A Silly Little Drug Called Love

couple on a beach making heart shape with their arms

A Silly Little Drug Called Love

By Dr. Peter Abaci

As Valentine’s Day descends upon us, it tis the season to reflect upon love and romance. Unfortunately, pain can often disrupt or interfere with romantic connections. Being in pain can take a toll on how we interact socially with others and make it more difficult to express love, gratitude, or compassion toward important people in our lives. Key emotional regulators in our brains, including the amygdala, can be disrupted by pain. I often hear patients tell me that they find themselves much more irritable and withdrawn with loved-ones than they used to be.

Positive emotions like love, romance, and compassion, play key roles in maintaining our general health and sense of well-being. Chronic pain can cause a vicious cycle of a depressed mood leading to social isolation which in turns leads to even worse depression. Connecting with and forming bonds with others, both through friendship and romance, plays a key role in overcoming vexing chronic pain syndromes. A key chemical in the brain that boosts bonding is oxytocin. Oxytocin levels can surge when we hold hands or cuddle, and it plays a key role in becoming more understanding and empathetic toward others. Research has shown that increased oxytocin levels actually decrease pain levels, lowers stress, and reduces blood pressure. Lowered levels of oxytocin have been associated with weight gain and depression.

Being in a supportive long-term marriage has long been associated with a number of health benefits including:

  • Longer life expectancy
  • Less likely to have addictions with alcohol or drugs
  • Faster rates of healing
  • Less doctor visits and chronic health problems
  • Lower blood pressure

And an active and fulfilling sex life has also been shown to:

  • Improve immune system function
  • Strengthen bladder control in women
  • Lower the risk of prostate cancer in men who have ejaculations an average of three times per week
  • Increase life expectancy
  • Improve sleep
  • Help you look younger (Yes, research by Dr. David Weeks demonstrated that couples who had intercourse three times per week looked 4-7 years younger than their less active counterparts!)

Need help reconnecting? Consider the self-expansion model of relationships to help get the ball rolling. The theory behind this is that we thrive when we grow and develop our interests and thoughts. Try doing something new with your partner as a way of increasing those social bonds and getting passed the stagnation.

Changing it up might just spice it up.