The question is as old as time. It’s asked across the ages in poetry, novels, scientific studies, and often musically: What is love?
Is it an emotion? Is it butterflies in your stomach? Is it a decision or a commitment to put someone else before yourself? We may never agree. But few human experiences have inspired such inquiry and culture than the idea of love. Love also inspires some extreme emotions and reactions from writing vast collections of sonnets to sailing a thousand ships to Troy. With such intensity coming out of such a quintessential human experience, how do we know when it goes too far. What is the difference between intense love and love addiction?
Love addiction is a misunderstood and sometimes controversial concept. The line between being in love and being addicted to love is sometimes blurred. It’s also difficult to distinguish love addiction from other similar disorders, such as sex addiction or codependency. Although there is some overlap (i.e. “sex and love addiction”), love addiction is a unique disorder and needs special attention to detail to diagnose and treat.
Love Addiction: How You Can be Addicted to Love
Unlike drug or alcohol dependence and sex addiction, love addiction is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) series—the primary criteria that psychologists use to diagnose mental illnesses. Without a consensus to distinguish it from other addictions or simply being in love, recognizing these traits in addicts can sometimes be difficult. However, there are some guidelines to tell whether or not you are a love addict.
Love addicts may fit in the blanket DSM-5 (the most recent edition of the guide) diagnosis of “behavioral addictions” although this doesn’t provide much guidance for psychologists and their love addicted patients.
Love vs. Love Addiction
Love, loss, heartache, and everything in between are things most people experience throughout the course of their lives, but is there a difference between love and being addicted to love? Well, there are two schools of thought when it comes to the relationship between love and addiction.
- The Broad View. This view suggests that all romantic love is a form of addiction. Your behavior changes when you are in love and when it’s taken away you can become depressed. The neurochemical activity behind the scenes even mimics other forms of psychological addiction.
- The Narrow View. This view only considers the most extreme cases of addiction. When love or the pursuit of love has a negative impact on your life, you might be a love addict. This view takes the traditional definition of addiction as something not just based on neurochemical reactions but also on the person’s lack of control.
It becomes unhealthy when you become obsessed with romance and you try to use love and intimacy to cope with insecurity. An article by Alexandra Katehakis, a sex therapist and contributor at Psych Central, helps to distinguish between love and the addiction to it. Its major symptoms are much like other addictions, such as sex addiction and substance dependence:
- Tolerance – Like an alcoholic or drug addict, love addicts require ever-increasing love and affection to “get high” on being in love.
- Withdrawal – If they are “cut off” from love, addicts suffer both mental and physical withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, depression, or physical pain.
- Isolation – As their addiction progresses, love addicts become more withdrawn from work, family, etc., giving more priority to their addiction.
- Denial – Like other addictions, love addicts cannot see how unhealthy and dysfunctional their relationship is.
Total Eclipse of the Brain
We often give the heart credit when it comes to feelings of love. Maybe because it’s our core, and love must come from deep with in us. Plus, when love is lost, you may feel it in your chest, hence the term “heartache.” However, in reality, love starts where all emotion starts: the brain. When you fall in love, a number of neurochemical reactions start firing in your head.
According to a study by the National Institute of Health, love is tied to reactions of compounds like dopamine, oxytocin, vasopressin, and serotonin. These chemicals contribute to the feelings of trust, pleasure, and reward. Similar neural activity happens when a person develops an addiction. Since, like seen in drugs and alcohol addiction, love can cause mood swings, cravings, obsession, compulsion, risk taking, and loss of self-control, it has led some researchers to consider the broad view that all love is a form of addiction.
Sex Addiction vs. Love Addiction
Since modern culture closely relates sex and love, it’s not easy to distinguish what an addict is addicted to, sex or love, especially when both are involved simultaneously. Love addicts are addicted to the attention and affection of loving relationships, but this can also be attained through sex. Both addictions are considered intimacy disorders and they’re often grouped together under labels such as “sex and love addiction.”
However, there are a few key differences between sex and love addiction, and it has a lot to do with the specific object of desire. For the sex addict, sexual behavior and activity are more important than the sexual partner. Engaging in many anonymous sexual encounters would be a classic behavioral trait of a sex addict. Sex addicts may also compulsively watch pornography and may cheat on their partner.
A love addict, on the other hand, would be more concerned with emotional attachment to a person. Their goal is attention, devotion, and commitment. Love addicts are addicted to the love they receive from a specific person. Because of this, they may be faithful to their partner because they are so attached to them. However, they might also be addicted to romantic infatuation, or “the chase” which may cause them to lose interest after the initial spark fades.
Sex and love are normal parts of life. They are beautiful things if they are part of a healthy relationship. However, love addiction is not healthy. It is dysfunctional and self-destructive, and it can be treated through rehab and recovery programs such as Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA).
Treating Love Addiction
Since researchers can’t decide between the the narrow and the broad view of love addiction, it can be difficult to determine when treatment is necessary and what type of treatment is appropriate. Support groups like SLAA are usually a safe way to seek help without doing harm if you are worried about a potential addiction.
However, the National Institute of Health advises that treatment in the form of medication should weigh the potential for harm against the potential benefit, rather than to prescribe medication based on purely on the definition of love addiction.
Do you think you are addicted to love?
If you or a loved one is suffering from love addiction, fear not, you are not alone. Whether you simply want to learn more about this concept or begin the steps toward recovery, the call representatives at Drug Treatment Finder Center can help. Call us today at 855-619-8070.