You are in love. You don’t eat, you don’t sleep, you can’t do anything but think of the person. Are you addicted to love?
Ever since the beginning of time love has been described as an excruciating passion. We see it everywhere; in movies, in books, in songs. Almost two thousand years ago, Ovidsaid: “I can’t live with or without you” (Amores III, xi, 39) – a sentence that was made famous by Irish band U2 song. Other musicians sang about this too; legendary Led Zeppelinin their “I can’t Quit You Baby” as well as Ke$ha in her catchy song"Your Love Is My Drug." Similar feeling is expressed in the famous movie Brokeback Mountain by the character Jack Twist who said: “I wish I knew how to quit you.”
It is far from true that only artists and poets feel this way as our everyday speech is full of such expressions. We often hear those in love saying: “I need you” and “I am addicted to you”. It seems like when we are in love, we experience a tremendous attraction towards another person and that attraction is persistent and often times impossible to ignore.
Love is often thrilling but it can sometimes be dangerous. If our feelings are returned, we are in a state of euphoria. However, other times we might follow love’s pull to the point of suffering. It is hard to disagree with the fact that lovers sometimes become confused, unreasonable, unpredictable or even self-destructive. When relationships end in an undesirable way, lovers feel pain, grief and loss.
These patterns of alternating euphoria and despair, frantic longing and harmful thoughts and behaviours that might occur after a relationship ends are strikingly similar to phenomena we see within ‘typical’ addictions to drugs, alcohol, nicotine or gambling. For example, a gambler might feel euphoric during the initial rush and excitement that comes along placing a bet and winning. When an unwanted loss occurs, the gambler feels desperate and often behaves in a destructive way – for example they may increase the bet with money that he or she is not in the position to spend. Nevertheless, while we often borrow phrases from the language of addiction when referring to love, there is at least one distinction between love and conventional addiction; while nobody desires to become addicted to alcohol, nearly everyone yearns to be in love. Is it therefore absurd to claim that there is a true resemblance between love and addiction?
Perhaps not. First, there is a resemblance between love and drugs even before an addiction develops. For instance, scientists suggestthat on a physiological level, falling in love and smoking crack cocaine are incredibly similar processes! This not to be confused with that slightly buzzed sensation you might feel after a glass or two of wine; it is rather the overwhelmingly euphoric and exciting feeling that follows the intake of crack cocaine that is similar to falling in love. So, if you are looking for a legal way to get high, perhaps consider falling in love.
What is really happening when we fall in love? We start by experiencing a rush of emotions. Some like to call it magic, others prefer the term ‘fate’, I like to say that I’m being love-struck. Whatever term we use, from a biological perspective, being in love causes a range of chemical reactions in your brain; neurotransmitters called oxytocin and dopamine get released. These chemical reactions affect your brain and produce the euphoric feeling that we experience during the initial stages of a relationship.
The chemistry behind falling in love has been extensively studied and written about. However, many of us are not too concerned about that – we simply like the way it feels. Also, even without reading articles, many of us know that this overwhelming rush of feelings will fade away at some point. There is nothing wrong with that. The initial first weeks or months should help us build a solid foundation with the person we are in love with and hopefully form a relationship that goes beyond just a chemical reaction. Nevertheless, for some people this chemical reaction, this euphoric state is what they become addictedto and keep looking for even when it is over. This is then another similarity between love and addiction; just like drug addicts desire to feel the high cocaine gives them and are unable to resist it, love addicts have a hard time letting go of that initial rush.
If at this point you feel like you are definitely a love addict, please bear in mind that almost everyone can relate to that initial rush experienced during the early stage of a relationship. We’ve all been there; the other person’s existence provides us with constant emotional excitement and distraction. However, most people acknowledge that healthy relationships will inevitably develop into something less exciting but more profound in the long run.
While the similarity between falling in love and taking a drug is there, being in love evolves into a healthy, happy relationship whereas compulsively taking a drug can develop into an addiction therefore it appears that there is a distinction between the two. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In the same way that drug addicts cannot resist the urge to get the high, love addicts choose to rely on the neurochemical rush. When the rush fades away (whether induced by love or drug), the addict feels pain and disappointment and compulsively seeks the rush again.
But what is the rush in love addition? Unlike the typical addiction, we can’t point into something physical such as pills, cigarettes or slot machines. There are, however, clear symptomsthat manifest in a person’s behaviour and might signal love addiction.
One of the most common signs of love addiction is assigning too much importance to the new love. Of course, we all feel a little obsessed about the person we fell in love with but only love addicts would do whatever it takes in order to keep the high; they jeopardise work, friendships and even family and prioritise the new person in their life. Furthermore, they neglect responsibilities in their life in order to chase relationship dreams. Once the new person becomes the centre of their world, love addicts tend to believe that he or she can fix everything. As a result, instead of the relationship enhancing their life goals, their lives become all about the relationship. Ultimately, love addicts find themselves in relationships driven by feelings of incompleteness and insufficiency and find it difficult to feel ‘whole’ without their partner.
These feelings, however, vary from person to person. That said, even if you exhibit all of these behaviours you might not be an addict, as everyone is different what makes someone addicted might be perfectly fine for someone else, in the same way that drugs don’t make everyone addicted to the same degree. In any case, there is advice for everyone who experiences the love addiction signs. In his book ‘How to Break Your Addiction to a Person’, Howard Halpern describes techniquesthat might help in breaking or preventing the addiction to a person
1. Keep a Relationship Diary
Log the events and happening of your relationship in as much detail as possible. Most importantly, be honest, express your thoughts and feelings openly. Doing this may help you understand your feelings better and the way they relate to your actions. For instance, you might spot that every time you feel bad, you reach out for your phone and text your partner. When you are more aware of the situation, coming up with solutions becomes easier.
2. Connect with others
Try and reconnect with your friends and family. The value of this network can be precious and those addicted to love often neglect it. Although it might seem that only your partner can provide support and understanding, you will be surprised to see that sharing your thoughts and feelings with your friends or family can be equally comforting.
3. Become Aware of Your Body
Our minds are deeply connected to our bodies. The way we feel is related to our body functioning and it is therefore important to be aware of that relationship. Become aware of your body; it can be something as simple as focusing on your breathing. This will enhance the feeling that there is a central core within you and that you are actually the one who has control over it.
4. Allow Multiple Attachments
Just like we can connect with people, we can also connect to something more timeless. Go out in nature, read books, listen to music – the world is full of things to explore. In a way, whereas people come and go, these things will always be around. This is not to say that we should not connect with people because one day they might not be there, but rather that we should get the best out of everything that is out there be it people, places or things.
So, is it love or is it addiction? Probably it is a little bit of both. While some dose of addiction can be nice and poetic, in its essence, addiction is not about enjoying something but rather having a hard time staying away from something that gives you pleasure. Therefore, just like with everything in life, the best would be to find the balance between the two and enjoy a happy relationship.
Dr Kurt Smith. Yes, it is Possible to Be Addicted to Love. Retrieved from: https://www.beliefnet.com/wellness/yes-it-is-possible-to-be-addicted-to-love.aspx
Earp, B. D., Wudarczyk, O. A., Foddy, B., & Savulescu, J. (2017). Addicted to love: What is love addiction and when should it be treated?. Philosophy, psychiatry, & psychology: PPP, 24(1), 77.
Fisher, H., & Holt, H. (2004). The brain in love. SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN.
Halpern, H. M. (2003). How to break your addiction to a person. Bantam.