Can You Really Be Drunk In Love?

“I can’t stop drinking about you
I gotta numb the pain
I can’t stop drinking about you
Without you I ain’t the same
So pour a shot in my glass, and I’ll forget forever!
So pour a shot in my glass ’cause it makes everything better!”
“I Can’t Stop Drinking About You” by Bebe Rexha

In music, movies and many other parts of popular culture, we are surrounded by media portrayals likening love to mind-altering substances – Billie Holiday’s lover goes to her head; Beyoncé is drunk in love; the Weeknd compares his lover to the anesthetic Novocain.

As shown above, pop singer Bebe Rexha’s song, “I Can’t Stop Drinking About You,” is a word-for-word description of turning to alcohol after a bad breakup.

Despite the ubiquity of these comparisons across media and the prevalence of substance use on college campuses, it is not often that students get to unpack these topics in an academic setting.

To bridge this gap, COBE researcher Dr. Jessica Salvatore created a new course called Love and Drugs: The Science Behind Media Portrayals of Romance and Substance Abuse.

In the 5-week Psychology Spotlight short course, students examine the science behind portrayals of romance and substances of abuse in popular culture using developmental, social psychological and neurobiological perspectives.

“The idea of this course is to identify the many types of media portrayals linking love and addiction, examine what kind of scientific evidence there is either in support or in opposition to those examples and discuss how research about relationships can help us better understand and support those with substance use problems,” Dr. Salvatore said.

Topics covered range from the neurobiology of love and addiction to the effects of relationships on substance use and the effects of substance use on relationships.

Each week introduces a different theme in studying love and substance use:

1. The science of relationships and substance use
2. Relationship satisfaction, conflict and substance use
3. Neurobiological and genetic influences on love and substance use
4. Relationship-based interventions and partner effects on health behaviors
5. New directions in research on relationships and substance use

As they study the science of relationships and substance use, students use their knowledge of psychological theories and studies to evaluate and interpret the accuracy of common representations of substance use and romantic relationships in films and songs of their choice.

Psychology major Michaela Blankenship chose to write her first paper for the course on Rexha’s song because to her it is the perfect example of “romanticizing coping with a breakup by drinking.”

“Drinking to cope with a breakup or other emotional situation is often overlooked because it is assumed to be normal,” Blankenship said.

“But Dr. Salvatore’s class provided me with theories and studies to analyze the song, as well as information about warning signs in my own relationships.”

Registration for the course has closed for this semester, but Dr. Salvatore hopes to expand from a spotlight to full semester-long course in the future.

For more information about the course, visit the VCU Psychology course list.