Addictions often occur when there is an emotional void to be filled. It is not the substance itself that you are addicted to, but rather, the feeling it gives you. Alcohol can give you courage, a sense of calm and confidence. Love and romantic relationships can have a similar effect- you feel special, safe, relaxed, and calm. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can become addicted to a dramatic or even abusive relationship.
Love addiction often goes unnoticed because it is not a tangible substance- like food, drugs, drinking or even sex. You can’t see love and you can’t measure it. However, a love addiction can be just as destructive as any other dependency.
When you are involved in a relationship, your brain releases a special mix of chemicals, all producing various effects on your perception. For example, when you are first falling in love, your stress response kicks in, increasing your adrenaline levels. This activates the feeling of excitement and/or panic, which causes you to sweat, your heart to race, and your mouth to go dry.
Researchers have found that the “love struck” feeling at the start of a relationship, which feels like intense pleasure and happiness, is related to a neurotransmitter: dopamine. In fact, Helen Fisher, Ph.D., a biological anthropologist has studied the human brain in the early stages of a relationship and suggests that newer couples show signs of dopamine surges in their brains, such as increased energy and less need for sleep or food.
Finally, in the comfortable, stable and committed stage of a relationship, oxytocin is released. Oxytocin is also known as “the cuddle hormone,” as it deepens feeling of attachment. It is released during orgasm, so couples often feel closer after sex.
When you are in love, you enjoy the benefits of these chemicals, because they make you feel good. However, just like a drug, you can become addicted to the high that love brings you. This addiction can stem from earlier issues in your life, such as attachment issues within your parents. Trauma is also a common antecedent, which often sets up these addictive processes.
Are you addicted to love?
- Do you suffer from persistent loneliness when you are not in a relationship?
- Do you keep going back to a relationship that is not working and convincing yourself that “this time it will be different” or if it is not different, you “will deal with it?” However, you are hurt and disappointed again and again.
- Do you tend to forget the bad things about your partner, and make excuses for poor behaviour to keep the love alive? (ie. “He really does love me, he is just scared of commitment.”)
- Are you attracted to very intense relationships, which seem to give you a high?
- Do your friends often tell you that your relationship doesn’t make sense, or express their frustration that you are with that partner? In turn, do you avoid these friends because of their opinions on your relationship?
- Do you tend to idealize your partner; putting them on a pedestal, and denying flaws?
- Do you feel as if your partner is the only one who can bring you happiness?
- Do you lose your sense of self when you are in a relationship?
- When you are in a relationship, do all of your other problems seem to fade?
So what if your relationship ends? It’s all you can think about! Even if the break up was the best and right choice, your brain wants those feelings back. You are going through withdrawal, and like an addict, you may experience physical symptoms, such as inability to concentrate, shakiness, obsessive thoughts about the person, sleepless nights, irritability, depression and loss of appetite. These symptoms are normal after the loss of a relationship and part of the grieving process. However, if you notice that you are trapped in a pattern of short, intense relationships, and each breakup leaves you devastated, you may be addicted to love.
You might begin to think obsessively about seeing or talking to your ex. These thoughts can quickly turn to compulsions, as you can’t seem to stop yourself from “creeping” your ex online, texting and/or calling them, and strategically thinking of ways you can see them. However, this is engaging in risky behaviour. You are craving the love that you no longer have, but you need to treat it like an addiction.
If you were an alcoholic who became sober, you couldn’t just walk into a bar and watch others drinking. You have to quit cold turkey! The best thing is to cut off all communication with your ex, because you are just torturing yourself.
How to Overcome Love Addiction
The first step is to review the symptoms above. If you answered yes to 2 or more questions, you may be suffering from love addiction. You can overcome this issue; please review the following tips:
- Maintain boundaries and try not to lose yourself in your relationship. This means practicing saying “no,” creating your own schedule, hobbies and interests, and time spent apart.
- Live in reality– despite how this person makes you feel, think of ways you can create that feeling and not rely on another person.
- Feel and respect your own needs. If you want or need something, let it be known. If you feel disrespected or taken advantage of, speak up!
- Care for yourself. Eating healthy, exercising, and doing the things that you enjoy will help you feel self-love. If you love yourself, you will be less likely to crave the love of others for fulfillment.
- Deal with any fear you might have of being abandoned by speaking to a counselor. These fears could stem from earlier issues in your life. A counselor can help you to let go of these fears and move forward.
- Recognize your pattern. Think about your past relationships. Have they all had something in common?
- Take a look at your social circle. Do you often talk to a friend who is going through the same relationship issues as you are? They may be involved in the same unhealthy patterns, which only helps to normalize your behaviour. Try spending time with those in healthy, stable relationships, which will shed some light on your own destructive patterns.
- When are you the weakest? When do you tend to crave love and attention the most? It may be when you feel over-worked, tired, stressed, or lonely. These moments are when your love addiction takes over, but you can control it! If you can pinpoint the times when you are most vulnerable, you can get through those times with the support of friends, family or a counselor.
We welcome your questions and comments, or if you or someone you know may be struggling with some of the above symptoms, feel free to call us for a free consultation at 416-619-0442