Love Is An Addiction; Breakups Like Withdrawal

Heart made out of pills
Love, Heartbreak

Relationships are as addictive as drugs, reveals a new study, no wonder breakups hurt.

Breaking up is definitely hard to do, and researchers now know why that is.

It seems that love is comparable to a drug addiction: It activates the parts of the brain associated with motivation, reward and addiction cravings, according to new research from Stony Brook University.

Researchers were able to show a connection between romantic rejection and a cocaine craving via brain images. And they helped to pinpoint that romantic love is more about being in a powerful, goal-oriented state based on the success of the relationship, rather than feeling a specific emotion, Arthur Aron, professor of social and health psychology at Stony Brook and one of the study's researchers, told AOL Health.

The research team, led by Helen Fisher, a research professor and member of the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies at Rutgers University, used functional magnetic resonance imaging to monitor the brain activity of 15 college-age individuals. The heterosexual men and women had recently been dumped by their significant others and reported that they were still in love with their former partner, spent hours thinking about that person and hoped that their partner would come back to them.

The authors of the study, which was published in the July issue of the Journal of Neurophysiology, showed participants a photograph of their former girlfriend or boyfriend and asked them to complete a math exercise. Then they showed the volunteers a picture of a familiar "neutral" individual.

The photos of participants' past partners stimulated several key areas of the brain, including:

-- The ventral tegmental area in the mid-brain, which controls motivation and reward and is known to play a role in romantic love

-- The nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex, which are linked to cravings and addiction (particularly the dopaminergic reward system seen in cocaine addiction)

-- The insular cortex and anterior cingulated

-- the brain areas associated with physical pain and suffering

The researchers said that these brain images also explain why extreme emotions and behaviors can be hard to control and may lead to stalking, homicide, suicide or depression.