Is Grief An Addiction?
For my latest book project, I have been reading a book called Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love by Helen Fisher. I have been working on the theory that grief recovery is not very far off from addiction recovery. I know this sounds far-fetched, but hear me out. First off, we need to understand a little about brain chemistry:
- Elevated levels of dopamine in the brain produce highly focused attention, exhilaration, increased energy, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, pounding heart, anxiety, and fear. Sound familiar? During periods of falling in love and again when we lose that love, levels of dopamine in our brains increase.
- Norepinephrine is a chemical derived from dopamine. It has a similar effect on the brain as dopamine and can “explain why the lover can remember a beloved’s actions and cherished moments spent together. This liquor is associated with increased memory for new stimuli.”
- Serotonin meanwhile decreases with rising levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. Low levels of serotonin are often found in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, so they are often treated with SSRIs, which is basically serotonin. So a person who is grieving (or in love) often has persistent, involuntary, irresistible ruminations about a sweetheart that might be associated with low levels of some type of this chemical.”
In her chapter about losing love, Ms. Fisher talks about the various stages, which (surprise, surprise) include denial/despair, anger, and acceptance. As grieving people, we’ve all heard those stages before. She writes,
“…romantic love and abandonment rage are well connected in the brain. And when you think about it, these passions have much in common. They are both associated with bodily and mental arousal; both produce excessive energy. Both drive one to obsessively focus one’s attention on the beloved. Both generate goal-directed behaviours. And both cause yearning, either for union with a sweetheart or for revenge against a jilted loved one.”
OK, we might not want revenge against a jilted loved one, but how many of us out there are angry at some aspect of our loved one’s death? Doctors…