Health Zone: Obsessive Love - Addicted. ..to Love; Love Isn't Just the Starry-Eyed Dream of a Young Couple. It Can Also Be One of the Most Obsessive Addictions Known to Man

The Mirror (London, England), February 14, 2002 | Go to article overview

Health Zone: Obsessive Love - Addicted. ..to Love; Love Isn't Just the Starry-Eyed Dream of a Young Couple. It Can Also Be One of the Most Obsessive Addictions Known to Man


Byline: PAUL SIMONS

WE all know the feeling - those first giddy moments when we're dating someone new.

The butterflies in the stomach, waiting for the phone to ring, feeling like we're walking on air...

For many people, these initial feelings of infatuation will move on to a more steady, comfortable love. Some of the excitement and exhilaration may be lost, but in its place an enduring, trusting partnership is established.

For others, however, love can take another, far more destructive, path.

Obsessive, possessive and indeed dangerous feelings can develop, and in the worse case scenario, lovers can turn into killers.

Recent history is littered with such stories.

On the surface, the Duchess of York's former dresser Jane Andrews was a successful, normal, balanced, middle-class woman in a loving relationship with her partner Tom Cressman. But when Cressman rejected her, she became an obsessive murderess overnight. Andrews bludgeoned him to death in a fit of rage and is now serving life.

And who could forget Lorena Bobbitt - the betrayed wife who took her revenge with a 12-inch kitchen knife and removed her husband John Wayne Bobbitt's manhood?

New research by the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York has shown how love can turn to addiction as some people become hooked on a cocktail of love chemicals.

These work on the brain in the same way as hard drugs. So anyone with a dependent nature, tendency to depression or low self-esteem is vulnerable to becoming dangerously obsessed with their lover.

Love addiction also explains why some people remain in destructive relationships, unable to tear themselves away from an unfaithful or cruel partner. The addiction happens in several very clear stages. When you meet someone you fancy, you release testosterone and adrenaline, which instantly boost the libido.

Most people will move on to the next stage and begin a relationship. Once a couple click with each other and feel tuned in after chatting for a few hours, a brain chemical called phenylethylamine (PEA) kicks in and gives a sense of euphoria. By now you're getting deeper into the minefield of love and exposing your mind to amphetamine- like PEA. But it's the next stage of love where the real problems can begin.

This is when the relationship becomes established and you begin to fall in love with your partner. Often couples will have sex at this stage and tell each other their feelings.

In a recent breakthrough lovers gazed at photos of their partners and brain scans were taken. Instantly, certain areas of their brains lit up. One region, the anterior cingulate in the cerebral cortex, the thinking area in the front of the brain, gives sensations of euphoria and this same area responds to cocaine and other drugs.

Once the passions are aroused the brain floods withdopamine, the pleasure hormone. It makes you lose your appetite, lose sleep and feel detached from the real world. This is amazingly like drug addiction and dopamine has the closest link with cocaine. Says Glenn Wilson at the Institute for Psychiatry in London:

"You'll feel high on love one day, then plummet the next if your partner has to go away."

If your partner dumps you, you can feel as desperate as a drug addict going cold turkey.

The brain becomes so used to being excited by either love or drugs it turns down the amount of pleasure hormones it releases.

So when the supply of love or drugs stops, the brain is left with a shortage of happiness - hence a desperate need for the drug or your partner. Wilson adds.

"With addiction, you lose your capacity to get pleasure from ordinary things such as family, friends and even eating. That's why drug addicts are so withdrawn. In extreme cases this can happen in love. You become totally disinterested in anything other than your partner, who becomes your entire focus. …

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