My Brain Is a Drug Dealer
Yours May Be One, Too
To paraphrase Katy Perry, I kissed a boy and I liked it. More specifically, I kissed a grown man and it got me high. No, I wasn’t inhaling his second-hand pot smoke or licking MDMA off his lips. We’re both clean and sober, as it happens. No drugs were involved, no drugs were needed. The kiss is the drug.
For the guy, I’m pretty sure the kissing was essentially a base he had to touch on his way to home plate. But for me, it’s an end in and of itself. Don’t get me wrong; I think sex is generally great. But the lead-up to sex is always great. Better than great. Delirious. It floods my brain with dopamine because dopamine is all about anticipation and dopamine is without question my drug of choice.
Get the pheromones right and my eyeballs roll up in my head.
Satiety, the feeling of completion that my kissing partner was single-mindedly pursuing, is more about serotonin. I like serotonin fine — I am as fond of a hot stone massage as the next gal — but serotonin doesn’t tingle my toes the way dopamine does. It’s like I always preferred uppers to downers, even though what I probably needed the whole time was a good barbiturate.
Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin. The Woo-Hoo, Ahhh and Mmmm of neurotransmitters. My favorite drugs. Sure, cocaine increases dopamine and Prozac increases serotonin, but who needs to take a pill? You’ve got the good stuff right there inside your skull. Any psychologist will tell you that sex and love addicts use their behavior to regulate anxiety and other mood disorders. Problem is, there is no refillable prescription for a first kiss. I have to continue my drug-seeking (or kiss-seeking) behavior, and the dealers are notoriously unreliable.
The downside of toe-curling delirium is the withdrawal that inevitably follows. I am perfectly aware that there is only one first kiss, and that anticipation is short-lived by definition. Every glorious dopamine wave crashing on the shore recedes, leaving behind desperate gasping airholes in the sand.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, full disclosure is good for my soul; I am not a saint, and it helps to laugh at myself. They say insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. I do the same thing knowing what the result will be and doing it anyway. Maybe you can relate. You may also be getting high off romance — or shopping, or fighting, or gambling, or driving really fast, or a bunch of other reliable dopamine-producing behaviors. Our brains don’t tell us, “This is a bad solution. It is likely dangerous, possibly illegal, only temporary, wildly self-destructive… try something else.” No, what our brains tell us is, “Cool. That worked. Do it again.”
Before you know it, the idea becomes an obsession which turns into a compulsion, all the hallmarks of addiction. The brain is a drug dealer and drug dealers are by and large thoughtless, selfish and immoral. They give you the first hit for free, knowing you’ll be back with your allowance soon enough.
I could make this column longer and go into solution, but we both know the solution. I just have to utilize the tools I already have. So consider this a first step. Literally. I am powerless over kisses, and my love life is unmanageable.