Love Addiction: An Unrecognized Drug of Abuse

by: Prakash Sutradhar
(His website:

Story of a pretty, smart girl, Nasreen

“It all began when I was about eleven years old and started falling in love. My crush was on a boy named Sehzad. Oh, how I loved him. I just knew he was going to make all my dreams come true. 

I used to write his name on my school books. I used to look through his window when I passed by his house.
  He didn't like me at all; he used to make fun of me in front of his friends. I cried and was humiliated but nothing discouraged me from loving him, after-all it was my first love.

Every day I watched him playing football at the park. He was my hero. I felt jealous when I saw him talking to other girls. I always looked for any excuses to get closer to him. I wrote songs for him, I dreamt about us hours after hours. I wrote in my diary about my love for him and the pain I was feeling. Day after day, I described the bittersweet pain of unrequited love, hoping that someday he would love me too. However, it remained inside me only.

There were other infatuations over the years. I fell in love and believed that only this particular boy could make me happy. Then obsession begins, and pain was unbearable.

When I was 22 years old, after long searching I found the true love of my life, the perfect man. Before that, I had many attempts; many of them were successful which lasted for very short period. That relationship dominated my life. My mind was full of his thoughts and images; I spent hours after hours making this relationship a perfect one. My loneliness, pain were fading way, I found the solutions to all my life problems. I became dependent on him, he was my oxygen and in doing so, I became needy, obsessive and extra possessive and problems started showing up in our relationships. Finally, our 6 years old relationship ended and I am back to my old life. Life full of pain, loneliness, feeling unloved, undesirable, and emptiness.”

Love Addiction

The euphoria of romance is one of the most intoxicating of life experiences. At a very young age, we hear stories of its magic and its power. It arouses a princess from a coma, changes a depressed prince into an enchanting hero. In most stories, love arrives out of the blue, it abducts the lovers, and the rest of the story line seems out of their control. People sing for love, they dance for love. They compose poem for love, they live for love, they kill for love and they die for love. Movies, TV dramas, advertisements propagate importance of romantic relationship in one’s life. 

We all do love to fall in love but for some people, feeling of being in love is more important than the person. They are addicted to the feeling of love, romance or excitement generated when they are in love. Those people are no more different from the people who are addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, videogames etc. They chase the ‘romantic high’, which is produced when they fall in love. To understand when love becomes addiction, we need to see inside our brain and how it controls our love life.

Brain in Love

When it comes to forming love relationships, three distinct but related parts of our brain circuits go to work according to anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher. These three circuits are responsible for three different types of feelings and behaviors. They are sexual arousal (lust), romantic attraction (attraction) and emotional bonding (attachment). Each has unique place in our brain and unique chemicals that support the accompanying feelings. Our falling in love, is not a modern day phenomenon, rather it is evolutionary. According to Dr. Helen Fisher, to complete the mating process, we must first experience sexual arousal, the craving for sexual union. This first brain system (lust) turns us on to what is sexually desirable. In the sexual arousal phase, we experience testosterone, estrogen and other arousal chemicals. These chemicals produce intense drive inside us.

Now, there can be many to whom we are turned on sexually. Therefore, in order to narrow down the playing field, the second brain system (romantic attraction) kicks in. When romantic attraction kicks in, out of many choices, we feel passionately connected to one potential mate. At this point, we term it love. We say we have fallen for him or her. In the romantic attraction phase, we experience love chemical phenylethylamine (PEA) (which increases our heart beat, sweet feelings when we think of that person) and motivation chemical dopamine (which make us to go extra mile for the one we have just fallen in love).

The chemical produced in the first two stages are very addicting even more than cocaine and alcohols. Those chemicals produces ‘high’ (lust brain produces sexual high and attraction brain produces romantic high) which overpowers any other emotions (depression, sadness, loneliness). However, that high or euphoric state fades off quickly. To continue in the love relationship, we must move on to the third and final phase, emotional bonding. In the third phase, our third brain system kicks in. In the third phase, oxytocin and vasopressin chemicals are produced, they are bonding chemicals. These chemicals are less excitatory and calmer. In the third phase, we go deep into the relationship and make commitments. These chemicals stay for longer period (even for lifetime) unlike chemicals produced in the first and second phase which fades off after a certain period of time and almost impossible to sustain that high. In the third phase, we feel lesser excitement, lust but we feel deeply connected, safe, and secure.

Now, the above three-brain circuitry can work together or they can work independent of one another. You may be sexually aroused, then romantically attracted, and then emotionally bonded with the same person. Or, you can be bonded to one person, infatuated with another person, and have sex with yet a third person.

Then what is healthy love (refraining myself from calling anything true love)?

Healthy love is when three of the things happen with the same person. Your arousal, attraction, and emotional bonding are with the same person. We may then refer it as healthy love or healthy relationships.

When Love Turns into Addiction

Some people are stuck in the first two phases (lust and attraction), for them love is the feeling they experience in the arousal and romantic attraction phases. When the attraction phases are over, they think love is over. They will say “I don’t feel same for you”; “I am no more excited about you”. They end the relationship and move to another person to experience that romantic high again. They do not realize that actual relationship starts in the third phase when the emotional bonding chemicals kick in. If the person is right for you, then you’ll experience less exciting high, less arousal but you’ll surely experience emotional bonding, calm feeling, safety, security, and trust.

People who suffer from emotional problems of loneliness, depression, anxiety, insecurity etc. in their personal life or people who have unmet psychological needs will have the maximum chances of becoming love addict. They unknowingly try to overcome their emotional problems with the romantic feelings produced when they fall in love.  “Love addict” is a person who depends on love feelings or love object to live happily. Without love, their day-to-day life becomes boring and they need love of another person to feel wholehearted, and meaningful.

Apart from physical needs (food, shelter), we all do have psychological needs, need for security, belonging, feeling loved, feeling desirable, feeling important, feeling worthy but all of us are not fortunate enough to have all of our emotional needs fulfilled in the childhood. Many of us felt unloved in the childhood, some felt powerless, and some felt unimportant in the childhood when neglected by parents. Our parents did what they could in their their best, but those were not enough to fulfill our all the emotional needs. As the child grows, those unmet needs grow with the child into their adulthood. Those unmet needs shape our life in the adulthood, from the person for who we fall in love to the career we choose. When we can’t find any other better way to satisfy our unmet emotional needs, we become dependent on other people, love, and the person we love to fulfill our needs.

Unfortunately, our needs rarely get fulfilled in love relationship; rather we create an illusion that we have achieved a meaningful life. When we become dependent of other person to fulfill our needs, the relationship no more remains a healthy love relationship; it becomes unhealthy dependency, and unhealthy relationship.

A few Symptoms of Love Addict

To some extent, we all do show the signs of love addiction, but in healthy relationships it is under control. There are a few important signs of love addiction which we can easily find.

Falling in Love for Wrong Reason

An Addictive lover believes that they need to be attracted to someone in order to survive and that the other has the magical ability to make them whole. Addictive lover don’t believe that they can be happy when they are alone. The pervasive feeling that something is missing in their life directs them in relationships to unconsciously seek out others to meet their unmet emotional needs. Because of their personal life problems (feeling unworthy, feeling unloved, feeling lonely etc.), which they want to avoid, they fall for the first person who shows them little bit of care. In reality, they don’t need the person, they need those feel good stimulus or high produced in romantic relationships. With the help of romantic high they are able to successfully bury their problems. Those feel good chemicals act as drug for them, which they do not realize, instead they perceive it as love or love object is changing their life and helping them to forget their emotional pains. In doing so, they often choose the wrong people for the wrong reason and after a certain period of time when initial excitements from their new found relationships starts to fade off (which is bound to happen), they lose interest in that relationship and their life again become a mess. Their past emotional problems begin to surface until they find another person for who they again fall in love. The vicious cycle continues.

Loosing Personal Boundary

A love addict often overadapts to what others want. They do it to keep others around and happy. They lose their personal boundaries in order to accommodate others in their life. They forget that before “we” they are “I”. They don’t stand up for themselves, they behave against their values, they postpone their life, they sacrifice their dreams, careers, friends and they disregard their desires. They think that they will be appreciated for their sacrifices. In doing so, they lose their personal boundaries and lose the powerful “I” which led them into the relationship in the first place. They are the people who find it difficult to recover when the relationship fails because in sustaining “we” they already lost their “I”. They have the beliefs that they can make someone happy, and if they make them happy, then they will make them happy too. When their sacrifices are not acknowledged or when their love is not reciprocated, they turn into violence’s, controlling nature. In addictive relationship, growths of both the partners are compromised because most of the energy is being spent of fulfilling emotional needs of each other and sustaining romantic high in the relationship. They forget their individual identity; they feel angry if their partner gives more importance to others before them.

Fear of Letting Go

We all do fear to lose our loved one, and it hurts. We all have been rejected, and it is painful. The love addict has the intense fear of rejection and they can not face the pain. To avoid fear of rejection, pain and loneliness, they do not let go. Rather than facing the pain and trusting that it will end, they hang on to unhealthy relationships to avoid grief. If the relationship ends, they find it very difficult to accept the reality that relationship has ended. Sometimes, just thinking about the person and hope of getting back together produces the ‘high’. They stalk the person who rejected them, they find it difficult to move on and lead a healthy life. Their drug of choice is the person who just rejected them; their acceptance produces the ‘high’. Love addiction is grounder in fear: fear of rejection, fear of loss, fear of pain, fear of losing control, fear of loss of self. Love addict are the people who demands unconditional love, which is unhealthy and unrealistic expectation. They demand because they don’t love them unconditionally. This kind of expectation and wants make it more difficult for them to let go of the person if it is not working.

Looking to others for Affirmation and Worth

“Self-esteem” is how we think of ourselves, do I love myself, do I accept myself the way I am or do I need to depend on another person to feel good about myself? Love addict has very low self-esteem. They fail to love themselves unconditionally, without needing others approval. They always need someone’s acceptance and appreciation to feel worthy about themselves. Their self-esteem is dependent on other people, if other people treat them nicely, they feel good and if don’t, and then they feel bad. And when love affair ends, their self-esteem is devastated. Some love addict shows that they are independent, they don’t need others but internally they are wounded from past trauma or betrayal of trust. They avoid future commitments because of the past trauma. They have learned to avoid pain and fear by becoming overly self-sufficient.

Obsession and Fantasy

We all do have the obsession of things we care most. But it is the intensity of obsession that separates a healthy lover from an addict. When the obsession of the person you love starts to take over your entire brain, then it is a sign of love addiction. He or she is the first thought in the morning, you constantly think what the person is doing, your day ends with his or her thoughts. You live in your imagination, you fantasize being with that person and all of these, starts interfering in other important areas of your life.

With obsession, there comes jealousy too. And when jealousy comes, there comes possessiveness too.  There is space for jealousy and possessiveness in every relationship, but for love addict, jealousy and possessiveness is all they have for their lover. They always have the fear of being cheated on, sexual betrayal. Those fear make them extra possessive for their partner and they start spending more energy to their partners activity, who they talk, meet.

They want to possess and control their romantic partner, because it is their source of stimulus for good feelings. Without that person, their all good feelings will go away and they will have to go back to their old life of loneliness, depression.

In next part, we will uncover reasons for love addiction, childhood issues and ways of recovery.
Further Readings:

1. Book “Why We Love-The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love” by Helen Fisher

2. Book “Is it Love or Is it Addiction” by Brenda Schaeffer

3. Book “Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself The Power To Change The Way You Love” by Pia Mellody

4. Book “Psychology of Self-Esteem” by Nathaniel Branden