Addiction: The Science Behind Heart Break

Our last article explored how you can hasten the healing process for heart-break but why is it so difficult to simply move on? This article will explore the science, specifically neuroscience, behind what happens to our emotions and mental state when pushed into a break up situation.

Think back to your last break up. Chances are your personality completely changed. Besides promoting the person to an almost saint like level, you yourself changed (ask your friends if you do not remember). Those that are proud, independent, strong and positive tend to become subservient, needy, weak and negative. This manifests in behaviour such as finding any excuse to speak to the person again, seeking any means to communicate with them or hoping the other person will contact you. How often have you seen a random item belonging to your ex partner and just felt the burning desire to bring it back to them immediately after a break up? It is common behaviour but why do we do it?

The answer is contained within neuroscience.

Research studies have shown that the parts of the brain that activate during a break up are exactly the same as the ones that are engaged during opioid addiction. In short, the desire you get to make contact with your ex during a break up is the same sensation as needing a hit when you have a heroin addiction. That desperation for relief causes the personality change.

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FMRI scans showing activation of the brain at points corresponding to addiction and break up. 

It is the reward kick back loop – when you desire something and the body gains that immediate satisfaction from it. However even though it may momentarily provide you with pleasure (or relief) to communicate with your ex partner – it is overall damaging.

Couple the elevation of an ex partner to saint hood (forgetting all their faults) with the reward kick back loop and you can see why so many people fall into the same patterns with repeated break ups before reaching a proper conclusion. Sadly this is very much like allowing a fracture to heal by itself – it may feel ok in the end but the damage will carry on allowing for future weakness.

It can be a difficult transition but not impossible with the right assistance. Our clinic helps many patients through this process with a dynamic and effective combination of counselling, practical activities to rewire the brain and therapeutic intervention to help with both the physical and emotional trauma that occurs during a break up. Contact us to hasten the healing process.

For those interested in the complete research findings, you can read the full research article here: https://www.physiology.org/doi/10.1152/jn.00784.2009

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