Love as Addiction (Global Conference on Addiction and Behavioural Health, London)

Uploaded 12/1/2018, approx. 12 minute read

Esteemed colleagues, dear participants in the Global Conference on Addiction and Behavioral Health in London, the United Kingdom, August 2019.

My name is Sam Vaknin, and this is my video presentation.

I'm a professor of psychology in Southern Federal University, Rostov-on-Don, in the Russian Federation, and I'm also a professor of psychology and a professor of finance in CIAS-CIAPS, the Centre for International Advanced and Professional Studies.

Today I would like to discuss an unusual pathology, an unusual addiction, which conventionally is not perceived as such, and that would be love.

The unpalatable truth is that falling in love in some ways is indistinguishable from a severe pathology.

Behavior changes are reminiscent of psychosis. Biochemically speaking, passionate love closely imitates substance abuse.

As early as 2002, appearing in the BBC series Polygates, Dr. John Marsden, at that time the head of the British National Addiction Centre, said that love is addictive, akin to cocaine or speed. Sex is a kind of booby trap, intended to bind the partners long enough in order to bond.

When we use functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, we see interesting things.

Andreas Bock and Samir Ziki of University College in London showed that the same areas of the brain are active when abusing drugs and when we're in love. The two situations are virtually indistinguishable.

The prefrontal cortex hyperactive in depressed patients is inactive when besotted.

How can this be reconciled with the low levels of serotonin that are the telltale signs of both depression and infatuation?

We don't have the answer.

There are still many mysteries.

Other MRI studies conducted in 2006 and 2007 by Dr. Lucy Brown, a professor in the department of neurology and neuroscience at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and some of her colleagues, these studies revealed that the caudate and the ventral tegmental, the areas of the brain involved in cravings, for example, for food, and the secretion of dopamine, these areas are lit up in subjects who view photos of their loved ones.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects pleasure and motivation. It causes a sensation akin to a substance-induced high.

On August 14th, 2007, the New Scientist, gave the details of a study originally published in the Journal of Adolescent Health earlier that year. Serge Brandt of the psychiatric university clinics in Basel, Switzerland, and his colleagues interviewed 113 teenagers. They were about 17 years old. 65 of these 113 reported having fallen in blood recently.

And the conclusion, the lovestruck adolescents slept less, acted more compulsively and more often, and had lots of ideas and creative energy, as they describe. They were more likely to engage in risky behavior, such as reckless driving.

The study concludes we were able to demonstrate that adolescents in early age intense romantic love did not differ from patients during a hypomanic stage.

This led the researchers to conclude that intense romantic love in teenagers is a psychopathologically prominent stage.

But is it erotic lust, or is it love that brings about these cerebral epitomes?

As distinct from love, lust is brought on by surgeons of sex hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen. These hormones induce an indiscriminate scramble for physical gratification.

In the brain, the hypothalamus, which controls hunger, thirst, and other primordial drives, and the amygdala, the locus of arousal, they become active.

Attraction transpires once a more or less appropriate object is found, with the right body language and speed and tone of voice, and it results in a panoply of sleep and eating disorders.

A recent study at the University of Chicago demonstrated that testosterone levels shoot up by one third, even during a casual chat with a female stranger. The stronger the hormonal reaction, the more marked the changes in behavior concluded the office, and this loop may be part of a larger mating response.

In animals, testosterone provokes aggression and recklessness. The hormones readings in married men and fathers are markedly lower than in single males still playing the field.

Instead, the long-term outcomes of being in love are lustful. Dopamine, heavily secreted while falling in love, triggers the production of testosterone, and sexual attraction then kicks in.

Helen Fisher of Roger University suggests a three-phase model of falling in love. Each stage involves a distinct set of chemicals.

The BBC summed it up succinctly and sensationally, events occurring in the brain when we're in love have similarities with mental illness.

This author does not beg to differ.

Moreover, we are attracted to people with the same genetic makeup, with the same smell, pheromones, of our parents.

Dr. Martha McClintock of the University of Chicago studied feminine attraction to sweaty t-shirts formerly worn by males. The closer the smell resembled their fathers, the more attracted and aroused the woman became.

Falling in love is therefore an exercise in proxy incest and a vindication of Freud's much maligned early puss and electro complexes.

Writing in the February 2004 issue of the journal Neuroimage, Andreas Bartels of University College London's Welcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience, described identical reactions in the brains of young mothers looking at their babies and in the brains of people looking at their lovers.

He writes, both romantic and maternal love are highly rewarding experiences that are linked to the perpetuation of the species and consequently have a closely linked biological function of crucial evolutionary importance.

At least, that's what he told Reuters.

This incestuous backdrop of love was further demonstrated by psychologist David Parrott of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. The subjects in his experiments preferred their own faces, in other words, the composite of their two parents when computer moved into the opposite sex.

And so we go on in our tour of love land.

Body secretions play a major role in the onslaught of love.

In results published in February 2007 in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers at the University of California at Earthly demonstrated convincingly that women who sniffed Androsterone, a signaling chemical found in male sweat, so women who smelled this chemical, which is also found in saliva and semen, experienced higher levels of the hormone cortisol.

This results in sexual arousal and improved mood. The effect lasted a whopping one hour.

So if a woman smelled the sweat or somehow the saliva, let alone the semen of a man and it inevitably contained Androsterone, she felt much better, her mood improved, and she got sexually aroused and this lasted a whole hour.

And still, contrary to prevailing misconceptions, love is mostly about negative emotions, not about positive ones.

As Professor Arthur R. Aaron from the State University of New York at Stony Brook had shown, in the first few meetings, people misinterpret certain physical cues and feelings, notably fear or thrill, as falling in love. They feel fear and they say, well, I'm falling in love. They get excited and they say, well, I must be falling in love.

Thus, counterintuitively, anxious people, especially those with the serotonin transporter gene, anxious people are more sexually active and falling in love much more often, because they misinterpret their anxiety, they misinterpret their cues.

Obsessive thoughts regarding the loved one and compulsive acts are also very common.

Perception is distorted, as is cognition. Love is blind and the lover easily fails the reality test.

Falling in love involves the enhanced secretion of P-phenylethylamine, PEA, or the love chemical, and this happens in the first two to four years of the relationship.

This natural drug, PEA, creates a euphoric high and helps obscure the failings and shortcomings of the potential mate. Such oblivion, perceiving only the spouse's good sides while discarding her bad ones, is a pathology akin to the primitive psychological defense mechanism known as splitting or dichotomous thinking.

Narcissists, patients suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, also idealize romantic or intimate problems. A similar cognitive emotional impairment is common in many other mental health conditions and in love.

The activity of a host of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, adrenaline, or norepinephrine, and serotonin, the activity of these neurotransmitters is heightened, or in the case of serotonin, lowered in both paramours.

Yet such irregularities are also associated with obsessive compulsive disorder, for example, or with depression.

It is telling that once attachment is formed, an infatuation gives way to a more stable and less exuberant relationship. The levels of these substances return to normal. They are replaced by two other hormones which belong to the family of endorphins.

These two other hormones usually play a part in social interactions, including bonds and sex.

The first one is oxytocin, the cuddling chemical, and vasopressin. Oxytocin facilitates bonding. It is released in the mother during breastfeeding in the members of a couple when they spend time together, and also when one sexually climaxes. Viagra, sildenafil, seems to facilitate its release, at least in rats.

It seems, therefore, that the distinctions we often make between types of love, motherly love versus romantic love, for instance, these distinctions are artificial as far as human biochemistry goes.

As neuroscientist Larry Young's research with Perry and goals in the Yerkes National Primate Research Centre at Emory University, as this research demonstrates, I quote, human love is set off by a biochemical chain of events that originally evolved in ancient brain circuits involving child-mother bonding, and which is stimulated in mammals by the release of oxytocin during labor, delivery, and nursing.

The same Larry Young told the New York Times in January 2009 in the article titled, Anti-Love Drug, Maybe Ticket to Bliss. He told the New York Times, some of our sexuality has evolved to stimulate that same oxytocin system to create female- male bonds.

Dr. Young said, noting that sexual foreplay and intercourse stimulate the same parts of the woman's body that are involved in giving birth and nursing.

This hormonal hypothesis, which is by no means proven fact, would help explain a couple of differences between humans and less monogamous mammals.

Females desire to have sex even when they are not fertile, and males' erotic fascination with breasts are all accounted for by this oxytocin system. More frequent sex and more attention to breasts, Dr. Young said, could help build long-term bonds through a cocktail of ancient neuropeptides like the oxytocin released during foreplay or orgasm.

Researchers have achieved similar results simply by squirting oxytocin into people's nostrils.

Dr. Young continues, a related hormone, vasoprazine, creates urges for bonding and nesting when it is injected in male bones, or naturally, activated by sex.

After Dr. Young found that male bones with a genetically limited vasoprazine response were less likely to find mates, Swedish researchers reported that men with a similar genetic tendency were less likely to get married.

If we even oxytocin blocker to female boys, they become like 95% of all mammal species, Dr. Young said. They will not bond, no matter how many times they mate with a male or try to bond. They mate, it feels really good, and they move on.

If another male comes along, if love is similarly biochemically-based, you should, in theory, be able to suppress it in a similar way.

Love, in all its phases and manifestations, is an addiction, probably to the various forms of internally secreted neuropeptides such as, therefore, mentioned with fetamine-like PA.

In other words, love is a form of substance abuse.

The withdrawal of romantic love has serious mental health repercussions.

A study conducted by Dr. Kenneth Candler, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, and by others, this study, published in the September 2002 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, revealed that breakups often lead to depression and anxiety.

Other fMRI-based studies demonstrated how the insular cortex, in charge of experiencing pain, became active when subjects viewed photos of former loved ones.

Love and lust depend on context, as well as psychological makeup or biochemistry. One can fall in and out of love with the very same person, whose biochemistry presumably hasn't changed at all.

The vast majority of one-light standards reported that they did not find their partners sexually alluring. It was the opportunity that beckoned, not any specific attraction.

And similarly, the very same acts, kissing, hugging, even sexually explicit overtures, can be interpreted as innocuous, depending on who does, what to whom, and in which circumstances.

Indeed, love cannot be reduced to its biochemical and electrical components. Love is not tantamount to our bodily processes. Love is the way we experience these bodily processes. Love is how we interpret these flows and ebbs of compounds using a higher-level language.

In other words, love is pure poetry, pure language. We are very rarely in love with a person. Most often we are in love with an idea, the idea of being in love. We are in love with love itself. We are in love with the idea of being someone's whore, or someone's child, or someone's saviour, or someone's healing parent.

For we are in love with what the person stands for, symbolizes, a father figure, or a past, a wounded child.

We idealize our loved ones to the point that they vanish as individuals and re-emerge as elements in our personal narrative and in our pathologies and in our wounds.

We fall in love with the stories that we construct about ourselves and about our environment. We force our loved ones to play scripted and emergent roles in our personal theater production. This is called projective identification.

In this restricted and temporary sense, when we fall in love, we are all narcissistic. We fall in love with ourselves via our loved ones, hence the addiction.

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