Everyone adores the feeling of falling in love—but when is it a love addiction? Over the years, we’ve written thousands of songs and poems describing these precious moments. We’ve even created a holiday for it.
But not all loves are created equal. Sometimes, we can hold on to that feeling for too long, becoming a serious issue.
Science has found that falling in love releases euphoria similar to how drugs can make our brains feel. Being in love, especially at first, releases brain chemicals like adrenaline, dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin.
But eventually, those feelings will fade, and you’ll find yourself either managing a long-term relationship or picking up the pieces of a broken heart.
At least, that’s what happens for most people. For others, they can’t get their partner(s) off their mind. They’re addicted to the high of being in love and will do anything to get more.
We call this love addiction.
It Might Be Love Addiction If…
The most prominent marker of love addiction is spending an unhealthy amount of time and attention on the object of your affection. This attention is often obsessive and goes beyond what is healthy and appropriate.
Several distinct characteristics define love addiction. They can include things like mistaking sexual encounters for love, using sex to hold on to a partner, having difficulty maintaining relationships after the newness has worn off or missing out on life experiences to search for a relationship.
Always needing to be in a relationship can also be a key indicator of this kind of addiction. Some of those affected find it unbearable to be alone and will do anything to be in a relationship. These individuals’ need for a relationship can lead them to choose emotionally unavailable or demanding partners to feel needed or loved. It can also lead to involvement in an abusive relationship to avoid intense feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Diagnosing Love Addiction
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, love addiction is hard to diagnose, mainly because it is not listed as an official disorder. However, being addicted to love falls into a category that we call a process addiction.
It is common for those with this type of addiction also to have other underlying or co-occurring diagnoses.
Those addicted to love might find themselves in toxic relationships or neglect to take time for themselves. Many of them won’t have clearly defined boundaries. They also often live in a state of fantasy, unable to see the relationship (or lack thereof) as it is in reality.
Why Does Love Addiction Happen?
Those who have a history or fear of abandonment may become addicted to love to avoid dealing with those feelings. Becoming obsessed with someone else is their way of coping with these feelings and often leads to resentment when they do not feel the same way.
As with other addictions, some people can use love addiction to avoid painful emotions. These can be emotions that originated in childhood, or they can be as simple as a malformed coping mechanism in response to too much stress.
Sometimes people will obsess over a partner to avoid dealing with painful emotions that come from childhood trauma. These can come from neglectful or abusive parents. Because as children, these now-adults didn’t experience secure attachment, they tend to take on more extreme roles in their adult relationships.
The Signs of a Healthy Relationship
A healthy relationship looks very different from a love addiction. Having a strong relationship with your partner involves two-way communication, balancing needs, shared values and much more.
Healthy relationships can help you feel good about yourself and move at a good pace for both partners. When partners embrace trust and honesty, they build the foundation for stable relationships.
In a healthy relationship, both partners will have friendships outside of their connection to each other. They can focus on other areas of their lives and moderate how much time and attention they give to each other.
Not meeting the criteria for a love addiction doesn’t mean you have a healthy relationship. Obsession with your partner acting a certain way is not the same as obsessing over the relationship, but neither is healthy.
Is It Love Addiction or Sex Addiction?
Depending on the type of relationship you have, you might also deal with symptoms of sex addiction.
Sex addiction is when someone compulsively needs to have sex or perform sexual acts to achieve a fix comparable to what some people get from substance use. Often, people with this addiction feel like they are not in control of their sexual impulses.
These impulses can lead to highly sexualized and dangerous behaviors, such as unprotected sex, contracting STIs or facing unwanted pregnancies. Those who rely on sex as an avoidance tactic do so to escape from anxiety or isolation. It can also develop as a way to hold on to a relationship that isn’t working anymore.
Symptoms of sex addiction include:
- Obsessive sexual thoughts
- Preoccupation with having sex
- Inability to stop sexual behavior, even when it becomes disruptive
- Feeling guilty after sex
- Lying to hide behavior
Treatment for sex addiction almost always involves therapy and group support. The primary goal of going to therapy is to help you manage your urges and reduce risky behavior. Should you decide to seek treatment, your provider will likely look for other co-occurring mental health concerns.
How Porn Addiction Can Be Involved
Some people with love addictions will avoid having relationships at all to prevent themselves from getting disappointed or hurt. However, they will still have obsessive fantasies about being in a relationship and how romance should look.
It’s possible that those who avoid romantic relationships can turn to porn to fill their need for connection and sex. However, having unhealthy connotations of love and romance can lead to porn addiction.
Some people will feel shame for watching any amount of porn and might think they have an addiction, even if they indulge occasionally. That doesn’t mean you have an addiction. Porn addictions are classified by an inability to stop watching porn, feeling like you need a fix, or spending hours looking at porn even when it prevents you from fulfilling your responsibilities.
There have been some people who stopped watching porn on their own. However, if you have tried to stop and find that you can’t, or if it’s causing problems in any part of your life, it’s time to seek help.
How to Treat a Love Addiction
If you’ve read the above and find you meet the criteria for love addiction, sex addiction or porn addiction, the best thing you can do is reach out for help. Trying to fight the addiction by yourself is a losing battle, and you deserve more than signing up for failure.
Having an addiction doesn’t mean you are any less worthy than someone without one. Many studies have shown that addiction is a combination of genetics, neurobiology and social and psychological factors.
Don’t dismay in receiving one or more diagnoses. Several people feel despair when they receive a mental health diagnosis. However, when you know what you are dealing with, you’re better able to find the treatment right for you.
There are several aspects involved in treating a love addiction. You’ll likely start one or more evidence-based treatments, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness practices and group therapy.
Before you can learn to have healthy relationships, you have first to learn to love yourself. Part of recovery is the realization that you don’t need a relationship to survive. One of the essential elements of recovery from love addiction is building up your sense of self to feel complete without another person. Once you can see yourself on your own, that’s a good sign that you’ve come a long way.
Spending time with others before rushing into romance is also a great way to recover. Being with others to fill your social needs without feeling the need to turn the friendship romantic will also help you learn to connect with others healthily.
If someone is acting out of desperation, trying to prevent being alone, it’s a sign that they need to look at the root cause of this fear. While it isn’t comfortable and might sometimes feel impossible, this is the first step to treating your love addiction.
The Center for Relationship and Sexual Recovery at The Ranch will help you wherever you’re at in your journey. We use separate programs for men and women to allow our clients a safe and supportive environment to learn the truth about and overcome their obsessions. Here, you’ll have exposure to various trauma-focused therapies to address any co-occurring issues like depression, anxiety and more.
Reach out to our admissions department today to get started. 888-663-7487