Research Says Love IS a Drug

Feb. 12, 2014

Do I love thee? Let me check my dopamine and oxytocin levels and I'll get back to you. Oh – and if I do love you, I will exhibit the same behavior as a person seeking a drug fix: risk taking to get what I want and withdrawal symptoms if I don’t.

Don't worry. I'm not turning into an obsessed stalker. I just watched the latest Reactions video from the American Chemical Society.

The video explains how feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and oxytocin fuel lifelong pair bonds in prairie voles. Why prairie voles? Because science also has discovered that they are similar to humans in their quest to be monogamists. (I guess muskrat fit better in the lyrics. Earworm alert:

OK – back to the research. “If you block oxytocin receptors, you can totally cut off that pair-bonding response,” explains Abigail Marsh, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Georgetown University and star of the Reactions video. “People who excite romantic feelings in us also probably trigger increases in oxytocin, which results in an increase in dopamine, and then we find that person [to be] someone we want to stick with.” In the video, Marsh also explains that addictive drugs affect the brain in ways similar to love — which helps explain the painful, withdrawal-like symptoms of heartbreak.

Watch this 5-minute video for more information and more earworms. And don't blame me if you suddenly crave spinach.

Traci PurdumSenior Digital Editor and a romantic who never quite got the relationship between Olive Oyl and Popeye.

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