The neuroscience of break-ups: it's like craving cocaine!

A study published in the July issue of the Journal of Neurophysiology found that romantic break-ups activate parts of the brain that are associated with addiction cravings:
"This brain imaging study of individuals who were still 'in love' with their rejecter supplies further evidence that the passion of 'romantic love' is a goal-oriented motivation state rather than a specific emotion" the researchers concluded, noting that brain imaging showed some similarities between romantic rejection and cocaine craving. "The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that romantic love is a specific form of addiction."

The study also helps to explain "why feelings and behaviors related to romantic rejection are difficult to control" and why extreme behaviors associated with romantic rejection such as stalking, homicide, suicide, and clinical depression occur in cultures all over the world, the researchers wrote.

I think most of us have experienced this feeling at one point in our lives, but it's interesting to know it can be backed up by science.

Anguish of romantic rejection may be linked to stimulation of areas of brain related to motivation, reward, and addiction [Science Daily]


  1. Your lights are on, but you’re not home
    Your mind is not your own
    Your heart sweats, your body shakes
    Another kiss is what it takes

    You can’t sleep, you can’t eat
    There’s no doubt, you’re in deep
    Your throat is tight, you can’t breathe
    Another kiss is all you need

    Whoa, you like to think that you’re immune to the stuff, oh yeah

    It’s closer to the truth to say you can’t get enough, you know you’re

    Gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to love.

  2. Oh this is going to make for some very interesting legal strategies. Addiction as a defense for homicide? “I’m not responsible for my actions, I was addicted to love?”

    I’d wager we see that defense sooner rather than later.

      1. The difference, of course, being that crack is illegal; and love is not only legal, but encouraged by our society. Well, at least to a certain extent.

        1. OK, fair enough. But “I can’t be held responsible for my actions because I was addicted to booze” isn’t exactly a winning legal strategy either.

          1. “I can’t be held responsible for my actions because I was addicted to booze” isn’t exactly a winning legal strategy either.

            It is if you promise to go to rehab.

          2. Oddly enough, if they were truly stinko on the booze, they actually weren’t “responsible”, as they did not know what they were doing when they did whatever it was they are being charged with. (so how could they meaningfully “respond” to the charge, either guilty or no…they were not truly, that is , not consciously, there at the time of the act!)

            But the Law knows what would happen if that truth governed the outcome: so that truth is set aside, so that intoxication cannot be a defense. And I don’t have a problem with it, in such cases.

            The fact remains though: the truly drunk, the truly stinko, have not the capacity to be criminally responsible for their actions, and would indeed be found not to be so criminally liable, absent the “exception for drunks” which the Law holds comes into play to deny them that defense.

            So long, of course, as the intoxication came about of the accused’s own volition, by the accused’s own unforced and voluntary action.

  3. Now here you go again
    You say you want your freedom
    Well who am I to keep you down

    Now here I go again, I see the crystal visions
    I keep my visions to myself
    It’s only me
    — Dreams, Stevie Nicks

  4. I am normally a rather skeptical if not suspicious kind of person and yet, I once rebounded into the arms of a pathological liar and willfully ignored all the inconsistencies just to regain the feeling of being with someone.

    No argument here.

    1. Same

      I made the horrible mistake of falling in love with a manipulative sociopath.
      I gave her money, I helped her in any way I could, even when she was horrible to me, I made up excuses for her.

      Even the thought of her made my heart flutter.

      It reminded me a LOT of cocaine.

      I did such stupid and desperate things just to get another taste, even after she dumped me when I was no longer useful to her.
      I would re-align my entire worldview just to have her in my arms.

      Absolutely it was an addiction.
      I would go through withdrawal and stay up all night in a cold sweat waiting for her to call.

      And, I was smart enough to know better, I knew damn well how stupid I was being, and I did it anyway.

  5. Nice preliminary research, it makes for good headlines but it doesn’t say anything conclusive at all.

    They “found that romantic break-ups activate parts of the brain that are associated with addiction cravings” So some parts of the brain lights up in your brainscan thingy that also lights up when you withhold an addict from his cocaine (not an easy drug to get hooked to by the way..). Thats says nothing, you don’t know what is going on in there and if it is exactly the same process that takes place. There’s nothing conclusive about this research.

    And still all over the world headlines shout:

    break-ups: it’s like craving cocaine!

    I wonder why we behave like that? I wonder…

  6. I see my fellow Canuck(ette) kd lang nailed this some time ago.
    So, science again follows art, only in code and backwards, so to speak….

  7. So they’ll be selling a pill to counteract all those pesky breakup feelings? Maybe trying for a patent on it?

  8. i knew love wasn’t valid. thanks for backing me up, science. i sure do love science though.

  9. Seems like this sort of thing should come after they chart the neuroscience of falling in love. Now *that* is some serious druggie badness!

    I never want to make a serious decision about someone new until after we’ve successfully worked out a disagreement. Otherwise it’s just the drugs talking.

  10. I can just hear the cafeteria conversation that led to this. Two researchers, one of them crying into his gingko laced Tanglike beverage product, the other one sharing some home baked wisdom from Grandma: “Just use it in your work, dude, you’ll get over her…”

  11. “This brain imaging study of individuals who were still ‘in love’ with their rejecter supplies further evidence that the passion of ‘romantic love’ is a goal-oriented motivation state rather than a specific emotion.

    I think I kind of always knew this, and I’m not the kind of person who thinks it’s an ironclad law just because SCIENCE! in the form of a preliminary neuro paper flatters my own perceptions, but it is rather comforting to see it stated in these straightforward terms.

    We’re always happier when we’re chasing rather than catching. I think a lot of the most stable relationships are the ones where both partners have figured out how to always, always give the other person something to strive for that’s just a bit out of reach.

    1. Silence fool! Such teachings are not for the masses.


      I can’t quit you baby.
      Think I’m gonna have to put you down
      for a while.

  12. Think it’s fairly simple. You’re dealing with the most primal part of the brain, the R-Complex. The part of your brain Carl Sagan proposed dealt with ritual, aggression, lust, hierarchy, primal urges…

    Not the limbic system, which is primarily emotion.. or the neocortex which focuses on reason and abstraction.

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