Love can feel like an addiction. Scientifically, there is evidence supporting this experience.
In human brain scans, our brains light up in different locations depending on the stage of love we are in (new-love stage; madly-in love 20-years later stage, and the madly –in love but recently dumped stage). Essentially, different parts of our brain are triggered to give us different sensations during different phases of love. This article focuses on the new-love stage in relationships and sheds the proverbial ‘light’ on how the reward systems in your brain make you feel addicted to your main squeeze.
You are in the new-love stage if you just met your new admirer, and up to 28.8 months. Research suggests 28.8 months may be around the time intense-to-moderate new-love experiences fade. Your brain on love is a very intense cascade of chemical activation, and involves a neuro-chemical called norepinephrine (similar to adrenaline). Because this neurochemical is so powerful and long-term activation of this chemical can be stressful on your body and brain, the addictive high of new-love can only last for so long. During the new-love stage this chemical is being stimulated in abundance, resulting in wanting to spend all your time with and give all your attention to this one person. Norepinephrine also helps you stay awake all night thinking about your lover, and somehow gives you enough energy to make it through the next day. As if that isn’t enough- norepinephrine also helps you have a really good memory, helping you retain all the new information you were dying to know about your new admirer.
When you are in the beginning stages of new-love, the part of your brain that these chemicals are floating around in mass quantities is the same part of your brain that becomes stimulated when people use substances. This reward-system region of your brain is located near the central part of your brain, and is called the right ventral segmental area (VTA). This part of your brain is associated with pleasure, general arousal, focused attention, and motivation to pursue and acquire rewards. No part of our brain works alone, meaning, the VTA also communicates to other areas of your brain. The other areas of the brain that are touched during your new- love addiction include a part of your brain called the caudate nucleus. The caudate nucleus plays a role in reward detection, expectations, goals you start creating, and help you prepare for action.
This is your brain on love. New-love.