Thursday 29 January 2015

Love addiction - on a par with being hooked on drugs?

Most people have experienced infatuation and the heady buzz that follows, but when does the desire to be with that special person become an addiction – one that's on a par with being hooked on drugs?

Pop star Rihanna is reported to have gone to rehab to help her get over her ex, Chris Brown.
Pop star Rihanna is reported to have gone to rehab to help her get over her ex, Chris Brown.

Some believe that a life without the exquisite pain of love and heartbreak is merely a life half-lived. And in this day and age, the drama of romance and the heady thrill of passion have been amplified to the nth degree.

Yet while love addiction may have spawned a million catchy pop songs, beyond the glossy world of showbiz lies a more disturbing reality.

Earlier this month, it was reported that Barbadian popstar Rihanna took the latest step in her ongoing relationship with fellow musician Chris Brown – checking into rehab in a bid to get over her addiction to him. According to reports, Rihanna is planning to be treated at the Ranch clinic in Tennessee, which runs courses for people with relationship issues.

Some bystanders eye-rolled at the latest instalment of the saga; an on-off-on-again dramathon that has been marked by domestic abuse, a second girlfriend on Brown's part and a tit-for-tat war on Twitter. So far, so compelling.

But the idea that Rihanna is considering embarking on a 12-step programme – the preserve of drug and alcohol addicts – to get over Brown throws a harsh light on a relatively new addiction.

Sex therapist Teresa Bergin observes: "Often, that kind of love addiction is char-acterised by drama, extreme highs and lows of interconnection and passionate arguments.

"People mistake this for passion and a deep connection when, in fact, this type of relationship is characterised by very little intimacy. It centres around drama, and the couple in question find it hard to talk about real thoughts and feelings."

Science is playing catch-up, and now examining the theory that love – dysfunctional or otherwise – is more a result of biology than cultural conditioning.

The people in white coats are also beginning to view love addiction as a serious clinical entity.

When a group of scientists at Rutgers University, New Jersey, showed heartbroken men and women photographs of past romantic partners, activity increased in the same regions of the brain known to be associated with cocaine and cigarette addiction.

Helen E Fisher, biological anthropologist at the university and a frontrunner in the field of love addiction, told 'Psychology Today' magazine:

"When I first started looking at the properties of infatuation, 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.

"Infatuation can overtake the rational parts of your brain."

Elsewhere, researchers have likened a break-up to the mental anguish of cocaine withdrawal. Researchers at Stony Brook University in the US examined 15 heartbroken men to test their reactions to a simple maths problem. The tests showed that certain areas of the brain were more active after looking at photos of their exes – and the same areas are also abuzz in cocaine addicts experiencing withdrawals.

Among his interests is pinpointing where mere infatuation ends and a proper addiction begins.

But here's the rub – romance and relationships are intoxicating by their very nature.

"It's natural in the very beginning of a relationship to be infatuated and to idealise our partner," says Teresa Bergin.

Irish Independent

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