Wednesday, March 18

Prozac Cures Promiscuity

I posted a few weeks ago about John Tierney's column from the NY Times, but I just ran across this complimentary blog-post from his blog, TierneyLab, check it out:

Would you rather have a love potion that made you more likely to become attached to someone else, or a love vaccine that stopped you from falling in love with the wrong person?

In my Findings column, I make the case for a love vaccine and discuss an essay about the neurochemistry of love in the new issue of Nature by Larry Young, a neuroscientist who studies prairie voles at the Yerkes National Primate Research Centers at Emory University. He says that pair-bonding in humans (as in voles, one of the few other monogamous mammals) can be enhanced or suppressed by tinkering with brain hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin, and predicts that we’ll be seeing new drugs to do just that.

This doesn’t mean there will soon be magical elixirs causing you to instantly fall in love with anyone. Love isn’t just a response to raging hormones; our rational processes have something to do with it, too. But drugs could make a difference. In fact, some of the antidepressants now in use are suppressing the neurochemical processes that stimulate romance and attachment, according to this article by Helen Fisher and J. Anderson Thomson Jr. (pdf). When I asked Dr. Fisher about a future love vaccine, she laughed and said it could be indeed be useful — and that there are already pharmaceutical tricks for protecting yourself against unwanted infatuation and attachment.

“When you take these seratonin enhancing antidepressants, you can jeopardize your ability to form long-term attachments,” said Dr. Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University. She has discussed the neurochemistry of romance (and her experiments in scanning the brains of lovers) in her 2004 book, “Why We Love.” She told me that love is like an addiction — wonderful when it’s going well, but also potentially dangerous:

It’s possible to fall in love with someone just because you had sex with them, because with orgasm you get a flood of oxytocin and vasopressin that can cause you to feel attached to the person. Casual sex is not always casual. Someone might be happy, with a lovely wife or husband, and then this brain system for romantic love or attachment is triggered by someone totally inappropriate. You acquire all the characteristics of an addict. You come obsessed; you distort reality; you do dangerous things; you crave the person, you have withdrawal symptoms.

How to avoid that fate when, say, you find yourself tempted to have a fling at a convention? “Take enough Prozac beforehand,” Dr. Fisher said, “and your emotions will be so blunted that you won’t even get into bed with anyone.”

Do Prozac users agree? The Lab welcome any reports on ways to fend off romantic madness, and any thoughts on the merits or demerits of a love vaccine. (Or, if you prefer, on a love potion that would promote attachment, like the “commitment pill” envisioned by my colleague Olivia Judson or the “monogamy injection” discussed by my colleague Walter Kirn.)

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