Don’t let the upbeat tempo of Robert Palmer's 1980s hit "Addicted to Love" fool you, love addiction is no song or dance. Researchers from the University of Oxford recently suggested romantic love can be addictive, much like alcohol or drugs. What’s more, those experiencing it may engage in risky behavior that harms themselves or others. So, what is love addiction anyway?
What Is Love Addiction?
Love addiction is about needing to have a partner and be ‘in love’ continuously. It is a behavioral pattern debated in the field of psychology because of its complexity and how much the behavior intersects with other difficult issues.
Ahead, experts Deborah J. Cohan and Angela R. Robinson explain the causes of love addiction, warning signs, and how to overcome the behavior.
Meet the Expert
- Deborah J. Cohan, Ph.D., is an associate professor of sociology at the University of South Carolina Beaufort and author of Welcome to Wherever We Are.
- Angela R. Robinson, LPCMH, NCC, is the clinical director of NorthNode Group Counseling in Dover, Delaware.
Causes of Love Addiction
While anyone can struggle with love addiction, many of those affected can trace the problem back to their upbringing. “People who tend to exhibit behaviors of love addiction often come from homes in which intimacy was distorted and mangled in some way either because love and affection were withheld, or because they received too much of a parent. They became confused as to what they can expect from a potential partner and what they should expect to give in an intimate relationship,” says Cohan.
So, if your childhood was tumultuous, you may have a misguided understanding of adult relationships. Alternatively, people who have underlying mental health issues may find it hard to foster healthy romantic relationships. “Most of the time, addictions are created in response to an unprocessed trauma or an undiagnosed behavioral issue. Humans substitute healthy learned coping skills with something that will make them feel good instantly—that includes food, work, and love,” Robinson explains.
Signs of Love Addiction
Concerned that you may be experiencing love addiction? Since noticing the warning signs of this addiction is the first step in overcoming it, let’s take a look at six of the major red flags:
Falling in love too fast.
Falling in love is a rush. One minute you’re casually crushing on a new person, the next thing you know, they are all you think about from dusk to dawn. To say it’s a whirlwind of emotions is an understatement. However, if you’re in the pattern of falling in and out of love quickly, that could be a red flag.
"People who have a love addiction tend to fall fast and hard—both into love and out of love. And they mistakenly assume that the other person is on their same timeline,” says Cohan. “So they are likely to come off strong which could have the initial effect for the other person of making them feel special, yet it is also likely it could be off-putting and even a little scary. It can feel like someone is taking over your life.”
Moving from relationship to relationship.
Similarly, people who swiftly move from relationship to relationship may need to question their motives. “A person who is suffering from love addiction has a pattern of jumping into intense relationships,” says Robinson “They often exhibit signs of obsessiveness and then detachment after the thrill of a relationship has fizzled.”
Put simply, if you tire of relationships once the fireworks have burned out, that could be a sign of love addiction. You may find that you’re forever chasing that initial surge of emotion that you feel when a new person comes into your life. While the honeymoon phase of a relationship can be exciting, long-term commitments take work.
Extreme mood swings.
Are you in control of your moods? Or are they in control of you? When you’re battling any type of addiction, you may lose your sense of control altogether. While we all have good and bad days, experiencing dramatic (or rather, over-dramatic!) shifts in your emotions could be a worrying sign.
“Love addiction is characterized by extreme highs and extreme lows,” explains Cohan. “When attracted to someone in the beginning a person who has a problem with love addiction may feel euphoric whereas if the relationship dissolves and they didn't want that to happen, they are likely to feel it is the end of the world.”
Losing your identity.
Here’s a quick question: who are you when you’re single? Do you have a solid sense of self when you’re alone or do you count on someone else to be your identity? If the answer is the latter, there’s a chance that you are suffering from love addiction and becoming entirely immersed in your relationship.
“When a person falls into a pattern of falling in love repeatedly, they become enmeshed, and start to take on their significant other’s interests,” says Robinson. "It’s absolutely healthy to try new things and explore what your partner likes. Just make sure you are not people-pleasing and putting your entire self aside.”
Showing signs of jealousy.
Often enough, people who are experiencing love addiction also have possessive tendencies. That may mean telling their partner who to hang out with, where they can go, or what they can do. As Cohan puts it: “Jealousy is a normal emotion but it can become a very big problem when it becomes possessive behavior.”
When your jealousy causes you to become controlling, that’s the definition of a toxic relationship. It’s not healthy for you or your partner. Try keeping track of how often you get jealous and what causes it. For instance, if you are jealous when your partner spends time with friends or family, you may need to look into why.
Feeling alone and having low self-esteem.
“Love addiction is an oxymoron, it sounds like a nice thing to have, but the person suffering from this can actually feel extremely alone, have low self-esteem, and might put themselves in bad situations,” explains Robinson.
How to Overcome Love Addiction
As with any addiction, the first step is admitting you have a problem and that’s never easy. If you’re showing some of the signs of love addiction, it could be worth reaching out to a trained therapist. The truth is that getting help is likely to be a lengthy and difficult process. However, doing the work will be worth it in the long run.
“Love addiction often overlaps with other experiences like trauma and abuse as well as problems like sex addiction or substance abuse, making it more complicated to treat,” explains Cohan. “People struggling with this will likely benefit from talking with a therapist who is highly skilled in the dynamics of intimacy and trauma to help the person unlock their feelings, fears, and experiences.”