natural narcotic because like a narcotic, it relieves pain,
while obstructing one’s judgment. Love makes people do crazy things that they normally would
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not contemplate to do in an ordinary situation. This is a well recognized notion that serves as the
foundation for the familiar idiom that “love is blind.” This expression suggests that when
individuals are in love, they have a tendency to brush aside or turn a blind eye to the negative
qualities of their relationship or their companion. They oftentimes idealize their partner. It is not
until the relationship terminates that the negative features become discernible. This claim is
vindicated by numerous friends’ and my own personal experience. Imperfections of a
relationship become evident once an individual’s mind and judgment is not blurred by the
overpowering emotion of love. This concept furthers justifies the extreme measures that people
are willing to do in order to be with the person they love. Although modern society attributes
these radical measures to unwavering commitment to the person you love, there is a scientific
explanation to why love impedes our judgment, and how it relieves our pain.
“Lovers often claim that they feel as if they are being swept away. They’re not mistaken;
they are literally flooded with chemicals, research suggests” (Toufexis para 10). There are three
stages to love: lust, attraction, and attachment. Each stage is responsible for a unique
neurological consequence. (Fischer 28) Although each stage of love contributes certain
neurochemicals to the overall phenomena of love, the chemicals produced during the attraction
stage are imperative in explaining the effect of love. Attraction, or the stage where an individual
feels love-struck, is fueled by seven prominent hormones: epinephrine, norephinephrine, cortisol,
dopamine, phenylethylamine, endorphins, and serotonin. Epinephrine, norephinephrine, and
cortisol are affiliated with inducing an adrenaline rush, or activating one’s stress response. In
turn, a person begins to sweat, their heart begins to race, and their mouth becomes dry. The
release of these hormones account for the feelings of excitation and anticipation associated with
love. Dopamine is a hormone produced in the brain that stimulates our motivation, and results in
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an intense sense of pleasure. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and acclaimed author,
states “couples often show the signs of surging dopamine: increased energy, less need for sleep
or food, focused attention and exquisite delight in smallest details of their relationship” (Science
of Love para 10). The release of this hormone, accordingly, reduces one’s consciousness to pain
by intensifying their awareness of pleasure. This reaction is similar to consuming amphetamines,
such as Tylenol, or even cocaine. This comparison is logical because similar to love,
amphetamines and cocaine triggers the release of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain.
(Collins para 13) The effects of these hormones are further exposed by a recent study performed
by the University of California, Los Angeles. The study encompassed a total of twenty-five
couples that were in long-term relationships. In the experiment, the women were subjected to
pain in the form of an unpleasant burning sensation. These women were then asked to rate their
pain on a scale while holding their partner’s hand, holding a stranger’s hand or inanimate object,
and while looking at a picture of their partner. The results revealed that the women felt
considerably less pain when either holding their partner’s hand or looking at a picture of their
partner. (Wolpert para 1-6) This study confirms the numbing effect that these hormones have
on an individual. Phenylethylamine is also a naturally occurring neurochemical that is
considerably similar to amphetamines. Its primary effect is to amplify the arousal state. The
final neurochemicals released during the attraction stage, serotonin and endorphins, are nature’s
antidepressant and painkiller. Endorphin is known as the “opiate of the mind” and is responsible
for lessening pain and diminishing anxiety. (Schaeffer 16-28) Love thus has a morphine-like
effect. As a result, it makes those in love feel like they are “high” since they are overtly happy
and feel little to no pain. Although the conjunction of these hormones reduces pain while
keeping those in love happy, it can also alter their behavior and judgment.
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The production of the hormones described above has a biological impact on people in
love. Consequently, it corrupts their judgment and behavior. This claim is justified by a study
performed by Dr. Donatella Marazziti. Dr. Marazziti is a psychiatrist at the University of Pisa.
In the study, blood samples were taken from twenty couples who were madly in love for less
than six months. “By analyzing blood samples from the lovers, Dr. Marazitti discovered that
serotonin levels of new lovers were equivalent to the serotonin levels of Obsessive-Compulsive
Disorder patients” (The Science of Love para 14). The latter study proves that love compels an
individual to constantly think and yearn for their partner. Thus, it comes to no surprise that these
hormones blur one’s judgment and ultimately alter their behavior. This notion is further
exemplified by my friend’s willingness to leave her family, governmental job, and home to start
over in a foreign country simply because the man she loves lives there. By disturbing the normal
balance of chemicals released from the brain, love influences an individual physically,
emotionally, and cognitively, similar to a narcotic.
Romantic love is a naturally occurring narcotic because it sufficiently fulfills the criteria
of being addictive, is capable of moderating pain, and alters one’s judgment and behavior.
Although these affects prevail in many romantic relationships, they are often overlooked by
today’s society. Our culture makes love appear simple, beautiful, and perfect. In doing so,
people formulate an absurd image of what love is like. Thus, by neglecting to inform people
about the overwhelming characteristics that accompany love, people enter a relationship with
unrealistic expectations. Consequently, when these idealistic views succumb to reality, these
individuals are devastated. This outcome is preventable. By enlightening people about how love
has narcotic qualities, they are better equipped to deal with the emotion. Furthermore, by
scientifically explaining why those in love are feeling the way they are, it reassures couples that
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they are not alone, and that the changes they are experiencing are biologically inevitable. As a
result, couples will stop attempting to control their feelings, and will be more willing to allow
love take its natural course. This will perhaps allow more relationships to succeed. This
information can also avert people from developing extreme attachment to their loved one; this in
turn prevents severe love addiction from forming, and their reliance on someone else for
happiness. However, if regulated, love can be fantastic, empowering, and extremely gratifying.
“One very effective way to combine the benefits of more than one neurochemical—a way to
avoid pain, live out fantasies, and feel fully alive—is to participate in a love relationship”
(Schaeffer 11)
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Works Cited
Collins, Glenn. "Chemical Connections: Pathways Of Love." New York Times [Ney York] 14
Feb. 1983, sec. B: 6. ProQuest. Web. 7 Nov. 2010.
Fisher, Helen E.. Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. New York: Henry
Holt And Co., 20052004. Print.
Johnson, Lesley. "Addicted to love.(Romantic Love is Addiction)(Brief Article)." Joe Weider's
Muscle & Fitness Jan. 2006: 62. Academic OneFile. Web. 9 Nov. 2010.
"Love, n1a." OED Online. Sept 2010. Oxford University Press. 9 Nov. 2010.
< 50136028>.
Schaeffer, Brenda. Is It Love Or Is It Addiction?. 3rd ed. Center City, Minn.: Hazelden, 2009.
"Statistics." KCSDV Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2010.
"The Science Of Love." Your Amazing Brain. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2010.
Toufexis, Anastasia. "The Right Chemistry." Time 15 Feb. 1993: 49+. Gale Opposing
Viewpoints In Context. Web. 10 Nov. 2010.
Wolpert, Stuart. "Can Thinking Of A Loved One Reduce Your Pain? / UCLA Newsroom."
Home / UCLA Newsroom. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2010.