As Robert Palmer once sang, “Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love.” But addiction isn’t just a metaphor for the intensity of romance: It’s the actual, psychological truth, scientists say.
A new study by researchers at the University of Oxford — published in the journal Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology — determines that love indeed is a drug, one as potent as alcohol, pills or gambling. And, like other addictions, it might even be treatable.
What makes love an addiction?
Researchers found that the effects of romance — and the withdrawal we experience when it’s taken away — often mirror those of “more conventional addictions.” Per the study, symptoms include “cycles of alternating ecstasy and despair, desperate longing, and the extreme and sometimes damaging thoughts and behaviors that can follow from love’s loss.”
But are all lovers love addicts? There are two competing schools of thought, study leader Brian Earp told Gabby Bess of the women’s website Broadly.
First, there’s the “broad” view of love addiction, which contends love, in any form, is an addiction. Therefore, anyone who experiences love is an addict — though the severity varies by person.
Then, there’s the “narrow” view, which goes a step farther. You’re “a certified love addict,” Bess reports, if your “pursuit of love is really getting in the way of your day-to-day life.”
Whichever side is right, both raise the possibility of romantic obsession as a serious disorder — one that, researchers speculate, could be treatable.
A cure for the lovesick
It’s crazy to imagine doctors writing prescriptions for post-breakup pills or a relationship-drama love potion. But, as Bess writes, such possibilities “aren’t just science-fiction speculation.”
As Earp points out, medication already exists that could be useful for those trying to extricate themselves from a bad relationship. One example: SSRIs, often used to treat depression.
“SSRIs sometimes have the side effect of lowering your libido, but they can also sometimes block your ‘higher-level’ ability to care about other people’s feelings, and may degrade certain romantic attachments,” he tells Bess. “Normally, that’s seen as a bad thing. But if you’re trying to get out of a relationship, then this side effect of the drug might actually be helpful for your goals.”
Granted, we probably shouldn’t all pop pills for our relationship woes, but it is an intriguing concept. Let’s just hope that love is never classified as a pre-existing condition. Then we’ll all be in trouble!