What Happens To Your Brain On A Chemical Level When You Fall In Love?

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Love

For many centuries, human beings thought that emotions like love, attraction, and attachment arose from the heart. However, studies into the science of attraction have proven that brain chemistry is responsible for all these emotions, which involve hormones and chemicals.

Yes, the most important organ for love is the brain, not the heart.

The so-called "love chemical" responsible for all of it is actually a combination of chemicals — including adrenaline, testosterone, oxytocin, and more. 

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Is love just oxytocin?

When you meet someone you like, your brain triggers the release of various love chemicals into your body.

These love chemicals and love hormones alter your mental state. Therefore, you'll find yourself perceiving and behaving differently from your usual self.

Oxytocin increases the amount of time you spend admiring the eyes of the person you love, as it boosts your ability to read someone’s emotions. Therefore, that doesn't mean love is just oxytocin, but oxytocin undeniably has an important role in establishing and maintaining relationships.

Why is oxytocin called the love drug?

It's because levels of oxytocin are increased when people hug or engage in sexual activity. However, there's no evidence oxytocin is an actual love drug, though it does act like a "volume dial" that amplifies brain activity when someone is experiencing an emotion. 

Is love really a chemical reaction?

To be frank, yes — love is a chemical reaction, as a person who is in love has higher levels of oxytocin and vasopressin. These two hormones are produced in areas of the brain by the hypothalamus, and the two hormones cause stronger feelings of attachment.

Love is all about the brain which controls the rest of your body's functions. No wonder we do crazy things when we experience love.

Scientifically, according to a study led by Dr. Helen Fisher at Rutgers, she and a team of scientists found that love is broken down into three categories: lust, attraction, and attachment. Each category has its own designated set of hormones, which are increased when a person experiences lust, attraction, or attachment.

Testosterone and estrogen are released in lust, dopamine; norepinephrine and serotonin are released when you feel attraction; oxytocin and vasopressin are released in feelings of attachment. 

Even when we are attracted to someone, chemicals like adrenaline make us blush, give us sweaty palms, and make our hearts beat faster. Even in the early stages of relationships, studies found that couples experience a significantly higher level of oxytocin than people who are single.

Does oxytocin make you fall in love?

Studies show that oxytocin can potentially make you fall in love, as it has relationship-enhancing effects including trust, gazing, empathy, positive relationship memories, fidelity, positive communication, and processing of bonding cues. 

Along with oxytocin, the hormones released with dopamine and norepinephrine make you giddy, energetic, and so excited that you can’t eat and can’t sleep; or, in other words, make you "in love."

But even though there are high levels of oxytocin at the beginning of a relationship, it also has an effect on long-term relationships, as higher levels were found in relationships that lasted longer than 6 months. 

Surprisingly, when you experience attraction, there is a reduction in serotonin, which is involved in your appetite and mood. Scientists speculate that serotonin is what underlies the obsessive infatuation that we experience in the beginning stages of love, as people who suffer from OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder also have low levels of serotonin.

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Here are 4 scientific things that happen when you're attracted to — and falling in love with — someone:

1. Your body gets excited and produces adrenaline.

Adrenaline, which is secreted by our adrenal glands when we are excited, is one of the most interesting love hormones because it suppresses some of our body's functions while heightening others.

Meeting someone new can be quite scary because of the uncertainties involved. And since adrenaline is a survival hormone, it enables us to pursue the attraction despite the dangers involved.

Some of the physical effects of adrenaline include dilation of the eyes, increased sweating, faster heartbeat, a heightened feeling of anxiety and nervousness, and butterflies in the stomach, much like the feelings of first love you might have felt in high school. 

What's more, research shows that there is a significant positive correlation between adrenaline and attraction: As the level of adrenaline in the body increases, so does the level of appeal. 

2. Your brain produces more testosterone and estrogen, which boosts attraction.

The body releases testosterone in both men and women, and estrogen in women. In women, estrogen creates a longing for physical closeness and a desire for sex with the person you like. Testosterone creates sexual desire, openness, and seductiveness in both sexes.

The production of these love hormones is your body’s immediate reaction to meeting a potential mate, urging you to procreate. While this is a heteronormative example,estrogen makes women more attractive to men. When estrogen levels increase, women tend to dress more provocatively, flirt more, and experience shifts in scent, skin tone, and voice pitch. 

On the other hand, testosterone makes men appear more attractive to women by enabling them to achieve more masculinity. When testosterone is released, men tend to have a higher sex drive, appear more masculine and become exceedingly more attractive to women.

3. Your body is flooded with 'feel-good hormones,' including dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.

Dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, referred to as "feel-good hormones," are released shortly after meeting someone we like.

Dopamine, which is released into the nucleus accumbens, triggers an intense rush of pleasure, which has the same effect on the brain as taking cocaine, as drug addicts experience this feeling and become addicted. 

Once high levels of dopamine are released into the body, it leads to increased energy, less need for sleep or food, more focused attention on the person whom we like, exquisite delight in all the smallest details of the new person, the need for attention, and feelings of excitement and happiness.

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Serotonin plays a role in balancing mood, appetite, sexual desire, and sexual function, and is an essential chemical for the start of any new relationship. Serotonin diverts the mind and binds it to think about one’s lover and nothing else.

When this love chemical is in effect, people are engrossed in thought about the person they like about 65 percent of the day.

Oxytocin, known as the "cuddle hormone," is released equally in men and women who share romantic love and feelings, and defines the depth of the love and form attachment to the partner. It also helps improve communication between partners.

In one study, the administration of oxytocin led to a significant boost in the ability of couples to interpret cues from each other’s eyes. Oxytocin is, therefore, associated with pair formation, pair maintenance, and partner attachment.

4. Your body produces a bonding hormone called vasopressin.

Vasopressin is a love hormone released by the brain at the end of the attraction phase. It's responsible for transforming a mere sexual attraction into a mature, committed, and authentic relationship — and is responsible for keeping love alive over time.

Vasopressin is also known as the monogamy chemical. It induces the desire to stay with that specific individual, and facilitates a strong emotional attachment by encouraging behaviors that produce long-term, monogamous relationships. With it, this love hormone brings a feeling of calmness, security, comfort, emotional union, and the desire to protect one another.

When vasopressin levels reduce in the body, the bond that a couple shares is weakened, and the partners no longer willingly prevent themselves from being attracted to other people.

Learning about the science of attraction and what's happening to our brains and bodies on a chemical level can help you understand what is happening at each stage in your relationship. By understanding the role of particular hormones, you can keep the right hormones flowing.

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Christopher D. Brown is an author, relationship coach, and marriage educator. He specializes in dating, marital issues, divorce prevention, and relationship support.

This article was originally published at RedesigningTheMind.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.