February 17, 2014
The Chemistry Of Love / The Addiction Of Love
The American Chemical Society regularly releases episodes on YouTube of videos about science and the way different science works. The most recent episode of their series, which they call Reactions, explains the chemistry of love. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen; the ACS has a video that explains, to some extent, how love works. Now, do not worry; love is still a mystery. But this video gives a little bit of explanation about the chemical reactions in love.
In the ACS press release, they explain the video’s content: “The video explains how feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and oxytocin fuel lifelong pair bonds in prairie voles, which — along with humans — are the mammalian kingdom’s leading monogamists.”
But before explaining the chemistry of love in detail, it is important that we know a couple of terms. First is dopamine, which is an important hormone and neurotransmitter. WebMD explains, “Dopamine acts in many vital circuits inside the brain and is involved in thinking, learning, movement, motivation and pleasure, and other domains.” In other words, dopamine is the feel-good neurotransmitter. The second term to know is oxytocin. Where dopamine is the feel-good hormone, oxytocin is the love hormone.
So, just what is love? Well, according to the ACS video, love is “an emotion that is a particular response to one person.” In other words, you love being around that person and do not like being away from that person. This happens specifically because of the feel-good hormone and the love hormone. Dr. Abigail Marsh of Georgetown University explains how one study done on prairie voles shows just how the chemical reactions of love work.
Now, I know it seems bizarre to compare prairie voles to humans, but as Dr. Marsh connects, prairie voles, like humans, are the mammalian kingdom’s leading monogamists thus it stands to reason that the chemical reactions they feel that cause their pair bonding is similar to that felt in humans.
Accordingly, prairie voles tend to make very strong bonds when they mate, so strong in fact that they will continue to seek each other out after the birth of the offspring. They create a long-term bond. Unlike most males in the different species, prairie vole males stick around for the rearing (similar to the way human males do).
Why are prairie voles different from other voles and most mammals as a whole? Well, it turns out that prairie voles have more dense oxytocin receptors, meaning their brains are more receptive to the love hormone. So their mating triggers a large dose of oxytocin to release, which in turn releases dopamine, the feel-good hormone. Thus enter the pair bond.
Dr. Marsh further tells that these feelings can be mimicked by injecting more oxytocin in the female prairie vole or by blocking oxytocin. In the former, she will desperately seek out her mate while the latter causes more promiscuity in the prairie voles because they will be uninterested in creating pair bonds.
All of this leads to the discussion of how love and addiction reflect each other. See, many addictive drugs—specifically methamphetamines—create such strong addictions in users because of the dopamine and oxytocin. For instance, meth causes a serious dopamine drop into the system with the first use, so the user feels really, really, really good, and the body and brain like that so they seek it out more. And thus enters addiction.
Since love causes similar dopamine and oxytocin drops, it stands to reason that heartbreak and the feelings, pain, and depression associated with it, is caused by the addiction to love. We love love because love feels oh-so good, but when we no longer have it, our system goes into a serious withdraw—just like when addicts wean off of their drug of choice.
I guess Robert Palmer had it right in the ‘80s. We are addicted to love.
Check out the ACS video below.
Image Credit: Thinkstock