A brief look at LOVE in terms of brain chemicals


What is love?
“Oh, you mean love. You mean the big lightning bolt to the heart where you can’t eat and you can’t work and you just run off and get married and make babies.”
– Don Draper, Mad Men
Love is a complex emotion that is the result of a combination of different brain chemicals.

For instance, love can feel like an addiction because the “feel good” brain chemical dopamine goes down similar neural pathways that are involved in addictive behaviour (Edwards & Self, 2006). A brain in love can look like a brain on cocaine!

But there is more to learn about love in term of brain chemicals:


Dopamine is a feel good chemical and is released whenever the reward system is activated – during sex for instance. But this chemical in general makes love a pleasurable, rewarding experience. Dopamine is released whenever you see, talk, or spend time with your loved one.


Oxytocin is discharged into the blood during orgasm. Oxytocin is important because it reduces stress, increases feelings of trust, and helps overcome neophobia (fear of anything new) – vital in the early stages of romantic love.


In the early stages of romantic love serotonin levels are apparently very low. These low levels are similar to people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This is why love can cause obsessive behaviour.


As nice as feeling in love may be, there’s a lot of stress and insecurity at the beginning of a new romantic relationship. This is caused by the increase in cortisol levels (Marazziti & Canale, 2004).

Falling in love is stressful – stress levels & love

As nice as love may be, there’s a lot of stress at the beginning of a new romantic relationship. Why?

Here’s a list of reasons:

  • You’re not quite sure where you stand – there’s a lot of insecurity because this thing is new to you and there’s no strong commitment yet, which can be nerve-racking,
  • You’re stressing out because you’re afraid somebody might steal your new bf/gf
  • Stress is supposed to help you get through neophobia (the fear of experiencing something new),
  • It’s supposed to help us in social contact and becoming emotionally attached (DeVries et al., 1995).

In long term relationships your stress levels decrease with time because there’s an increase in feelings of security (Esch & Stefano, 2005) and because your love is a good source of social support that has a positive effect on stress and your way of coping with it (Westenbroek et al., 2005).

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