Falling in love is my favorite high. There’s nothing like it. When I fall in love, I fall. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that I nosedive. I love the adrenaline rush I get before I’m about to see someone I’m falling in love with, the way I feel like I’m going to faint when I kiss them, the way I obsessively think about them all day long, the way I feel like if I don’t have them, I’ll die. I become all consumed by the person I’m in love with, and I want more, more, MORE! It feels like I have an addiction to the person…or, could I just be addicted to love?
The Causes of Love Addiction
While it may sound like just the stuff of love songs, love addiction is real and possible. Of course, wanting and craving love isn’t a problem in and of itself, and just because you’re madly in love with somebody, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a love addiction. However, just like a drug, love can be very addictive, because in it’s own way, it is a drug. So, what causes a love addiction?
Talkspace therapist Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D., explains, “A love addiction can develop when a person develops a pathological need to replicate the feeling of being in love. When we’re in love, we experience feelings of euphoria and elation and some individuals can find themselves caught up in a cycle of needing to re-experience these feelings.”
It’s like rewatching the best episodes of your favorite show — except you don’t know exactly how it will end! She continues, “Just like some individuals find themselves addicted to that ‘runner’s high,’ individuals with a love addiction can find themselves addicted to the excitement and euphoria associated with new relationships and, over time, these feelings may take on an addictive like process.”
Dangers of Chasing a “Love High”
As you can imagine, trying to seek out the feelings of euphoria that you experience when you’re falling in love over and over again — as if you’re getting your “fix” — isn’t necessarily practical. This can pose a problem if you (or your partner) wants to settle down and be in a serious, committed relationship. As a relationship progresses and
the honeymoon phase ends, it’s likely that those initial feelings of excitement and euphoria will fade. A love addict may seek out a new way to access those feelings and get their fix of those romantic chemicals, which may require them to seek out love with someone new.
The Science Behind Love Addiction
There’s science behind this phenomenon. Not only is there behavioral evidence that love can be addictive, but thanks to recent studies, we also have neurochemical and neuroimaging evidence to support the theory. Multiple feel-good chemicals are released when we are in love. These include dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. Additionally, norepinephrine is a chemical that can be released by the brain when you’re super attracted to someone. We can thank that chemical for the giddy feeling we get when we’re just falling in love.
Not only are tons of feel-good chemicals released when you’re in love, but there are also visible changes to the brain that can be seen on MRIs. In one study, subjects who were in love with someone were shown a photo of their loved one. On the brain scan, different parts of the brain “lit up,” including the caudate nucleus which is part of the brain’s reward system. The reward system allows us to feel pleasure, which is essentially a reward, and keeps us wanting more — to be rewarded with pleasure over and over again. The more in love somebody is, the more active the caudate nucleus becomes in the scan.
Who’s At Risk of Love Addiction
While anyone is susceptible to love addiction, some people are more vulnerable to it. O’Neill states, “Individuals who struggle to self-regulate their emotions can be more prone to developing addictive tendencies towards love compared to those who have a greater ability to cope.” If you feel like you don’t have good control over your emotions, you might be at risk of love addiction. She adds, “In general, if a person looks to another person in order to take away an unpleasant mood or to bring about a pleasant mood, then it is more likely that they are going to develop some of those tendencies associated with love addiction.”
This is risky because a partner with a love addiction can become extremely dependent on their partner for happiness and, in some cases, even to function normally. This goes beyond
being needy — it’s more about genuinely feeling like you need this person to survive. Behavior like this is common in people with depression who may rely on their partner to improve their mood or provide happiness for them. It can also be a sign of codependency.
“In the most extreme cases of love addiction, an individual can go to great lengths to maintain an intense emotional connection with another person. A small percentage of people could develop stalking behaviors, they may be prone to extreme periods of depression, anxiety, irritability, or they may be at risk of harming themselves or someone else,” O’Neill explains. “Again, these are the most extreme cases and not everyone who is addictive tendencies will develop these types of behaviors,” she adds.
Help for Love Addiction
Think you might be addicted to love? It’s time to assess the problem and figure out a way to experience love and relationships in a healthier manner. O’Neill says, “It’s most important to first begin by having insight into the ways in which this love addiction exists. Is the individual able to self-regulate their emotions or do they find themselves seeking comfort and supportive reassurance from their partner at all times? If a person struggles with coping in their own and they seem intent on constantly being connected to another person it could be a good invitation to talk to mental health professional.”
Therapy is a great option for discussing love addiction and trying to dig deeper to better understand the addiction as well as learn more healthy and safe ways to experience love — because everyone deserves to experience healthy love and relationships.
Regardless of whether you think you may be addicted to love or not, always remember to check in with yourself and your emotions when you’re in love, and monitor for unhealthy patterns. Oh, and don’t forget to fall in love with yourself!