Recent research has shown that breaking up with a lover has many of the characteristics of withdrawal from drugs. We already knew that romantic attachments and sexual activity stimulate the same parts of the brain as drugs and alcohol. That “pleasure center” exists in order to reward us for doing things that are good for us as organisms: eating, sleeping, playing, social activity, and making little organisms. Its feel-good messages are direct and powerful, and it doesn’t take us addicts long to learn that it can be stimulated by other things as well. We take full advantage of that. What the researchers found, via MRI scans, is that when we think of a recent failed relationship it affects our brains the same as drug withdrawal.
Since ending relationships, especially romantic relationships, can cause withdrawal, it follows logically that breaking up is going to be hard to do. It should come as no surprise, then, when we feel actual withdrawal symptoms. These may involve depression, sleeplessness, actual physical pain and nausea, a feeling that there is a huge empty place inside, nervousness, irritability — in short, the same feelings (for essentially the same reasons) that we get when we are withdrawing from alcohol and other drugs.
This leads us to other conclusions:
- Relationships can be used as substitutes for drugs or alcohol.
- Stimulation of the reward center by a relationship can lead to cravings for other forms of stimulation.
- Withdrawal from a relationship can cause pain similar to what we had in early recovery, and can easily lead to relapse on our drug or drugs of choice. And finally,
- There really is such a thing as love addiction.
Those old-timers in AA, NA and the other fellowships aren’t so dumb after all, eh? Does “no relationships for a year” begin to make more sense? Is it starting to seem like a pretty good idea? Think about it.