Tuesday 23 April 2019

A pill for every ill? Now we have one for the oldest ailment there is – a broken heart

Julia Roberts and Patrick Bergin in ‘Sleeping with the Enemy’, where Laura (Roberts) fakes her own death to escape from her abusive husband
Julia Roberts and Patrick Bergin in ‘Sleeping with the Enemy’, where Laura (Roberts) fakes her own death to escape from her abusive husband
Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty

Love is a drug' is an expression used all the time. Now, scientists are telling us that love actually is a drug and that help is at hand for those with broken hearts.

For every drug there is an antidote and apparently we will soon be able to take an anti-love drug to heal our shattered hearts.

Love didn't work out too well for Romeo and Juliet, or Tristan and Isolde. Perhaps if they'd been able to pop an anti-love pill they'd all have lived happier and longer lives.

Paul Simon sang of '50 Ways to Leave Your Lover', now it looks as though science may soon provide the 51st way and it might even be pain-free.

Drugs that interfere with specific aspects of love, like sexual desire, already exist. Advances in science are now leading us down a road where anti-love pills could dampen down our feelings of love.

Brian David Earp, a research fellow at Oxford University's Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, believes in the possibility of using "anti-love biotechnology" as a treatment in much the same way you treat addiction or depression with drugs.

An anti-love drug, says Earp, "would be any substance that works to block or diminish a feeling of love, lust, attraction or attachment."

Brain studies have shown parallels between the effects of certain addictive drugs and experiences of being in love. Apparently, both can activate the brain's reward system and totally consume us so that when they are taken away we suffer withdrawal.

Basically, love is like a drug and drugs can be manipulated. For people who don't want to be in love any more, they could take a pill that makes them feel nothing for their former loved one.

On the one hand it sounds like heaven for anyone suffering from unrequited love or a broken heart but even more powerful is the potential of the drug to help women in violent relationships.

Earp believes that: "Some people in dangerous relationships know they need to get out but are unable to break their emotional attachment. If, for example, a woman in an abusive relationship could access medication that would help her break ties with her abuser, then, assuming it was safe and effective, we think she could be justified in taking it."

Used for that kind of good the drug sounds like manna from heaven, but is it ethical? Surely in the hands of the wrong person this could be extremely dangerous.

What if a right wing religious group got hold of it and gave it to any members who thought they might be gay? What if parents gave it to their children because they didn't like their current boyfriend or girlfriend? What if wives gave it to husbands to stop them from having affairs? The potential for the misuse of the drug is a minefield.

But anti-love drugs already exist. Antidepressants like Prozac are known to interfere with lust by having the common side effects of reducing desire and libido.

According to Earp, in Israel, anti-love drugs are unofficially in use. Some ultra-Orthodox Jews have already prescribed antidepressants to young yeshiva students to reduce libido.

If dulling your emotions and zoning out your true feelings are the only way to get over a relationship, maybe those people with 'normal' broken hearts should stick to crying into their pillows, eating tubs of ice cream, drinking too much wine and reading self-help books.

Is a broken heart not a rite of passage for most young people? Doesn't it make you stronger? Is it not better to plough through the pain than take medicine for it?

We are a generation that pops a pill for every ill. Wouldn't we just end up abusing the drug like most others? Would we all run to take anti-love drugs the minute a relationship broke up, never allowing ourselves to feel real emotions?

Surely it's important when a relationship breaks down to spend some time reflecting on what happened and why it went wrong, instead of throwing a pill down your neck so you can rush into a new relationship.

On the other hand, if a drug could help a person who is still heartbroken a year after a break-up and unable to move on with their life, then it would be a welcome relief.

But we need to be careful of overuse or dependence on drugs that numb emotions.

In Europe, America and parts of Asia, increasing numbers of people are choosing to live on their own. Birth rates are falling and people are choosing to marry later or not at all.

In Japan, 'celibacy syndrome' has become a huge national problem. Japan has one of the world's lowest birth rates. Young Japanese people are opting out of love and marriage.

With more young people turning to technology for company and comfort, if we're not careful we'll all end up becoming completely physically disconnected from each other, living in Pods and sleeping with our iPads.

It's important to remember that love, while sometimes painful, is also the biggest natural high there is.

Irish Independent

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