This is your brain on love. And it’s kind of scary.
The week before my first date with my ex-husband, we’d both attended an art opening. There, we had a little too much wine… and ended up kissing in the street. That night turned me into a complete wreck. I wondered if he’d call, obsessively planned my outfit, and counted down the hours until he arrived at my door. I hardly ate, barely slept, and walked around with a stupid grin on my face as nervous butterflies danced in my stomach.
You know what else can make people feel like that? Snorting cocaine. According to cocaine.org, getting high on cocaine enhances mood, heightens sexual interest, increases self-confidence, boosts conversational prowess, and intensifies consciousness. If that doesn’t freak you out, here are six more ways falling in love is like doing hard drugs.
1. It messes with your brain chemistry.
Anthropologist and love expert Helen Fisher extensively studied what new love does to our brains. Her experiments revealed that the beginning stages of falling in love (which scientists call “limerence”), floods our brains with the same chemicals as cocaine does. Norepinephrine gives us a rush of energy, serotonin fills us with self-confidence, and dopamine generates feelings of pleasure.
Limerence lasts an average of 18 months to three years, according to psychologist Dorothy Tennov, who coined the term in her 1979 classic, Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. And being in this state, just like being high on drugs, is a little bit dangerous, as you can imagine.
2. It impairs your judgment.
Drug addicts are notorious for making bad choices. They ruin relationships, accumulate debt, commit crimes, and perpetrate acts of violence. And so, too, do people in love. It turns out that those same chemicals that making us so happy also knock our moods out of whack. Our rational thinking and decision making flies right out the window. All we care about is the person we’re besotted with; nothing else seems important.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t make any decisions in the early stages of falling in love, but it’s not a bad idea to be cautious – or at least to be aware that you’re not operating under normal brain chemistry. Enjoy being in love; just take it easy on taking any huge, life-changing leaps.
3. It makes you more likely to believe in God.
If falling in love doesn’t make you want to get tattoos or move across the globe, it could make you crave some time in church. According to Slate, changes in brain chemistry (like the ones smoking crack or falling head over heels in love induces) often leave people more open to spiritual experiences. Messing with your brain chemistry can lead to imbalances that affect your reasoning and alter your personality. You’re more likely to see things that aren’t there and believe things without evidence. In other words, you might have a spiritual awakening.
4. You keep needing more to feel good.
One of the reasons that drug addicts go broke and end up on the streets is that in order to keep getting high, they need more and more of whatever it is that’s hooked them. That’s because over time, drug use desensitizes our brains. Our brain receptors dull, so it takes more of our drug of choice to get the same rush.
Love is much the same. After all, at some point, we have to start eating and sleeping regularly. We can’t sustain those first intense feelings, or we’d never get anything done. We’d have sex nonstop, forget to pay our bills, blow off work, and run ourselves into the ground. For most people, easing this first bloom of love is somewhat of a relief. They can resume our normal activities and get to know their beloved without such heightened emotions. But love addicts keep chasing that initial feeling of infatuation, just like someone on drugs does. They often cheat on their partners or end relationships quickly, all so they can chase a new high.
5. It makes you stupid.
Have you ever gotten so lost in staring into your partner’s blue eyes and listening to his sexy voice that you actually miss everything he says? There’s a name for that: the “Dr. Fox Effect.”
Researchers concluded that when someone good-looking, funny, and charming boosts people’s serotonin levels, the part of their brain that thinks critically and evaluates information shuts down. So that might be why, when you come out of your love-induced haze, you sometimes shake your head and say, “What was I thinking?!”
6. Withdrawal is a bitch.
I’ve never come down from cocaine, crack, heroin, or any other controlled substance, but I have certainly weathered my share of broken hearts (and become an expert in how to survive them). So maybe, I actually have had a taste of what it’s like to go into withdrawal.
If you google “drug withdrawal symptoms,” you’ll find the following: lethargy, loss of appetite, shakiness, agitation, crying, depression, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, confusion, and loss of interest in activities…just to name a few.
And while listening to Barry Manilow and eating chocolate doesn’t take the edge off a crack addict’s withdrawal symptoms, let’s face it – it doesn’t help that much when your heart is shattered, either. Still, it’s comforting to know that there’s science behind the craziness of falling love… and the pain of losing it.