Love addiction has been the motivation behind pop music culture and movies for decades. There was Robert Palmer’s hit song, ‘Addicted to Love’ and Meg Ryan’s 1997, classic movie borrowing the same title.
Broadly speaking, addiction to love has been informally used as a platform to entertain and gain box office reviews for centuries.
Although, according to research, there is scientific evidence to suggest through neurochemical and neuroimaging, that love is (or could become) an addiction, in the same way, that chronic drug-addiction behaviours can signal an addiction.
What is love addiction
‘’Love addiction (also known as pathological love) refers to a pattern of behaviour that features pervasive, maladaptive and excessive interest towards one or more romantic partners. Love addiction is a way of avoiding our true selves, complete with our real pain, needs, personal power and responsibilities.’’
When an individual turns to love addiction, they are essentially looking to another to meet their basic needs such as self-worth and validation, all things they are unconsciously refusing to give themselves.
Love addiction is commonly diagnosed by a love/sex addiction specialist in much the same way as any other addiction. A diagnosis is made on the premise that:
- The preoccupation of one’s love interest has lasted more than six months – the behaviour will commonly feature fantasies and obsessing over a person or particular love interest
- Consequences (usually negative) have manifested as a result of uncontrolled fantasies
- The person is unable to control their romantic fantasies about a person/relationship
According to the DSM-5, (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) love addiction is not yet officially listed as a disorder.
Although love addiction falls under the category of ‘behaviour’ or ‘process’ addiction and can cause serious implications.
The science behind love addiction
Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone found in humans and other species.
Labelled as a ‘love’ or ‘cuddle’ drug, oxytocin is a natural chemical produced in the brain (the hypothalamus). Oxytocin often causes a rush of positive emotions – so strong is this hormone that it can even make our romantic partners seem more attractive – the more time we spend with a partner, the more oxytocin that is produced.
Studies have shown that oxytocin is also responsible for a reduction in infidelity, particularly in females. Essentially, oxytocin reduces the urge to be with a stranger and motivates us to choose our partner over anyone else.
Oxytocin is known as a social bonding hormone, unfortunately, though, it can also be the trigger to addiction.
In love addiction, oxytocin ‘wires’ a love interest or romantic partner to a person’s reward system – this results in an individual feeling good when their partner is around, and not so good when they are absent.
In this way, the cycle of love addiction is not too dissimilar to substance addiction, in that the reward system in the brain is triggered when oxytocin levels are high. This results in the person being relieved in their partner’s presence and to experience withdrawal when they’re not around.
Other research suggests that those recovering from substance abuse were given oxytocin as part of their treatment.
Those who took the hormone required five times less lorazepam, in the detox period. They also experienced less anxiety. This suggests that oxytocin can be useful in treating substance addiction along with other treatments.
Oxytocin is a complex hormone as it can often be the cure and the cause in some addictive – related behaviours, including love addiction.
Who is at risk of developing love addiction and why
Those susceptible to developing love-related addictions, typically fall into the following three categories:
- Adults who were abandoned by their primary caregivers as children
- Having parents that were remote, critical or withdrawn
- People who suffered sexual abuse in childhood
Love addicts are conscious that their basic needs were not met earlier on in life and this often has a huge impact on their self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
A subconscious fear of closeness and intimacy is prevalent within these individuals as well as the conscious fear of being abandoned. It’s also common for love addicts to confuse intensity in a relationship with intimacy.
Other factors behind love addiction include:
- Absence of positive role models
- A lack of self-esteem
- Indoctrination (often present in certain cultures – especially those that believe in ‘perfect love’ and a happily ever after)
Signs that you might be ‘addicted to love’
There are several key signs that someone might be a love addict. They include:
#1. Overly romanticizing
It’s nice to think good things about the people we love. But when it comes to love addiction, however, this he/she is-really-great-type thinking often turns into something a lot less realistic and downright dangerous.
Unfortunately, our addictive brains can be quite selective and have a habit of focusing on all the positives about a person, situation or thing.
This type of ‘blue-sky thinking’ often leads people down Serotonin Central. Essentially, they are thinking in black and white terms and not accessing their love object realistically.
When we justify our reasons for staying in a bad relationship – we are essentially saying ‘yes’ to the other person and ‘no’ to ourselves.
Love addicts are typically unclear about their boundaries and this often results in them being walked all over.
People who have a habit of justifying their actions often make excuses for relapsing, such as checking out an ex’s social media profile and making up a terrible excuse for doing so, or texting him or her one last time to let their ex know that they are serious about the breakup this time.
What a love addict is doing by justifying their behaviour is heading towards a relapse.
#3. Withdrawal and Social Isolation
Similar to any other addiction, love addiction can be a tiresome process – it’s also challenging to pursue any other life interests when the object of one’s desire is the central focus.
Therefore, it’s much easier to withdraw from friends and family and wallow in the shoulda, woulda coulda, type thinking that often comes with love addiction.
Recovery involves getting out of isolation and connecting with people, interests, and in some cases, seeking professional help. Rehabilitation centres, for example, offer personalized treatment programs designed to treat addictive-related behaviours.
#4. Being in denial
This is perhaps the most harmful aspect of love addiction as the person’s thoughts bounce back and forth between ‘’Maybe he/she wasn’t that bad after all’’ or ‘’Maybe I overreacted’’ and even worse, ‘’Maybe I should give my ex another chance.’’
This is one of the strongest elements to love addiction – as this constant ‘what if’ replaying of scenarios, often leads people to contact an ex which kickstarts the cycle of love addiction all over again.
#5. You lose yourself in the other person
You are so enthralled by a love interest that you lose yourself in that person. Everything they say and do might as well be engraved in glittery gold, they’re the gun to your holster, your bee all and end-all.
Love addicts need to realise that no-one on earth is perfect and every one of us comes complete with flaws and imperfections.
When we idolise another person, we are essentially dismissing all the great things about ourselves – idolisation can be likened to a lopsided seesaw, a scenario where the other person is up in the air looking down on us.
What treatments are available for love addiction
There are several treatments available for love addiction and treatment will depend largely on other factors (such as if a person has other addictions and/or mental health disorders). Typically, treatment for love addiction includes:
- 10/12 step-programs (such as sex and love addicts and love addicts anonymous (LAA))
- Residential love addiction treatment
- Family, individual or group therapy and counselling
- Codependents anonymous/ anonymous SLAA
- Medication (in conjunction with other treatments)
- Face to face and online support groups
Research shows that former love addicts managed to beat their love addiction by:
- Admitting they had a love addiction
- Educating themselves about love addiction
- Staying single until they reached the point of sobriety and understanding
- Building healthy relationships with people of the same sex