Essentially it’s the addiction to being in love. A love addict doesn’t usually stay single for very long, instead jumping from one relationship to the next. When the intense passion, or “honeymoon” period ends, the addict may become bored and search for this “high” from someone else. This pattern often occurs without the addict’s conscious awareness. It’s possible, of course, for a love addict to be in a relationship for a long period of time. However, the relationship often has rapid cycling of highs and lows. It isn’t listed, as of yet at least, in the Diagnostic Manual (the DSM-IV) as a disorder. However, many researchers would argue that it is a real and powerful addiction. In fact, some studies have shown that it does indeed activate the same brain regions as drug addiction, the reward center. A person can become addicted to the adrenaline rush or “high” of experiencing passionate love.
What is Romantic Love and How Is It Different from Lust?
Lust can be triggered not only by a person, but by reading something, or watching a movie. “Romantic love” is experienced through a connection with a particular person. There are different brain areas activated during the sensation of lust vs. the feeling of romantic love. Anthropologist and author, Helen Fisher, has done extensive research on the topic of adult “romantic love.”
In one experiment, Fisher examined the brain activity of a group of people who were rejected by the one they loved. The men and women were shown picture of their exes who had broken up with them. The results of an fMRI showed that unrequited passionate love does in fact trigger the same brain regions as other addictions. There was greater activity in the ventral tegmental area, the left insular region, and right nucleus accumbens, areas associated with risk taking behavior, the perception of pain, anxiety, and obsessive/compulsive behaviors. Can hormones also be a part of the love addiction? When in close proximity to the person he or she loves, the brain secretes oxytocin (otherwise known as the “cuddle hormone”). Oxytocin induces a feeling of attachment. Dopamine and testosterone, which control sexual desire, are released as well.
Drug Addiction vs. Love Addiction:
Let’s look at drug addiction: a marker of drug addiction is withdrawal when the substance is not there, as well as repeated cravings, and often the drawbacks or consequences become greater than the pleasure received. The more withdrawals episodes are experienced, the greater the dependence on the substance. Thoughts of attaining it consume the addict’s mind. Other things that might have been enjoyable in the past are cast aside. The addict may feel helpless, out of control, unable to stop. A person separated from the one he or she loves, similarly, can experience withdrawals where perception of pain is heightened, there is a sense of agitation or anxiety, and sometimes a deep depression can settle in.
And What About Stalking?
This is love addiction at its most destructive level. The person at that point is no longer using his or her rational mind, but instead is controlled by the drive to be near the object of affection. There may be the compulsion to do whatever it takes to keep the relationship going, despite the negative consequences (i.e. such as losing self-respect, an inability to be productive as energy is spent obsessing over the person, feeling ashamed and guilty, and stooping to unthinkable lows).
As you can imagine, this usually does not end well. There is a great deal of suffering, with diminished or no returns. It is pain without pleasure, yet the cravings and withdrawals compel the person to do everything possible to get their lover back. It’s not uncommon for love addicts to find themselves in relationships where the significant other is unavailable emotionally. The more the addict pushes for closeness, the more the other person may feel suffocated and distances. Perhaps absence really does make the heart grow fonder. When the object of affection is either emotionally closed off, or far away physically, the love addict’s preoccupation with their desired one may intensify.
Is There Something Wrong With Me?
Being a love addict does not necessarily make a person abnormal or “crazy”. Many people have experienced love addiction at one point or another in their lives. What’s important is to recognize if this is becoming a relationship pattern, and then working on consciously breaking it. If you find yourself getting into one destructive relationship after another, choose emotionally unavailable partners, do not remember the last time you were single and have an intense fear of it, and constantly crave and seek out the initial “high” of the courting period, it may be a good idea to seek help. There are many self-help groups out there, and talking with a therapist one on one is beneficial.
What Can I Do if I Think I May Be a Love Addict?
As uncomfortable as it may be at first, stepping back from the dating scene could be helpful. You can use this time to get to know yourself, reflecting on what defines you as a person. How would others describe you? How would you describe yourself? Would the descriptions be the same or would they be different? What are some characteristics that you like about yourself? What would you like to change? What are your hopes and dreams? You can journal about thoughts and feelings that come up, what situations triggered them, and identify and reflect on past relational patterns. Are there certain themes from childhood that are being repeated in adulthood? Was there an insecure attachment style developed during childhood? Were there unresolved traumas, any abandonment issues? Who were your role models when you were growing up? What messages did you receive about what love is or should be? What would happen if you were responsible for your own happiness? What if no one else but you could affect how you felt about yourself?
Loneliness Is a Part of Life, We Can’t Run from It.
A love addiction could be a way of filling the “void,” existentialists would argue, resides within all human beings. To quote the American novelist Thomas Wolfe: “Loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man.” Every one of us will experience loneliness at some point or another. What matters is how well we are able to cope with it, without turning to quick fixes or self-destructive means.
Dr. Masha Godkin, Psy.D, MFT is a professor of counseling psychology, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of Ca. with an Online Therapy Practice, as well as a former child actor. One of her specialties is in addictive behavior and counseling those in the performing art professions. Visit http://www.onlinetherapywith-dr-masha.com to learn about the Online Therapy service options that are available.
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