Drunk on Love: What Romance Does to Your Brain
Author: Justin Mckibben
Have you ever heard people say they were drunk in love? I mean besides the Beyoncé song that of course probably pops into the mind of most people who have access to a radio.
Some say that love is maddening. I remember a movie where a character called it a form of socially acceptable insanity, and most people who have ever been romantically infatuated can say they found love intoxicating on some level or another. So how true is that? How does love effect your brain the way a drink or even a drug does, if at all?
The Love Hormone
This week the University of Birmingham published some recent research in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews that suggests the idea that a person’s behavior when under the influence of alcohol is extremely similar to that of a person in love. But this isn’t to say that cupid is an alcoholic. The credit goes to Oxytocin, infamously known as the so-called “love-hormone.”
Oxytocin is a chemical in the human brain that is produced in the hypothalamus, which plays a key role in determining functions such as:
- Social interactions
- Reactions to romantic partners
Oxytocin plays an important role in the neuroanatomy of intimacy, specifically in sexual reproduction of both sexes, in particular during and after childbirth. Recent studies have begun to investigate oxytocin’s role in various behaviors, including:
- Social recognition
- Pair bonding
- Maternal behaviors
The researchers involved in this study warned that the playful nicknames like “love hormone” or “bonding hormone” actually hide the darker side of Oxytocin, and that it actually bears more similarities with the effects of alcohol than previously thought. The idea is that it makes us more willing to trust others and helps to remove social inhibitors such as fear, anxiety and stress.
Relation to Alcohol
Dr. Ian Mitchell, from the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham, explained how the team of scientists had pooled existing research pertaining to the effects of both oxytocin and alcohol and were struck by the incredible similarities between the two compounds and their impacts. Examples of some of these impacts are:
A dose oxytocin was found to influence how we deal with others by enhancing our perception of trustworthiness, much like alcohol. When our judgment is impaired in such a way we are at a greater danger of taking unnecessary risks. Being drunk and being in love are both are one way we end up being careless.
Dr. Mitchell also noted that both compounds can make stressful situation seem less intimidating. By administered oxytocin nasally, it appeared to mimic the effects of alcohol consumption. That being said, researchers warned about the serious risks associated with self-medicating using either compound.
Take a second to take this all in. What we are getting at here is that alcohol abuse is easily related to the desire to get the same feeling we would from being in love.
The Power of Love
Love may come close to being drunk, but it is only because of a brain chemical that thus far has not been determined to be dangerous. At this point love is a drug we may know everything and yet nothing about, and most of us are still likely failing to see the true power of love.
Dr. Gillespie does believe Oxytocin is a fascinating neurochemical and, away from matters of the heart, has a possible use in treatment of psychological and psychiatric conditions. He has stated:
“Understanding exactly how it suppresses certain modes of action and alters our behavior could provide real benefits for a lot of people. Hopefully this research might shed some new light on it and open up avenues we hadn’t yet considered.”
All science aside, romance isn’t the problem. The problem is too many people confuse the feeling they get from a drink with that feeling that should be coming from love. Perhaps it’s time to consider love may be one of humanities most intense and dangerous addictions, but it may also be the best possible medicine we will ever have.
Next time you think about a drink, maybe instead think about how much more fulfilling life can be when you incorporate love into it. Spend some time with the people you care about and see how much of a buzz you can get off those good vibes, but remember I’m not telling you to go fall in love to quit drinking or using drugs. Before you can truly love anyone, love yourself and learn how to love others unconditionally before you try to commit to a romantic relationship. Then once you can have that, you will never need another buzz.
Remember, all you need is love.
Drinking and drug use is one way that people try and fill the emotional voids they feel. But in reality these substances will never come close to the real thing. Some people have forgotten how to feel these feelings honestly and openly, but working towards that is a huge step in recovery from drug addiction and alcoholism.
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