The term "love addiction" is a bit of a misnomer. Love addicts aren't really in love with the person who is the object of their affection. Instead, the addiction surrounds a series of compulsive actions that the person is unable to stop.
What is Love Addiction?
Love addicts may have an established pattern of brief, but very intense, romantic relationships. If they have a long-term relationship, it is characterized by many highs and lows. Another pattern is when the person withdraws completely from romantic and/or sexual relationships, as a kind of anorexia, to avoid feeling vulnerable. In all these cases, the love addict is focusing a lot of energy on romantic relationships, whether they are involved in one, looking for the next one, or avoiding them altogether.
Signs of Love Addiction
There are a number of signs that point to a love addiction. Here are some that you can interpret as being red flags:
- Becoming emotionally or sexually attached to a person you don't really know
- Being involved in one romantic/sexual relationship after another or juggling multiple relationships at once
- Feeling incomplete when in between romantic relationships
- Idolizing a romantic interest and then blaming that person for not living up to the love addict's expectations
- Inability to let go of the relationship once it's over
- Repeatedly getting involved with people who are emotionally unavailable
- Spending an inappropriate amount of time on romantic fantasies or obsessions that interfere with the addict's life
Causes of Addiction
The causes of love addiction may be traced back to childhood. A person who lacks self-esteem or who never felt they were "special" enough just the way they are may grow up looking to other people to give them constant reassurance that they are OK.
Other people who are addicted to love enjoy the feeling of excitement that being "in love" brings. They have multiple romantic relationships or create drama in their main one (an "unplanned pregnancy," rushing into marriage, or using violence or threats when their partner wants to leave) to get another "fix."
Consequences of Love Addiction
A person who is addicted to love is unable to stop their self-destructive behavior, even in spite of negative consequences, including:
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Job loss
- Loss of child custody/limited access to children
- Risk of contracting STD (sexually transmitted diseases)
- Self-destructive behaviors (alcohol or drug abuse, cutting, etc.)
Help and Treatment for Love Addiction
Love addiction treatment can take the form of supportive therapy, a 12-step programs like Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, or both. As in the case of sex addiction, the goal is not to expect the person to live a loveless existence for the rest of their lives. Instead, they need to stop constantly focusing on attracting a love partner or obsessing about one they have lost and move toward a more positive relationship with a real person, not an idealized fantasy of the Beautiful Princess or Prince Charming. Codependents Anonymous could also be of help, as it guides members towards developing healthy relationships.
Beyond Quitting: Love Addiction Recovery and Rehabilitation
Recovery for a person who is ready to quit using an addiction to love as a way to avoid intimacy will involve setting rules for love sobriety. They, with the help of a sponsor or therapist, need to set limits on their behavior. For example, they may decide that flirting is off limits, or sexual intimacy will not take place within the first 30 days of dating. Over time, they learn how to manage their obsessions and are better able to have a healthy relationship with another person.