Study Finds Link Between Feelings of Romantic Rejection and Addiction

Study Finds Link Between Feelings of Romantic Rejection and Addiction

A study published in the July issue of the Journal of Neurobiology discovered that the effects felt after romantic rejection are associated with parts of the brain that control addiction, craving, depression, and reward. Although this suggests that romantic love is linked to addiction in the brain, the behaviors that go along with it can be broken. 

Helen E. Fisher, an anthropologist and noted relationship scientist at Rutgers University, and colleagues studied the brain activity of 15 college-age heterosexual men and women who had recently been rejected by their partners but said they were still "absolutely" and "intensely" in love, spending more than 85 percent of their time thinking about the person who rejected them and hoping to get back together. The relationships lasted an average of two years, and about two months had passed since the relationship was called off.

As participants looked at photographs of their former loves, their brains were scanned. Then they were shown a "neutral" image of a casual acquaintance of the same gender and age as the former romantic partner. The researchers asked participants to complete a simple math problem to try to get their minds off their former flames, but key areas in the brain were still stimulated more when viewing photos of the former partner than when viewing "neutral" people. 

Rejection causes the neurotransmitter dopamine to be released in the brain, triggering feelings of depression that can lead to behaviors such as homicide, stalking, and suicide. Fisher explained that, as in addiction, you crave the person who rejected you, you go through withdrawal, and you can relapse months after you think you’re over it. 

Although it may take a while, the more days that pass since the rejection, the less activity shows up in the key brain areas. The brain scans also showed that the participants are trying to understand and learn from what happened, which suggests that falling out of love is a learning process and that time helps people heal. 

Fisher said that one must treat rejection as an addiction: Don’t hang on to cards and letters and don’t call or write the person who scorned you. Don’t try to be friends with the person for at least three years, and don’t dwell on what happened as it will just drive you into depression. 

Sources: WebMD, Bill Hendrick, Aftermath to a Romantic Breakup Is Marked by Withdrawal, Relapse, and Cravings, July 9, 2010

Science Daily, Romantic Rejection Stimulates Areas of Brain Involved in Motivation, Reward and Addiction, July 6, 2010

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