Most people associate addiction with things like alcohol, cocaine, or opiate drugs. But research shows that we can become addicted to behaviours as well as drugs. While it may sound like just the stuff of love songs, love addiction is real and possible. Of course, wanting and craving love isn’t a problem in and of itself, and just because you’re madly in love with somebody, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a love addiction. However, just like a drug, love can be very addictive, because, in its own way, it is a drug. Many of us are addicts, only we don’t know it. We turn to each other out of the same needs that drive some people to drink and others to heroin. Interpersonal addiction — love addiction — is just about the most common yet least recognized form of addiction we know.
Here’s how to know if it’s love or love addiction:
Tolerance. The love addict requires increasing displays of romance, contact with the object of affection, or emotional highs related to being in love. A healthy partner recognizes another’s limitations and boundaries and does not use the other person as an object to medicate emotions.
Withdrawal. If this “supply” of romance becomes threatened, the love addict experiences withdrawal symptoms akin to those of an alcoholic or drug addict: anxiety, physical ailments, sleeplessness, eating problems, despair or anger. They may even retaliate. When faced with disappointment, a healthy partner practices acceptance and patience, realistically assessing their lover’s availability and deciding to move on if unhappy.
Isolation. The love addict slowly becomes more and more preoccupied or enmeshed with romantic affairs, to the exclusion of self-care, work responsibilities, family and friendships. Isolation sets in. A healthy partner pursues life goals independently, continuing to grow as a person in all areas. He or she maintains strong ties to a community, whether it be family, friends or a support group such as a 12-step program or therapy group.
Denial. The love addict returns to hurtful or dangerous relationships over and over, unable to extricate himself or herself from the situation. A healthy partner acknowledges a dysfunctional partnership and recoils from it, seeking the help of a support group or therapist if necessary.