Have you ever been high? Some of you are nodding yes, some of you are shaking your head no, and others are asking, “What do you mean by high?”In this case “high” isn’t a reference to drugs or alcohol, but rather to the experience of falling in love. If you are one of the billions who have fallen in love, you will understand the high that comes along with those initial stages of romance.
When you meet someone you that connect with and are attracted to the rush of emotions can be overwhelming. People often experience a sense of euphoria as they spend time with that special person. Some call it magic others call it fate, or being love-struck. It may be all those things in some form, but biologically speaking, falling in love causes a variety of chemical changes in the brain. These changes, like the release of oxytocin and dopamine, affect the brain by producing that euphoric feeling that we associate with the first stages of a relationship.
The biology associated with love has been well studied and written about in volumes. Many of us aren’t overly concerned with that part though - we just like the feeling. Most of us also know that the intense rush of feelings and sexual insatiability will eventually fade. This isn’t a bad thing. Those first weeks or months hopefully give us the opportunity to build a foundation with the right person, and create a bond that is based on much more that chemical attraction. For some, however, that initial rush is something that they become addicted to and seek out continually.
Becoming addicted to love isn’t uncommon. The chemicals released during that first phase are the same or similar to those released when consuming cocaine or drinking alcohol. And for some people the desire to feel that way all the time can be hard to resist.
What causes love addiction?Addiction to love, like addiction to most substances, is generally born from a desire to escape other traumas. Addicts are often looking for a way to numb painful or uncomfortable feelings. They do this with substances that help them feel high, or forget their problems all together. The problem is that these attempts at escape don’t make the problems go away. In fact, they tend to make them worse.
In the case of the love addict there will often have been childhood issues surrounding abandonment or parental attachments, perhaps even physical or emotional abuse. Problems like this can cause lifelong challenges with self-esteem and create a constant need to feel wanted and worthy.
A love addict, unlike those addicted to drugs or alcohol, will look toward each new love-interest as someone with the potential to make his/her life everything they ever wanted. The possibility that this person will be the one to fill the void, combined with the physical impact of chemicals like dopamine, help him/her to push all the painful feelings and experiences aside temporarily.
There are many problems with these relationships. Two of the biggest problems are that those initial feelings have a shelf life, and that real love is not about what someone else can do for you. Once the excitement starts to fade, or the person the addict has become involved with shows a lessened interest, the addict is in search of his/her next love high.
How can you tell if someone is a love addict?Unlike those addicted to substances, there is no physical thing to point to, like pills, bottles, or needles. There are, however, very clear behavioral indications of love addiction. Below are some of the more glaring.
- Frequently creating new relationships or having multiple ones at the same time. Love addicts crave the high of new relationships. Once one gets old they will move toward something new. Often they will have more than one relationship going on at the same time. This helps prevent there ever being a gap or crash.
- Assigning too much importance to the new love. An addict will do anything to keep the high, including jeopardizing work, family or friendships in order to accommodate the new person in their lives.
- Believing that he or she will fix everything. The constant expectation that each new person is the one and will make the addict’s life immediately better is common.
- Continually mistaking someone’s interest or a sexual encounter as love. Love addicts are prone to promiscuous behavior. This penchant for engaging in sex too quickly can be accompanied by the assumption that the experience means they are now in love. They might become overly focused on that person, pushing for a relationship that never materializes. In an attempt to avoid feeling the rejection when the relationship fails, they may repeat this pattern with other people continually.
- A desperate fear of being alone. Love addicts have a hard time defining themselves outside of a relationship. They don’t know who to be, or how to act, on their own. When not actively involved in a relationship they will become withdrawn and depressed. The self-esteem issues they avoid and painful feelings they are trying to escape will come to the surface as a result. If another relationship doesn’t present itself the love addict can be in danger of engaging in risky behavior like sex with strangers or substance abuse.
What can you do?If you recognize the behaviors above in yourself or someone you know then there is likely a problem. Love addiction is a difficult thing to contend with. And it probably won’t be handled on your own, you will need help. Not because staying out of a relationship is so difficult, but because resisting the urge to seek out those euphoric feelings with that next person will mean you need to face why you need that high so badly.
Like all addictions it’s not just a matter of saying, “I quit." The behavior is generally masking deeper problems. Without addressing those problems, the addict is at risk of returning to the same patterns, or becoming addicted to other things.
If you feel like you, or someone you know, is addicted to love, it’s time to look for help. A healthy and long lasting relationship won’t be created out of desperation. And the problems that are causing the behavior will always get in the way until they are dealt with.
Once the underlying issues are being faced and dealt with, a truly healthy relationship is possible. But, like the alcoholic, the drug addict, the gambler, or the porn addict, there will be residual effects of the former behavior. The temptations may always be there to some degree, especially when life’s tougher moments arise. During these times a new found self-awareness and self-control are key, as are tools to manage the urges.