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An Addictive Form of Grief

This is Science Today. About fifteen years ago, clinicians diagnosed a debilitating form of bereavement called ‘complicated grief'. Mary-Frances O'Connor, an assistant professor of psychiatry at UCLA, says the symptoms include excessive yearning for the deceased, and a sense that life has lost its purpose.

O'Connor:      There may be more that we can do for the bereaved, particularly for those with complicated grief than just to comfort them. So, if one of the problems is that the brain has not fully adapted to this new information, actually going over the death event again and again and again, which is done in some treatments for complicated grief, that may help to really imprint it deeply in the mind.

Narrator:        O'Connor recently discovered that complicated grief actually activates neurons in the reward centers of the brain, possibly creating an addictive-like quality to this type of yearning and memory.

O'Connor:      The brain activity that we found is happening at a very basic level, so outside of consciousness. They don't mean to respond this way, it's simply what their brain is doing.

Narrator:        For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.