Passionate Love: Like a Drug, or Mental Illness

The passion of early love! Giddy, and intense. Heart thumping in the yearning breast. Can’t eat, can’t sleep. Can think of little else.

In fact, passionate love is like a drug. Or a mental illness.

Researchers asked volunteers to look at photos of their partners. Those in passionate love responded in ways similar to drug addiction, as captured in brain imaging. Lead researcher, Helen Fisher, commented, “When I first started looking at the properties of infatuation,” she said, “they had some of the same elements of a cocaine high: sleeplessness, loss of a sense of time, absolute focus on love to the detriment of all around you.”

According to Psychology Today, a brain chemical connected to falling in love rises with infatuation, heightening euphoria and excitement.

Meanwhile, brain areas that control impulses, fear and negativity become less active. Obsession and reckless behavior increase. As Dr. Fisher put it, “Infatuation can overtake the rational parts of your brain.” Passionate love resembling mental illness.

The turbulent times are marked by ecstasy and fulfillment when love is returned; but sadness and despair when it is not.

Over time passionate love settles a bit. Not a bad thing, really, for who can function drug-addicted and mentally ill?

Something is lost, but something may also be gained as greater intimacy and commitment join passionate affection, rounding out the three pillars of love, which psychologist, Robert Sternberg has identified in his “triangular theory of love.”

Sternberg calls love that is marked only by “intimacy,” but not passion or commitment, “liking love,” or good friends.

When love consists only of “commitment,” nothing but duty keeps a couple together. He calls this “empty love.”

But when intimacy and commitment meet passion, a couple moves into “consummate love,” the best of all worlds.

Few couples continually stay in a state of consuming love. And many will go through various loving styles as feelings rise, fall, and rise again.

Perhaps the trick is going with the flow and creating ways to enliven the relationship.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on February 14, 2011, in men, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. I completely agree with this post! Love really is just like a mental illness or our idea of love. What we feel when we are in love with someone is like a drug addiction. You are consumed by this person, they can do no wrong in your eyes, and you can never get enough. The same as if you were talking about a drug. I feel as though there certainly are different highs and lows of being in love and being in a relationship where you are in love. When love consumes, you, you can’t get away from it. When you are infatuated by someone that doesn’t necessarily love you back it becomes even more of an obsession in my opinion. In certain relationships when commitment is your only pillar of love this can go bad fast. I’ve dealt with a similar situation and later realized I sabotaged the relationship because I was running away from feeling like I was obligated to be a certain person to my partner. I couldn’t uphold that persona anymore.

  2. I know some of the biological psychology that when people fall in love, then they feel so happy and high because of the brain system. I agree with you that after they fall in love, people have a “mental illness” because it is the same part of brain works as people’s feeling to use the drug. That’s why some people lost their mind, and they are crazy about their partner. Some people always want to get the attention, so they are acting similarly as a child. However, I can not understand what is the “dating system” in here. Of course, after they committed, they should be responsible for each other, but their behavior does not change as no commitment yet. Why are they doing this confusing thing? I want to know what the difference between dating and being official. Because they love each other, and they are comfortable to have a good time, then they decided to be official after they are dating more than three months or more.

  3. I didn’t really think if love in this way but, seeing how it could be like cocaine is interesting because of how alike the symptoms are. I think love really is like a drug and it can take a toll on people depending on how hard they fall. Love can make someone do crazy things that they wouldn’t even realize they’re doing. People can also mistake love for infatuation which can sometimes lead to a more hurtful confusing heartbreak.

  4. I think this relates to why cheating happens so often because if the passionate love is at a low in a long-term relationship one of the partners may seek it elsewhere, like an addict seeks out a drug fix.
    It is a good point that love does not stay the same in a relationship, but cycles through different phases. I think couples need to realize this instead of worrying that the love is no longer present in a relationship when it’s really just in the process of changing its form.
    I like to think that passionate love can live on in a relationship and that it is worth the in-between states to get to consummate love. A couple is not going to run out of experiences to try, which keeps things lively, and hopefully dismisses the thought of cheating as a way to feel passionate love. Love makes a person do crazy things and romantic comedies play into the truth of that.

  5. Love is deep, intense, and long-lasting; people use love to express true emotion. Love is the passionate affection and desire felt by lovers for each other.Love can be so powerful that people cry, suffer pain, or even risk their lives to save it.True love springs from the very bottom of the heart and the spirit of the soul. Love can be that addictive, things that surrounds you exist no longer, it’s like being hypnotized. Usually, that love inquire passion and commitment.

  6. Elizabeth McMurray

    I think the part about “sadness and despair” when the love is not returned is important. Being “drug-addicted and mentally ill” while trying to cope with “sadness and despair” seems like a lot to take in all at once! No wonder unrequited love provides such a rich subject for the arts. I read that men are more likely than women to have experienced unrequited love, but I’m curious how their experiences might compare to each other. I’d imagine gender roles could significantly impact the experience of loving someone who doesn’t love you back and the experience of having to reject someone’s love.

  7. laura rene c

    I totally agreed with this article. I think love can be a lot like a drug from my experience and from observing friends and family members. It definitely changes a person’s state of mind. I liked the comparison to cocaine because those are the common side-effects and it seems crazy that just feeling an emotion in your head can cause those same effects. It also makes sense that brain areas that control impulses often become less active. I have known people to do some thoughtless things just because love. As they say “love makes you do crazy things”. I am sure that this is where the statement stems from. I think it is important for someone to feel this to also have passion and commitment, like the article explains, or love will not last.

  8. I agree with this article, I remember when I was in love, the intimacy was awesome. Now I keep on searching for that feeling again. Many times I catch my self thinking of that person when I am with someone else. It is nice to have the whole package but at the same time is ok to enjoy sex without all of this feelings not the same of course. I so believe in Dr. Stemberg’s theory of consummated love it does put you in a stage of floating and this happiness that disconnect us form our selfs. I also believe that this is one of the most precious feelings a human can ever experience.

  9. I think relating falling in love (passionate love) with a drug has to do with being consumed by it and feeling like you are floating on a cloud. When you are in that phase of love, it’s almost as nothing else really seems to matter and everything will just fall into place. That phase does come and go throughout a relationship. Some people make the mistake of looking elsewhere after the feeling passes, seeking to reignite that feeling and maybe never learning that they don’t need to look anywhere else but right in front of them. I like what Dr. Sternberg wrote about consummate love. It’s true!

  10. Love to me (now that I thought I was in love once) has completely changed. I once thought I was in love with someone for so many years until it ended. I went through the stages of infatuation, intimacy, romance, sleepless nights and even lust. After many years pass and you start having withdrawls from the person you love, that’s when love starts to feel like a drug to me. I believe that the ending of a relationship is what makes love a drug. You feel like you can’t eat, breath and even live without that person. I don’t have a problem with love being a drug if it was the way it is describes above as a positive outcome from drugs, But as we all know nobody is ever happy as a drug addict. Which is why I think the ending of a relationship is the real drug of love.

  11. I have found that love can be addicting, but I disagree that is it like a drug. I think that is a little bit of a strecth, love can offer positives and benefit two people. Where as drug only offer negative results. Being in love can sometimes affect your outside life, like friends, family, work, or school and in the beginning it can be challenging for some to find a balance between everything. However, once the balance has been established and the two maintain a healthy relationship, love is a positive aspect in ones life. Drugs used for recreational purposes are harmful, unhealthy, and in no way positive.

    • Well, it’s only LIKE a drug in how it affects the brain through brain imaging. I’m not against passionate love, mind you. But found this infor interesting.

  12. It’s fascinating the physiological changes that occur during “passionate love”. It definitely explains a lot! I’m sure anyone wouldn’t mind falling into that state at least once in their lives, but it can’t stay exactly that way forever. I’m guessing some kind of balance has to be reached for the love to stay alive in both. I also wonder though about the effects of the abrupt end of passionate love, when love is no longer mutual and a relationship must come to an end. I went through a really tough break-up after a four-year relationship and it’s kind of funny how the same elements of infatuation being compared to a cocaine high (“sleeplessness, loss of a sense of time, absolute focus on love to the detriment of all around you”) applied to me all over again because I was so sad and depressed about losing my best friend and boyfriend. It also makes me wonder about the ways we change and are affected by love and how that reflects our strength and independence as a person, and more importantly to me, as a woman? Does falling madly in love or taking a break-up really hard show that we are passionate, caring, and true to our feelings and emotions…or is it a sign of weakness and being easily consumed by another person? I know that these questions are hard to answer and may not have a right or wrong answer, but because of my personal experiences, I noticed that I am finding it hard to see myself in “passionate love” because it honestly feels kind of dangerous and I’m afraid of getting hurt again.

  13. I totally believe this is true because I’ve experienced both types of love before. I have gone in and out of both types of love with the person I am with now, but I think we have consummate love because we are truly each other’s best friends, are very much in love with each other, committed to each other, and there for each other. It can be very easy for people to get taken away in their relationships. They have the “honeymoon phase” of the relationship, and are falling in love, and they become hooked to that person and start seeing their family and friends less. Your heart is so open and full and vulnerable. But if that phase continues, it can be detrimental to people’s individuality and sanity. I think a lot of people, including myself, struggle with letting be in love consume their lives, especially when it makes you feel so happy. It is like a drug that is hard to quit, or cut down on, to say the least and it can be a difficult journey to find that balance and try to cut back one’s addiction.

  14. I am 56 years old and I believe I have only really been in love once. I have been married once with three more serious relationships, that last one being who I believe I was in love with. I experienced all that the article mentions, the excitement, only able to think of him, etc. and I know we did experience some level of consumate love and, even after several years, it was still the best feeling to love, be committed and still attracted to him. No one could turn my head. The problem was that only I could keep the committment and I was forever waiting for a dream to come true of promises never kept. This man had a very troubled life and I saw behind that and always hoped he could move beyond them and make things work to what we both said we wanted. So, I didn’t consider him to be a fake person and I was fooled all the years we were together, he just couldn’t pull himself away from an old lifestyle, it was easier for him to stay with what he knew and I couldn’t save him. So eventually I went my way. Hmmm, I also read the article about Fatal Attraction and wonder if I chose to be with him because were opposites. Well, if it was that type of attraction, it felt good and righ to me even through the sadness. I am glad I was able to experience these feelings.

  15. I completely agree with this, My current boyfriends and i have been together now for 4 years and we have broken up a few times, the first time we broke up we both meet someone else after we broke it off and I ended things with that other guy because i felt in my heart that I loved my boyfriend and this other guy is nothing compared to this new guy. I knew it was not just because I was lonely because i had someone else but because i love him and i had really missed him. One day we ran into each other in the grocery store and we did not say anything to each other and i was with a friend, after we left the store i called him right away and asked him to meet up with me because I wanted to talk to him, and we meet up. We ended up working things out, and we both really missed each other. when I was a freshmen in high school i thought my first boyfriend was amazing and i was in love, later i looked back and I thought to myself this guy was ridiculous what was I thinking, i was just Sprung off my first boyfriend. And that was a way that i figured out i really love my current boyfriend i know it is bad to compare but I did it in a way that i made sure i wasn’t just sprung again. I Love everything about my boyfriend and yeah everyone has flaws but i love him for his flaws as well, when we are together we don’t care or see it as how long we spent together it was that we just got to be together and appreciated every little part about each other and loved being together or around each other even if we were in an argument we still did not lose sight of why we love each other. Even though we are both still young we act and take roles of a married couple but it isn’t because we tried to or we are acting they are things that just automatically happen and we have feelings that we have never felt before with anyone else, this special comfort that we have never felt before. Love is like a drug and when you are addicted it can make things in life go sour and you lose sight and concept of things. Things get better as you step back every once in a while and look at it from a different view, keep things fresh. True love is one of the most sacred and beautiful things in life, that is if it really is love and not lust.

  16. I think love varies for everyone… and it’s a stretch to give it a meaning because that might not be what each individual experiences. We all experience it in a unique way. Though I’d say for the most part, love is a drug…. an addictive one at that too. I also find it interesting how to differentiate the types of love we feel for different people… like how we love our parents in way completely different than we love our significant other.

    I think it’s a beautiful phenomenon that is only good… it’s only failed relationships that give love a negative aspect e.g. heartbreaks and deception. It’s funny how we see love as very emotional, curious thing, but really so much of it is also biological and happens in our brain activity, so often times, as much as we want to control it… it makes sense why it becomes so difficult.

    • Well, your brain looking like someone on drugs or mentally ill when you’re in passionate love ain’t all bad. I kind of thought it was funny. And I’ve enjoyed those times immensely when I’ve been in the passionate love state. Probably a good thing I’m not always there, though.

  17. In most relationships we can feel all three (love, infatuation, and lust) all at once, to some degree. Love is when you love the whole person (spirit, heart, mind and body), lust is when you only love part of them, which means that you see only part of the person as having value and that the whole person is not valuable. Love and infatuation are often the hardest to distinguish from one another. It may take several months, or longer, to see whether infatuation will turn into love or fizzle out.
    When infatuated we experience a surge of dopamine that rushes through the brain causing us to feel good, stimulating production of adrenaline (pounding heart). Irrational romantic sentiments may be caused by oxytocin, a primary sexual arousal hormone that signals orgasm and feelings of emotional attachment. Together these chemicals sometimes override that brain activity that governs logic. When the chemical flood dries out, the relationship either moves into a loving romantic one or there is disillusionment, and the relationship ends. Lasting relationships are those that are built on love – not infatuation or lust.
    Love is a dynamic process which means that there is a relationship that flexes changes and grows as people mature; experience happens upon them, priorities and dreams are built and goals are met. Infatuation is a static process characterized by an unrealistic expectation of blissful passion without positive growth and development. Characterized by a lack of trust, lack of loyalty, lack of commitment, lack of reciprocity, an infatuation is not necessarily foreplay for a love scenario. But most people are infatuated with their love partners to a certain degree. Trying to differentiate your love interest from your infatuation interest requires maturity and the ability to take the step back and survey the big picture.

    • I completely agree with all of this. Unfortunately, so many are at a lost as to what real love is and therefore make deep mistakes. They even go as far as getting married for all the wrong reason and soon after end up in a divorce. People need to be more educated as to what real love is and what it can offer. It is with real love that one can make the impossible possible and to never give up especially when things go wrong. You never give up on your loved one (and it takes two) when you really do love them.

  18. I believe this is very much true, love is like a drug, its something you want to keep going back for more and more. Until eventually it becomes somewhat of a boring habit that may or may not continue. And sometimes love is exposed ever so very often, so much that it is not a serious gesture anymore. Hope that makes sense.

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