One of the most fascinating phenomenons that I’ve witnessed throughout my lifetime is how two nearly identical biological processes are looked upon with nearly polar opposite attitudes. There is, in fact, very little difference scientifically between falling in love and becoming addicted to drugs. In both cases, we experience a dopamine rush when we are involved with the source, and in both cases we can go through withdrawals without it. In both cases, there is great happiness at first, but in both cases it becomes impossible to replicate that initial joy over time. Our brains become biologically dependent on the source, and less dopamine is produced naturally after exposure to the source. In each case, our brains are physically distorted to the reality – whether that is hallucinations in the case of a drug addiction or the inability to see the flaws in someone you love.
So what is the difference? The difference is that people wrongly mistake love as some magical force that can’t be explained. The reality that love is simply an obsession with another person, and more accurately the obsession of a feeling of euphoria, just like doing drugs. Falling in love has the exact same effect on the brain as smoking cocaine. Some people might argue that drugs have more dangerous side effects. Although there is no direct way to measure this, one could also argue that there have been thousands if not millions of deaths caused directly or indirectly by relationships that simply started as “falling in love.” There is a reason that the first murder suspect in any case is always the significant other. Relationships can be equally as dangerous as drug addictions. The latter is only portrayed as worse because we can physically see the direct negative effects that happen to the person. How is drug rehabilitation any worse than marriage counseling? They are both trying to solve a problem stemming from inappropriate treatment of something that once gave them happiness.
The question in the title of this blog is ultimately raised because we consider those who struggle with obsessions or addictions to have a mental illness. We say that they don’t think in a healthy way, they don’t think or act the way they are supposed to. So is love a mental illness? It certainly prevents people from being able to think rationally and logically, and leads to an obsession that becomes a biological dependence. The case can certainly be made. Consider the following quote: “The symptoms of love are many and varied. What’s intriguing is that if we list them- for example, preoccupation with the loved one, tearfulness, euphoria- and check them against accepted diagnostic criteria for mental illness, we find that most ‘lovers’ qualify for diagnoses of obsessional illness, depression or manic depression. And this is no superficial relationship. Neurochemical and brain scanning investigations have shown a considerable overlap between ‘the brain in love’ and ‘the brain in the throes of mental illness’”.
This topic has interested me from a personal standpoint because I am fascinated with how the brain works. I have witnessed right before my very eyes how people in love change their behavior very dramatically, and often are unable to think logically or admit that their partner is anything less than perfect. It truly does look like an obsession from an objective perspective, and unfortunately I’ve seen it become an unhealthy one. I think people need to be extremely cautious entering relationships because they can be overpowering and very dangerous, and the reality is that addiction is not a choice — you can become biologically dependent on someone else.
This is just scratching the surface of the scientific research that has been done on this study. More information can be found in the links below.