Love sometimes feels like an addiction. Know why? Because it is. Scientists are learning that the same process that occurs in the brain that fuels a drug addiction is the same process that occurs when we fall in love.
Odd as it sounds, love is a chemical state of mind hardwired into our genes and, of course, influenced by our upbringing. It's wired within us to love, so we can become loving parents who care for our helpless offspring.
So how does love work?
There are three stages of love: lust, attraction, and attachment. When these three stages occur with one person, you may have lasting love.
During the first stage of love, lust (also known as erotic passion), estrogen and testosterone awaken our sex drives. Without these two chemicals, we might never venture into a real romantic relationship. Without lust, we would never find that special someone.
In the second stage of love, attraction (or romantic passion), occurs as we first fall in love. The chemicals released create a love cocktail. Dopamine -- the pleasure chemical -- provides us that feeling of euphoria and bliss. The flushed skin, racing heart, and excitement during this stage of love is due to a chemical called norepinephrine, which is similar to adrenaline. Together, these two chemicals produce the feelings of romantic passion associated with the second stage of love.
During the last stage of love, attachment, a number of chemicals are released. Oxytocin, released during sex, helps to bond the relationship, and has been shown to be associated with an ability to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships. Oxytocin creates an emotional bond between two people. Vasopressin, an anti-diuretic hormone, is also associated with attachment. Oxytocin and vasopressin are assumed to interfere with the dopamine and norepinephrine pathways (from the first stage of love) which is postulated to explain why passionate love fades as attachment grows. Lastly, endorphins -- or the body's painkillers -- play a role in long-term relationships, as they produce a feeling of soothing well-being.
As attachment grows, we begin to settle down, get married and have babies.
Love may cause us to write the most romantic of poems, sing the most beautiful songs -- who knew it was all chemicals?
Image via PV KS/Flickr