Sex & Relationships

A Broken Heart Is as Painful as Cocaine Withdrawal

A new study explains why we indulge in some wickedly embarrassing behaviours when we get dumped

(Photo: iStock)

(Photo: iStock)

Science finally explains why you crave a reunion with your awful ex: romantic love is a “specific form of addiction” that turns into a wickedly insatiable craving when you get dumped.

A recent study, which appeared in the July issue of the Journal of Neurophysiology, suggests that there are parallels between the cravings of a cocaine addict and the desperate behaviours (calling, texting, crying, begging for a second chance) employed by the heartbroken. The conclusion builds on previous studies that suggest romantic love is a form of addiction.

Researchers at Stony Brook University in upstate New York used fMRI technology to observe the brains of 15 college-age men and women who had been dumped recently. All of the participants shared one tragic similarity: they were still “intensely ‘in love’” with their heartbreaker. They also admitted to thinking of their ex up to 85 percent of the time, longing for a reunion, and indulging in behaviours such as “inappropriate phoning, writing or e-mailing, pleading for reconciliation, sobbing for hours, drinking too much, and/or making dramatic entrances and exits into the rejecter’s home, place of work or social space to express anger, despair or passionate love.”

When researchers asked these participants to look at photographs of their former amours they noticed that certain areas of the brain were activated, including those areas associated with attachment, addiction and craving. They concluded that there were neurological parallels between the fMRI results of the romantically rejected and those of addicts craving a hit of cocaine, a correlation that suggests that, like love, romantic rejection is a form of addiction, too. Your ex broke your heart and turned you into a love-craving lunatic desperate for a quick fix—it’s not great news, but it offers a comforting biological alternative to simply thinking you’re an emotional mess.

The study also found that the frenzy of romantic craving lessens…over time. Get through the love-detox, day by day, and keep humiliating relapses to a minimum: so should be the mantra of the heartbroken. And whatever you do avoid those craving-inducing photos of your ex.