Love sickness is real, and the high it provides looks a lot like cocaine usage
Plato once said, “Love is a serious mental disease,” and how true are his wise words. Love sickness isn’t just a form of expression for those head-over-heels, but has been studied as an actual illness.
Science shows that those in love experience a kind of high similar to that caused by illicit drugs such as cocaine. Certain neurotransmitters – phenethylamine, dopamine, norepinephrine and oxytocin – elicit the high from “falling in love,” using 12 areas of the brain. The effect from the neurotransmitters mimics the feeling of taking anamphetamine.
The movies and books didn’t just make up the feelings associate with being in love. There are symptoms that go hand-in-hand with “love sickness:” sleeplessness, loss of appetite, inability to concentrate, chest pains and nausea. Those in love may even show signs of sweaty palms, weak knees, dry mouth, increased heart rate and dizziness – the typical storybook definition of love played out in all of the romance novels.
But not everything about love is elated and happy. One study published in “Neuropsychopharmacology” observed the behavior the prairie vole exhibits when separated from its partner. Like humans, the prairie vole is one of the few species that practice monogamous relationships, staying with the same mate for an extended period of time. When the male voles were separated from their romantic partner in the study, they became unreceptive.
The findings suggest humans express similar behaviors as the vole at the loss of a mate, explaining why those who have loved and lost experience a sense of hopelessness.
Like many students that go through a rough break-up, Joanna Omar, a senior majoring in political science, experienced the described distress after a break-up with her boyfriend of nearly a year.
“I became depressed, I didn’t sleep and I didn’t eat,” Omar said.
Omar’s symptoms are similar to those of not just “love sickness,” but a more intense form of the illness called limerence. The condition, created by Dr. Dorothy Tennov in 1977, describes an intense infatuation with another and the desire to have those feelings returned. Though not classified as a mental disorder, the condition can lead to depression.
Other studies have found more mental side effects of falling in love. Stephanie Ortigue, a professor at Syracuse University, published a study in the “Journal of Sexual Medicine” that found falling in love can affect intellectual areas of the brain that involve body image and metaphors. The study also found the parts of the brain involve different types of love. The reward part of the brain, for instance, is responsible for passionate love.
With everything that accompanies this double-edged sword called love, being single this Valentine’s Day never sounded so great.
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