Love addiction

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Sacred Love Versus Profane Love (1602–03) by Giovanni Baglione.

Love addiction is a human behavior in which people become addicted to the feeling of being in love. Love addicts can take on many different behaviors. Love addiction is common; however, most love addicts do not realize they are addicted to love. Love addiction can be treated with various recovery techniques, most of which are similar to recovery from other addictions such as sex addiction and alcoholism, through group meetings and support groups.[1] Addictive love is an inclusive term in that it includes "addicts" and "co-addicts", "co-dependents", "emotional anorectics", and "love avoidants".

Healthcare professionals have not reached any consensus regarding whether love addiction exists or, if it does, how to describe or diagnose the phenomenon. There has never been a reference to love addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a widely recognized compendium of acknowledged mental disorders and their diagnostic criteria published by the American Psychiatric Association.[2]:251


External images
The history of the concept
The History and Rise of Sex and Love Addiction (INFOGRAPHIC)

The modern history of the concept of the love addict - ignoring such precursors as Robert Burton's dictum that 'love extended is mere madness'[3] - go back to the early decades of the 20th century. Freud's study of the Wolf Man highlighted 'his liability to compulsive attacks of falling physically in love...a compulsive falling in love that came on and passed off by sudden fits';[4] but it was Sandor Rado who in 1928 first delineated the term "love addict" -- 'a person whose needs for more love, more succor, more support grow as rapidly as the frustrated people around her try to fill up what is, in effect, a terrible and unsatisfiable inner emptiness.'[5] Even Søren Kierkegaard in Works of Love said "Spontaneous [romantic] love makes a man free and in the next moment dependent... spontaneous love can become unhappy, can reach the point of despair."

However, it was not until the 1970s and 1980s that the concept came to the popular fore. Stanton Peele opened the door, almost unwittingly, with his 1975 book Love and Addiction; but (as he later explained), while that work had been intended as 'a social commentary on how our society defines and patterns intimate relationships...all of this social dimension has been removed, and the attention to love addiction has been channeled in the direction of regarding it as an individual, treatable psychopathology'.[6] In 1976, the 12-Step program Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (S.L.A.A.) started hosting weekly meetings based on Alcoholics Anonymous. They published their Basic Text, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, in 1986 discussing characteristics of and recovery from both love addiction and sex addiction.[7] As of late 2012, S.L.A.A.'s membership had grown to an estimated 16,000 members in 43 countries.[8] In 1985, Robin Norwood's Women Who Love Too Much popularized the concept of love addiction for women. Since, variations on the dynamics of love addiction have become further popularized in the 1990s and 2000s by multiple authors.


A common process of falling into love addiction begins when a person begins to feel sympathy with another person after going through an initially innocent moment of attraction and automatically idealizes the other to the point of divinity. The individual is then blindly attached to the other person, becoming incapable of making a realistic analysis of the situation; they may project all kinds of illusions onto the other person, believing them to be the only one that can bring happiness. This process can be very quick. There are, however, those who never go past this stage of blind love,[9] and remain 'addicted to people, sucking on them and gobbling them up...parasitism, not love'.[10]

Obsession can be considered the primary symptom of any addiction. In love addiction, the individual's insecurity gives rise to an obsessive attachment to the object of their affection. It typically manifests as an insatiable hunger that distorts the person's perception of reality and often results in various unhealthy behaviors and suffering.[11] Those at high risk for love addiction include recovering alcoholics/addicts who use relationships as a form of substitution, and/or individuals who grow up in alcoholic/dysfunctional family systems.[12]

The Addictive Love Relationship[edit]

Like other addictions (drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, work etc.), the dependency to a person (their object- drug of choice) allows love addicts to feel alive- a sense of purpose- and to gain a sense of meaning and self-worth in the world: they are driven by 'a fantasy hope that the drug of choice - a person - will complete them'.[13]

'Most love addicts start out attempting to meet some known or unknown emotional need, then become dependent on the intoxicating feelings'[14] of being in love itself. Unfortunately, as in the case of drug addicts, "love addicts", too, may become incapable of getting the desired satisfaction, which in turn increases their addiction'.[15] They often feel a burning, passionate love that gives and gives, destroying their sense of humanity when they lose the person they've given to, sometimes causing them to feel and act out in a vengeful way.[16] The love addict suffers a lack of bonding as they did in childhood, including an inability to give and receive affection, self-destructive behavior, problems with control, and lack of healthy long term relationships.[17]

Love addicts commonly and repeatedly form an addictive relationship with emotionally unavailable Avoidant partners.[18] The Avoidant partner is compulsively counter-dependent – they fear being engulfed/drowned/smothered by their love addict partner. Love addicts enter relationships with emotionally closed-off individuals who will let nothing and no one in, which makes intimate relationships impossible. Behind their emotional walls hides low self-esteem and the feeling that if they become truly known (display emotional intimacy,) no one would ever love, accept, and value who they are. Avoidants are attracted to people who have difficulty thinking for themselves, who struggle with healthy emotional boundaries or who fail to take care of themselves in healthy manners -- the love addict.

Love addicts and Love Avoidants form relationships that inevitably lead to unhealthy patterns of dependency, distance, chaos, and often abuse. Nevertheless, however unsatisfactory the relationship, 'love addicts hang on and on, because it is what they know'.[19] Familiarity is the central engine of their relationship. Each is attracted to the other specifically because of the familiar traits that the other exhibits, and although painful, come from childhood.

Ambivalent Love Addicts vacillate between love addiction and love avoidance. This can happen in successive relationships or in the same relationship. It is especially common in recovery to become ambivalent about healthy love. It is new and therefore unfamiliar, and to some, frightening.[20]

This cycle encompasses a push-pull dance full of emotional highs and many lows where the one is on the chase (love addict) while the avoidant is on the run. They both engage in counterfeit emotional involvement. Healthy emotional intimacy is replaced with melodrama and negative intensity- ironically creating the illusion of true love, intimacy, and connection - usually on an unconscious level. As a result, their relationships, although seemingly dramatic in their intensity, are actually extremely shallow'.[21]

Delimiting love and sex addictions[edit]

However interconnected love and sex may be, love addiction and sex addiction are quite different phenomena.[22] A sex addict may have a problem with pornography or repeated anonymous sexual experiences, while the love addict acts out in relationship-by clinging to a partner.[23] Sex addiction and love addiction are both Intimacy Disorders. Preoccupation with the sexual act or the idealized, fantasy relationship acts as a barrier between the addict and another person.[24]

Love withdrawal[edit]

With addiction comes inevitable negative consequences. The consequences of addictive loving are most revealed as the love addict experiences withdrawal symptoms when a relationship ends, or when a relationship is perceived as falling apart. When a break up occurs, an addictive lover longs for the attachment and apparent loving feelings of the lost relationship, as much as a heroin user craves heroin when the drug is no longer available. This longing may result in extreme debilitating pain, obsession, and otherwise avoidable destructive and/or self-destructive behaviors, including violence (to others or self), increased feelings of shame, depression, impaired emotional growth, chronic emptiness, loneliness, and loss of intimacy and enjoyment in life.

Cultural examples[edit]

  • In A Spy in the House of Love, the heroine Sabina is said to have seen her 'love anxieties as resembling those of a drug addict, of alcoholics, of gamblers. The same irresistible impulse, tension, compulsion and then depression following the yielding to the impulse'.[25] As a result, she has subsequently been described as 'feeling like a "love addict" enslaved to obsessive-compulsive patterns of behaviour'.[26]
  • P. G. Wodehouse features in The Inimitable Jeeves 'a character called Bingo who on about every third page meets a wonderful new woman who is going to save his life and is better than any woman he has ever met before, and then of course it flops...a new burst of life, but it does not last'.[27]
  • St. Augustine - 'to Carthage then I came, where a cauldron of unholy loves sang all about my ears'[28] - has been interpreted as being, 'fundamentally, what one might call a "love addict"', with a disturbing tendency 'to invest all of himself in relationships and to "forget himself" in the intensity of his affection'.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ *Bireda, Martha R., Mike Link, and Peter Roberts, Love Addiction: A Guide to Emotional Independence (Minneapolis: New Harbinger Publications) p. 5
  2. ^ Shaeffer, Brenda (2009). Is It Love Or Is It Addiction? The Book That Changed the Way We Think about Romance and Intimacy (3rd ed.). Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden Publishing. ISBN 978-1-5928-5733-3  The book has been translated into Spanish as Es Amor O Es Adicción 
  3. ^ Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (New York 1951) p. 769
  4. ^ Sigmund Freud, Case Studies II (PFL 9) p. 273 and p. 361
  5. ^ Maggie Scarf, Unfinished Business: Pressure Points in the Lives of Women (Ballantine Books, 1995) Chapter 12.
  6. ^ Quoted in Bruce E. Levine, Commonsense Rebellion (2003) p. 242
  7. ^ Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous official website
  8. ^ "Letter to Healthcare Professional" distributed at 2012 SASH Conference.
  9. ^ Timmreck, Thomas C, "Overcoming the loss of a love: preventing love addiction and promoting positive emotional health" Psychological Reports 66 (1990) 12-14)
  10. ^ M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled (1978) p. 111 and p. 104
  11. ^ Timmreck, p. 15
  12. ^ S. Covington, (1988) Leaving the Enchanted Forest p. 21
  13. ^ Schaeffer, p. 61
  14. ^ Schaeffer, p. p. 110
  15. ^ Fenichel, p. 388
  16. ^ Hart, Greg. Unrequited Love: On Stalking and Being Stalked a Tale of Destructive Passion. Short Books, 2003.
  17. ^ Davis, Charlotte. A Search for Love and Power: Women, Sex, and Addiction. 1989. Tecknor and Fields.
  18. ^ Facing Love Addiction by Pia Mellody. ISBN 978-0-0625-0604-7
  19. ^ Schaeffer, p. 69
  20. ^ Susan Peabody, Recovery Workbook for Love Addicts and Love Avoidants: Introducing the Ambivalent Love Addict. (2013). ISBN 978-1-5587-4526-1
  21. ^ M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled (1990) p. 106
  22. ^ Differentiating Sex and Love Addictions
  23. ^ Sex Addiction vs Love Addiction: Are They Fundamentally Different or the Same?
  24. ^ Katehakis, Alexandra (June 28, 2011). "Sex and Love Addiction: What's the Difference?". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2013-03-25. 
  25. ^ Anaïs Nin, A Spy in the House of Love (Penguin 1986) p. 36
  26. ^ Anne T. Salvatore, Anaïs Nin's Narratives (2001) p. 67
  27. ^ Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (2004) p. 56
  28. ^ Quoted in T. S. Eliot, The Complete Plays and Poems (London 1985) p. 79
  29. ^ Judith C. Stark, Feminist Interpretations of Augustine (2007) p. 246

Further reading[edit]

  • Love and Addiction by Stanton Peele, PhD. (New American Library, 1975) ISBN 978-9-9912-2557-9
  • Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous: The Basic Text for the Augustine Fellowship (Augustine Fellowship, 1986) ISBN 978-0-9615-7011-8
  • Addiction to Love: Overcoming Obsession and Dependency in Relationships by Susan Peabody. (Celestial Arts, 1989) ISBN 978-1-5587-4526-1
  • Women, Sex, and Addiction: A Search for Love and Power by Charlotte Davis. (William Morrow Paperbacks, 1990) ISBN 978-0-0609-7321-6
  • When You Love too Much by Stephen Arterburn (Regal, 1991) ISBN 978-0-8307-3623-2
  • Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love by Pia Mellody. (HarperOne, 1992) ISBN 978-0-0625-0604-7
  • The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships by Patrick Carnes, PhD. (HCI, 1997) ISBN 978-1-5587-4526-1
  • Confusing Love with Obsession: When Being in Love Means Being in Control by John D Moore. (Hazelden, 2006) ISBN 978-1-5928-5356-4
  • Surviving Withdrawal: The Breakup Workbook for Love Addicts by Jim Hall, MS (Health C., 2011) ISBN 978-1-4675-7312-2
  • Love Addict: Sex, Romance, and Other Dangerous Drugs by Ethlie Ann Vare. (HCI, 2011) ISBN 978-0-7573-1595-4
  • Making Advances: A Comprehensive Guide for Treating Female Sex and Love Addictions (SASH, 2012) ISBN 978-0-9857-4720-6
  • Recovery Workbook for Love Addicts and Love Avoidants: The Ambivalent Love Addict by Susan Peabody. (Brighter Tomorrow Publishing, 2013) ISBN 978-1-6203-0472-3

External links[edit]