A young Sigmund Freud reportedly said, “one is very crazy when in love.” For those in love—the weakness in the knees, butterflies in the stomach, sleepless nights thinking about that special someone—Freud’s view seems right. Lovers may find themselves losing their sanity, falling more and more “crazy in love.”
According to Alan Goodboy, Ph.D. in Communication Studies and professor at Bloomsburg University, scientifically speaking, love does make people crazy. The release of chemicals in lovers’ brains elicits crazy and addictive behavior.
First, said Goodboy, it is important to know that “love” is a construct; it is a made up word to describe a phenomena in which everyone experiences. When asked what love is, college students had different ideas. Pittsburgh University student Chise Diacik described love as “thinking of someone else before yourself,” and “knowing the person at their best and accepting them at their worst.” On the other hand, Moravian University student Sarah Keenhold said “love is the feeling that you get when you are with the person that completes you and the longing to be with them when they are absent.”
While love means different things to different people, certain ideas of love often surface. Most people attribute love to feelings of caring, intimacy, attraction, trust and so on. This is common, according to Goodboy. Saying “I love you” is cognitive shortcut, a way to describe the feelings associated with love—only with fewer words.
“When you look at the biological basis of love, love is very chemically addicting,” said Goodboy. “You may have heard it makes people crazy, well it does. It motivates people to do things they normally wouldn’t do.”
According to Goodboy, this is why it happens: The feeling of love, physiologically, is a function of chemical secretions in the brain. Neurotransmitters play a big part in this. In research studies, scientists look at Functional Resonance Magnetic Imaging Scans (FRMIS) to note the location of brain activation when the subject is experiencing feelings of love. When lovers are asked to think about their significant other or shown a picture of that person, the Ventral Tag Mental area of the brain, located on the right side of the brain, activates into a dopamine-rich reward center. “Basically, your body and your brain reward you when you meet someone that does it for you in terms of physical attraction because that’s a necessity,” said Goodboy. “You biologically can’t fall in love with someone you are not attracted to, and that doesn’t make love shallow, it’s just a fact. [When you find that person,] the brain starts rewarding itself with dopamine.”
Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter that, when released, elicits feelings of enjoyment and motivates people to continue doing certain activities. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter associated with drug addiction. When it comes to love, dopamine works similarly. Love, too, is addictive.
“Biologically, it’s just your brain telling you that you should keep seeing this person,” explained Goodboy. “We have to be motivated to keep doing something or else we won’t keep doing it.
There are several other chemicals and hormones that are emitted during the different stages of love. Pheromones are the chemicals that are released in order to attract a partner. Once falling for someone, adrenaline fuels the initial “rush” feeling and fenylethylamine is responsible for increased heart rate, fast breathing and sweaty palms that often occur when in the presence of a potential mate. Even when away from the one who sparks their interest, the person may still be on their mind and they can thank serotonin for this. Testosterone and estrogen increase sexual desire and oxytocin and vasopressin are released during sex, which increases bonding between mates. Endorphins, phenylethylamine, dopamine, and norepinephrine are also released, and it is these chemicals that enhance mood and give the feeling of being on Cloud Nine.
There is evidence that love is such a euphoric, motivating state that it’s compared to by scholars as a cocaine-induced euphoria, said Goodboy. “It’s like abusing any other stimulant drug, like cocaine. It’s that addictive.”
Love can be described by feelings of intense euphoria, intense focused attention on that individual, obsessive thinking about them, emotional dependency and craving, and increased energy. The more dopamine, the more “high” a person feels, and as Goodboy explained, “it’s a physical tendency to want to keep experiencing that.”
Throughout history, there are stories of crazy behaviors that people have done in the name of love. One of the most well known stories was of Susan Smith, who, in October of 1994, killed her own children by driving them into a lake after her husband filed for divorce, claiming that he did not want to raise her children.
“There’s certain people out there, based on their D.N.A who are predisposed to experience love in a crazier manner,” said Goodboy.
Diacik said the craziest thing she has ever done for love was drive five hours to her boyfriend’s house and back for two years, just to be with him for as little as 24 hours.
“You are much more ‘crazy in love’ during the beginning stages of relationships. Just like any other chemical, the feeling of love fades,” said Goodboy.
Emotions are transitory—they do not last forever. “Day to day, our emotional states change—happy one day, angry one day, sad one day. They fluctuate, they’re not static; they’re dynamic,” said Goodboy. “That’s the same thing with love—you can’t feel euphoric every day of your life.”
Over time, partners get used to each other. They become more predictable to the point they know what the other person will say and what they are going to do and each partner is less concerned about physical appearance. “You are more likely to wear sweatpants and more likely to act yourself and not engage in that early impression management that you do when you first start dating someone. So that rush, that euphoria, fades over time,” said Goodboy. What is left when love fades is the concept of attachment.
“Initially, something drew them together, and that is the idea of love,” said Goodboy.
Most of us can agree, there’s nothing quite like love. The butterflies in the stomach, sleepless nights just thinking about that person; it’s a feeling we often cannot describe. If you find yourself caught up in the emotions of love, don’t blame yourself; blame biology.