Falling in Love

Love is a Powerful Drug1 min read

Love is a Powerful Drug

"[Love] has all of the characteristics of addiction. You focus on the person, you obsessively think about them, you crave them, you distort reality, your willingness to take enormous risks to win this person. And it's got the three main characteristics of addiction: tolerance, you need to see them more, and more, and more; withdrawals; and last, relapse." —Helen Fisher, PhD, a biological anthropologist who studies love.

Even from the first moments of spotting a crush, our brains release a powerful chemical cocktail to induce feelings of euphoria, bliss, and then if you're lucky, intimacy and comfort. Your brain is programmed to seek and keep love at any cost.

Let's look at the six stages of falling in love.
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Stage 1: First Attraction - Love is a Drug

Let's say you develop a crush on that handsome scruffy bartender, Johnny, with the nice eyes. Every time that stud crosses your mind, you become consumed with a feeling of giddiness like a 12-year-old schoolgirl. You know the feeling! At this point the potent neurotransmitter dopamine is being released in your brain. This chemical elicits feelings of euphoria—just like when using cocaine or gambling!

Your brain uses dopamine to urge you forward like an irresistible love-carrot being held in front of your love-drunk face. Every time you see or even think of that scruffy stud, Johnny, your brain releases more dopamine—compelling you forward.

Put yourself out there—no risk, no reward!
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Stage 2: A Rush of Love and Excitement

You ask him out on a date—he says yes! Your heart is pumping, your palms sweating, you feel a rush over your body and you're consumed with excitement! Your brain is pushing you forward to the next stage by sending a signal to the adrenal gland to get you pumped up (with adrenaline, epinephrine and norepinephrine) and excited.
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"There's all kinds of reasons that you fall in love with one person rather than another. Timing is important. Proximity is important. Mystery is important. You fall in love with somebody who's somewhat mysterious, in part because mystery elevates dopamine in the brain, probably pushes you over that threshold to fall in love. You fall in love with somebody who fits within what I call your "love map," an unconscious list of traits that you build in childhood as you grow up. And I also think that you gravitate to certain people, actually, with somewhat complementary brain systems."—Helen Fisher, PhD

Dopamine and norepinephrine are the key to falling in love! On your first date, take him to do something new that neither of you have done before. Studies have shown that new and exciting things elevate dopamine in the brain, which can help to push your date over the love threshold. Norepinephrine makes us feel good like dopamine, but it also has the amazing effect of inducing infatuation and obsession—motivating us to go even further.
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Stage 3: Hopelessly Addicted to Love

Your date indoor rock-climbing was a success! You want to be around this guy every minute of every day. You check your messages constantly when you're not by his side. You’re addicted to love! The same part of your brain that's active when you're addicted to cocaine activates when you fall in love. Scientists call this the limbic reward system.

At this stage you'll do anything to stay with this guy—you're hooked! Did you know that research has shown that the love drive is stronger than the sex drive?
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Your limbic system will continue to pump out dopamine and you've never felt more alive! The chemical pushes you to cloud 9 and keeps you craving the guy you love. You may even experience feelings of withdrawal when he's not around, which strengthens your craving for love and motivates you to see him again.

Now a warning. Now a warning?! Love, like with any drug, has high diminishing returns. In other words, what felt amazing that first magical night tapers off after the initial love phase, called the "Honeymoon Period." That's why a few months down the line, the spark can diminish and you and your beau can fall out of love. That is, of course, unless you’ve become attached.
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Stage 4: He's Perfect in Every Way!

He's perfect in every way! Yeah, yeah, of course he is ;) Your friends may have no idea why you guys are together, and there's a good reason why. When you fall in love, you often ignore red flags that your friends see from a mile away. Your brain may be hiding his flaws from you in plain sight.

While parts of your limbic reward system are firing like love-fireworks in the brain, another part of your brain where good judgement happens, the amygdala, remains eerily quiet.

The amygdala is all about making decisions and judgements, figuring out when people are lying to you, recognizing fearful or awkward situations. However, when you fall in love, your amygdala puts on its beer goggles and goes to sleep—leaving you and your rose-colored glasses to see your guy as the perfect match.
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Stage 5: Stuck Together

You guys are inseparable! The more time you spend with your special guy, the more our brain starts to release oxytocin, AKA "the love hormone." This chemical is key to human mating and bonding. It's released during breast feeding for mom and baby bonding and it induces cuddling behavior in many animals. Molly or MDMA saturates your bloodstream with oxytocin.

Studies have shown that oxytocin is crucial to developing deep bonds, trust and commitment.
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Stage 6: Together for the Long Haul

With brains that have been saturated with dopamine and oxytocin, you've progressed to the last step—deep companionship. After years of being committed to your man, your brain will have an increased activity in the ventral pallidum—an area associated with deep attachment.

This area of the brain is rife with oxytocin and vasopressin receptors. Both of those chemicals are associated with monogamy and meaningful connection. This region of the brain lights up when you have feelings of deep attachment for your man.

This stage doesn't mean that your love life becomes dull and boring. Brain scans show that the areas in the brain that light up when you fall in love remain active during this phase. One way to make sure the rush of courting your man stays strong is to always experience new things and adventures together.
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The six stages of falling in love