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In recent times, many countries have rightly recognized drug addiction to be the mental health problem that it is and have started many ventures to help those who are suffering from it. But while there are de-addiction treatments for many kinds of drugs, there is one drug that has afflicted almost all of humanity but has hardly ever been recognized for the problem that it is.
Poets have waxed lyrical about it, most songs are written under its effects and it has given writers more material than they know what to do with. As clichéd as this may sound, this drug is nothing more than love. It might seem like an exaggeration to see love as something more tangible and dangerous than just an emotion but science has clearly proven otherwise.
A study conducted by scientists at the University of Stanford showed that love can be a painkiller that works just as well as a drug like cocaine. They chose subjects who were in the initial honeymoon phase of their relationships and they would make them feel a small amount of pain while showing them pictures of their significant others.
Simultaneously, they were scanning the brains of the subjects using an MRI machine. They subjects were also told to describe the amount of pain that had been caused. The results showed that love can actually block out a pain. The scans showed that when the subjects felt love, they areas of the brain which are activated by drug use became active. On the other hand, if the subject was shown the picture of a friend who was good-looking, the effect was much milder in comparison.
The scientists also tested out this hypothesis by offering the subjects distractions while causing them pain. While they also lessened the pain, the same parts of the brain were not affected. The cognitive areas of the brain became active in this test. In the love test, the areas of the brain concerned with rewards were activated. These areas deal with more primal urges and the effect is the same as that of drug usage.
It is also important to look at how drugs and love both affect the type and amount of hormones released by the brain. For example, cocaine is a drug which causes the brain to release greater amounts of serotonin and dopamine, both of which are also called happiness hormones. Besides this, dopamine drives people to repeat tasks that make them feel intense pleasure, a good example of which is making love. Due to these associations, it is easy to get addicted to the drugs that can make the brain produce more of these hormones.
Falling in love can affect the brain in the same way as the drugs do. An anthropologist called Helen Fisher did some research using images of the brain when it is falling in love. Her work showed that serotonin and dopamine as essential elements in those early days and work in a manner very similar to cocaine.
So now that this relationship between love and drugs has been established, we also need to look at what happens when love is taken away i.e., what happens during a break-up. Most of us are aware of how terrifying it can be when a person who is denied access to drugs begins to suffer from symptoms of withdrawal. Breakups can cause a similar, if less intense, reaction.