Romantic chemistry and the buzz of love
February 15, 2009 · Updated 12:16 AM
Love is like an amphetamine.
Compared to a drug, the initial rush when a couple falls in love is most like the drug that accelerates one's heart rate and makes them feel a rush of euphoria and energy, said Ruth Frickle, head of the psychology department at Highline Community College.
"It really acts a lot like amphetamine. It helps explain why people are distracted and a little bit obsessive about their love object. They have trouble sleeping," Frickle said.
The chemical responsible for the initial high of love is called phenylethylalanine, which promotes passionate love. Within six months to a few years, the phenylethylalanine fades. If a couple remains together, the chemical oxytocin takes over and promotes feelings of comfort, closeness and bonding. Oxytocin helps couples stay together.
Physical contact such as snuggling, kissing and sex cause the body to produce oxytocin, Frickle said. Eventually, a person's body learns to associate their lover with those feelings, and partners produce oxytocin just being near each other.
When a couple has pleasurable sex, their bodies produce dopamine, another feel-good chemical. A person could argue that having pleasurable sex can actually make love, Frickle said. The ability for sex to create love is evidenced by couples in arranged marriages who eventually fall in love.
Like amphetamines, people can become dependent on love.
"You could seek out more and more experiences that bring you the biological response that you're attached to," Frickle said.
Some people are more prone to short-term relationships because they become dependent on the phenylethylalanine that is produced early on. When it fades, they move on to another partner in hopes of feeling the high of passionate love again.
"You can't sustain that in a long-term relationship. It's going to fade no matter what you do," Frickle said.
People need love and social connections beginning as babies. Infants will not thrive unless they receive loving human touch, Frickle said.
"If you have that innate need from infancy, then you're really set for life as far as needing that," she said.
How reliably a person was cared for as an infant will have an impact on their love relationships later in life, Frickle said. While some people are more prone to having healthy relationships as adults, all people need love.