Psychological theorists, psychologists, and researchers have been talking about love addiction since the 1980s. It may sound like a strange concept if you've never experienced it. If you have experiences with the addictive side of love, though, the facts about it will sound all too familiar. What is love addiction, then, and what can you do to regain control of your life?
What does it mean to say love can be addictive? To understand that, you need to know exactly what it means to be addicted and how that information applies to romantic love.
What Is Addiction?
Addiction is a brain disorder. When you're addicted to something, you continue to seek it even when it causes negative consequences. Something can be addictive if it's inherently rewarding and reinforcing. Reinforcing means that having it once makes you want it again.
Addiction is chronic, meaning it will always be a part of your life, even if you avoid the thing you're addicted to. Loss of control characterizes it. Your life can quickly become out of balance, with the addiction taking center stage. Addiction is unhealthy and has negative consequences. Addiction is also progressive, starting mildly and getting worse as time goes by. Addiction can even prove to be fatal.
Traditionally, the definitions of addiction have been formulated to explain addiction to substances such as alcohol, nicotine, illicit drugs, or prescription pain relievers. In this sense, addictions include the following components.
What Is Behavioral Addiction?
Behavioral addiction, also called non-substance addiction or process addiction, is very similar to substance addiction. Like substance addiction, behavioral addictions are also brain disorders related to the brain's reward, memory, and motivation systems.
Some of the most common behavioral addictions are:
Behavioral addictions happen when any habit becomes an obligation or duty. The root word of addiction, ad dictum, means "to the dictator," indicating the power of addiction to enslave you. It's a definition that's as relevant for behavioral addictions as substance addictions.
How Romantic Love Fits In
Romantic love is very hard to define. It's a pleasant feeling of physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual connection with another person. It can be a momentary fling or a long-term commitment. It develops through thought, feeling, and a physiological process.
When you begin to crave that physiological response to such an extent that your entire focus turns to thoughts of love, it may indicate love addiction. You see love as the answer to all your problems and seek it out regardless of the negative consequences that might or do come with it.
How Are Sex and Love Addiction Related?
Sex addiction and love addiction are similar in that they're both related to intimacy. Whether you seek the physical intimacy of sex or the emotional high of love, the object of your addiction is another person.
Yet, sex and love addictions are also different in certain aspects, just as drug and alcohol addictions are related but different. The focus for our purposes is on love addiction, although you may find help from organizations that focus on both in one group or therapists that specialize in both.
The process of love addiction has been proven in many studies using neurochemical, neuroimaging, and behavioral evidence. Although research hasn't yet proved a definitive cause of love addiction, the same causes are probably at work in love addiction as in other types of addictions.
Genetics play a role in your susceptibility to all types of addiction. Then too, the environment you grew up in and the one you're in today can make you more vulnerable to love addiction. If you never had a secure attachment with your parents, you may be more prone to seeking unhealthy, destructive love attachments, too.
Nearly everyone alive has known love at some point in their lives. Most adults have been in a love relationship at least once and probably multiple times. If love is so universal, how can it be harmful? For most people, it isn't. However, if a love addiction causes you to become out of balance and control, it can cause serious negative consequences.
If you have a love addiction, you likely feel an intense need to satisfy your cravings for emotional attachment. So, you begin seeking love attachment from the time you first meet someone who interests you. Right away, the relationship changes as you push for more emotional intimacy. The relationship may be over before it begins because your love interest feels pushed into something they're not ready for so soon.
You may quickly fall in and out of relationships, and the relationships may tend to be extremely unhealthy. You're always seeking that high of being in love, so you rush into marrying or living with someone as soon as you can make it happen.
Even if you stay with someone for a long time, chances are the relationship will be an unhealthy one and become increasingly dysfunctional as time goes by. Your extreme focus on love puts your daily life out of balance, causing the other person to either join in your unhealthy behaviors, fight against them, or withdraw from you completely.
With your focus on someone else, you can lose your sense of who you are and what makes you a valuable person. You love the other person more than you love yourself. It sounds noble, but it's a serious problem. Self-esteem is crucial for your emotional wellbeing.
Having healthy self-esteem is crucial for flourishing at work and in all your relationships. Even good relationships don't always last, and you need to have your sense of self-worth to rely on when love goes away.
As an adult, your independence is extremely valuable. It gives you the security of knowing you can survive on your own if need be. Often people who are addicted to love to give up so much independence that they don't know how to function when a relationship ends.
The combination of the craving for love attachment and the inability to meet your own needs can make it nearly impossible to avoid jumping into a new relationship immediately.
Neglecting Personal Needs
People who have any addiction commonly neglect their most basic needs. If you are addicted to love, you may give up taking care of yourself anytime it interferes with your love experience. You might go without sleep because you're thinking about and emotionally re-experiencing feelings of love. You might engage in risky driving to get to your love interest as quickly as possible when you've been away. You forget about your own needs and focus on what will increase the love attachment.
Love addiction causes emotional instability whether you're in a long-term relationship or not. If you're rapidly moving from one relationship to the next, your emotions will bounce from high while in the relationship to devastated when it's over. Then, the craving to get back into a relationship makes you extremely sensitive to stimulation. When you make that love connection, your emotions rebound into euphoria.
In a long-term love relationship, the emotional ups and downs can be just as intense. Every time you indicate that your partner is unhappy with you, you become anxious and upset. When they reassure you by their actions that they still want to be with you, your emotions soar. You're constantly in a state of flux, never feeling the calm, steady, pleasant feelings of mature love.
Lack Of Life Balance
With love at the core of all your motivations, your life becomes completely unbalanced when you have a love addiction. Rather than setting achievement goals for becoming a better individual, your goals focus on getting the love to fix you crave.
Instead of learning new skills to advance your career, all your efforts go into attracting and keeping a love interest in your life. Spirituality loses its meaning as you use spiritual practices as tools for getting the love you want. You only attend to things that help you satisfy your cravings for love.
If you think you might be addicted to love, you might need to consider talking to a therapist to learn more. The American Society of Addiction Medicine recommends using this A-B-C-D-E mnemonic to remember the hallmarks of addiction:
A - Inability to Abstain
B - Impairment of Behavior control
C - Craving
D - Diminished recognition of significant problems
E - A dysfunctional Emotional response
Here are some more specific signs of love addiction:
If you or someone you know is experiencing any abuse, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for support and resources.
Love addiction is a chronic condition that can't be cured. Once you are a love addict, that issue will be with you for life. So, where does that leave you? Do you have to be a slave to love for the rest of your life? As a human with powers of reason and self-control, there is hope that you can manage your addiction and become emotionally stable and strong.
To help yourself get beyond love addiction, you can start by reading more on the topic. Read memoirs or blogs written by people who have learned to manage love addiction. There are also some popular books on the subject written by members of the psychological community. You can even read texts on sex and love addiction. The better you understand what it is, the more effective you can be in overcoming it.
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous holds meetings and provides support for people who have a love addiction. It's a 12-step program tailored to the needs of people who have put romantic love-seeking at the center of their lives.
At Love Addicts Anonymous, you can learn more about love addiction from people going through it. Through various materials, activities, and social experiences, you learn to recognize when you're about to engage in unhealthy love-seeking behaviors. You come to terms with your inability to manage your addiction on your own and receive help from the group.
If your love addiction has been going on for a long time and has become severe, you might need to talk to a therapist for individual counseling. You can also choose therapy if you prefer private counseling over group sessions.
The therapist can help you identify the sources of your addiction and warning signs that you're about to engage in unhealthy love-seeking behaviors. They can help you learn new ways to think about love and attachment. With a therapist's help, you can work on improving your self-esteem and building your independence.
You can talk to a licensed counselor at ReGain.us for convenient, private online therapy. You can start right away to get help when you need it. You don't have to be a slave to love-seeking. Whether you seek support through a support group or in individual therapy, managing your love addiction can give you a much more satisfying, enjoyable, and stable life.