Can Love be Addictive?

Posted by on 07 19 13 in Love Addiction News | Comments Off on Can Love be Addictive?

At 32, Sabine had been married four times. In each marriage, she believed she had met her “soul mate,” that she and her partner would be together until death parted them. She couldn’t place a finger on what pattern might be shaping the demise of her relationships, but she couldn’t think of a time – not since sixth grade – that she had been without a boyfriend or significant other. She had never gone more than a month as a single woman. She had lost friends to her relationships (she never had time for any of them), and had even lost the support of family in her last divorce.

Sabine’s parents had divorced when she was 4, and she hadn’t seen her father much throughout her childhood. She longed for his love and affection but he had a career that required him to travel around the world, and to live in foreign countries for long periods; and he had never made his daughter a priority. Her mother had been a strict parent and had rarely been loving or relaxed in the way she dealt with her children. She wanted them to go out into the world, work hard, land solid careers, and have their own families. Sabine’s mother, especially, was judgmental of the way she couldn’t seem to remain in either the same job or the same relationship for very long. She accused her of “behaving like her father.”

It’s probably no wonder that Sabine felt most secure when in the arms of a devoted man. The romance and intrigue that peaks at the beginning of relationships was her favorite high, yet she could never seem to hang in there when things leveled off into what other people felt was the “comfortable stage” of relationships. She didn’t want things to be comfortable; she wanted them to always be exciting, sexy, good. She clung to her partners only for a time, and when she decided that things had become too ordinary, she fell apart (and so did the relationship) – becoming simultaneously needy and demanding. When it became clear that a relationship was truly over, Sabine grew inconsolable and often behaved erratically. Then, just as soon as she’d read and responded to the writing on the wall, she disconnected completely from the idea of the relationship and began searching for the next.

Perhaps Sabine was working out a childhood in which she hadn’t felt loved enough and had rarely been the center of attention. Perhaps she had some internal flaw that kept her from being able to love in a sustained way, since, she believed, she had never been truly loved in this way. She didn’t know why her relationships kept ending, or more importantly, why she was always on the hunt for another, even when a current relationship hadn’t yet ended.

The Chemistry of Addiction

Something Sabine hadn’t realized, and that many people don’t know, is that the body and brain exhibit a pattern of chemical and physiological reactions to love and affection that are similar to their reactions to addictive substances. When an addicted person experiences a craving for heroin, for example, the dopamine has been released in the brain, increasing one’s motivation for the drug, which the brain and body experience as a physical need. Once a person has found and used this drug, the brain releases serotonin, a chemical tied to satiety, happiness, and feelings of well-being. It can be said that any addiction to a chemical substance or physical process, such as sex, gambling, or eating, is at base an addiction to the reaction of dopamine and serotonin in the brain.

Another neurochemical that may play a part in addiction is oxytocin. Oxytocin has been called “the bonding chemical.” It is released whenever two people touch or show affection as well as when a mother nurses her infant. Oxytocin relaxes the body, helps a person to feel less stressed, and serves to physically bond two people to one another. Research that studied the effects on baby rats when separated from their mothers showed that the sudden decrease in oxytocin in the brains of baby rats caused them to experience withdrawal symptoms due to a dramatic drop in dopamine levels. In this state, the baby rats had a lower tolerance for stress.

Love Can be Addictive

It may sound strange to equate love with addiction, after all, love is perhaps the most positive of emotions; it results in many health benefits and has life lengthening effects. It may only be, then, that a dysfunctional relationship to love is necessary in order to consider a person “addicted.” There are many types of love addicts, but what they may all have in common is an issue in the area of early attachment.  Love addicts tend to be people who experience an insecure attachment style stretching back to infancy.

As a result of her forth divorce, Sabine’s mother declared such strong disappointment in her daughter that it took Sabine into therapy. Initially, she believed she was there only to deal with her relationship to her mother and the many disappointments she had felt as a result of not having had a closer, more loving relationship with both her parents. But when Sabine’s history of broken adult relationships came up, her therapist chose to help Sabine begin to focus on her role in their demise and what may have been an internal motivation leading up to their destruction. It was then that Sabine became aware of love addiction and began to attend not only therapy but a 12-step group for love addicts. After a year-and-a-half, Sabine remains single and says she loves the self-work she is doing, learning to be there for herself.