Why Heartbreak Hurts So Damn Much
Love is an addiction, as far as your brain is concerned. Here are ways to make the withdrawal less painful.
In the throes of heartache, finding your way back to joy can seem impossible. However, the secret to getting there faster may be in taking control of your neurotransmitters — the brain chemicals that allow your brain cells to send signals and communicate with one another.
The levels and activity of a few key neurotransmitters—namely dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin—play a huge role in how you feel after a breakup. According to renowned anthropologist Helen Fisher, author of Why We Love, feelings of love and heartbreak are explained by disruptions in these brain chemicals. The answer to bringing them back into balance could be as basic as adding a few new habits into your routine.
The Chemicals of Love
According to Fisher, dopamine and norepinephrine are the first two brain chemicals that kick in when you fall in love — they are the neurotransmitters that create attraction.
Dopamine controls feelings of pleasure and reward in the brain. When dopamine levels are right, we feel good. Levels that are too low lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, low motivation, and poor concentration. Increased dopamine activity makes us feel euphoric and elated; in extreme cases, it contributes to mania and psychosis.
Dopamine is also the primary neurotransmitter associated with addiction. Addictive substances (like cocaine, methamphetamines, and nicotine) cause an intense surge of dopamine in the brain’s reward centers. But as the effects wear off, so does the good feeling.
To replicate the same high, people dealing with addiction must keep taking their chosen drug to keep dopamine levels up and avoid the unpleasant crash. Eventually, the brain becomes accustomed to the boosted levels of dopamine and needs more and more just to feel normal. In the simplest terms, this is what creates addiction.
Every date, every phone call, every text offers another hit of your drug of choice. Eventually, your brain becomes…