Love Addiction: 7 Signs You May Be Dependent on Relationships

From the rush of a first kiss and the butterflies in your stomach upon hearing the words "I love you" or "Will you marry me?" to the aching pain of separation, love and relationships can certainly feel intoxicating.

But is love addiction a real thing? Psychologists and other health experts unpack what it means to be addicted to love and seven signs that you may be dependent on relationships.

What is Love Addiction?

Psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula, who is a professor at the California State University, Los Angeles, told Newsweek that love addiction is "an obsessive need and use of relationships."

It is the act of "using others in an attempt to reassure oneself that you are lovable and desirable," Dr. Eve Kilmer, a psychologist and certified emotionally focused therapy (EFT) couples therapist, told Newsweek.

An addiction to love entails constantly seeking the excitement of a new relationship but not being able to develop or sustain a deeper, more meaningful connection, she explained.

Dr. Tony Ferretti, a psychologist in Melbourne, Florida, agreed, telling Newsweek that people are addicted to the intense emotions often experienced in the beginning of a relationship.

"Invariably these relationships fail because the love addict suffocates their partner or they get bored with the relationship and seek a different connection to fulfill their insatiable addiction," Ferretti said.

Being fixated and obsessed with love can impact one's daily living as well as emotional and social functioning, he said: "Love addicts can lose friendships, lose interest in activities, and exhibit impaired work performance."

According to a study published in March 2017 in Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology journal, when someone in love repeatedly wants contact with another person (be it for physical intimacy, attention, or merely to be in the same room), it is often to "secure momentary feelings of intense pleasure" and "relieve obsessive thought patterns" about the object of their passion.

If this type of behavior threatens the safety, mental or physical health of the individual (or that of another) or "incurs serious social or legal costs, it may rise to the level of an addiction," the study said.

How Does Love Addiction Occur?

So what exactly makes people get addicted to love? The answer to that could be very similar to causes of substance addiction.

According to Ferretti, studies have shown that "even behavioral addictions like love can stimulate dopamine-rich regions."

Dr. Catherine Carney, a psychiatrist at Delamere, a private rehab clinic based in the U.K., told Newsweek: "Many scientists have drawn comparisons between the release of the chemicals that occur in love and the artificial stimulation of these chemicals in drugs and alcohol."

A study published back in August 2012 in Psychopharmacology journal, concluded that there is there is a deep connection "between the brain regions and neurochemicals involved in both addiction and social attachment."

The research claims that "substance dependence and everyday romantic bonding have much more in common than their outward psychological profiles".

Carney explained that having an overwhelming obsession towards love or someone is not uncommon, because being in love causes "pleasurable organic chemical reactions" to occur in the brain and plays a vital role in forming close bonds with a significant other.

However, "the problem arises when an individual becomes infatuated and obsessed with the subconscious release of these chemicals," which include dopamine, oxytocin, vasopressin and serotonin, "induced through dysfunctional yet rewarding behaviors associated with love," she said.

Oxytocin, described as the "love molecule," is a powerful neurotransmitter in the brain that does the following, explained Dr. Edward Zawadzki, the medical director for the Beach House Center for Recovery in Florida, in an article for The Gottman Institute.

  • Oxytocin is released during orgasm.
  • Women release it during labor, childbirth and when breastfeeding.
  • It influences the strength of emotional attachment and bonding between a child and their parents.
  • It increases a sense of social connectedness to others.
  • It impacts social behavior and emotions.
  • It has anti-stress and anti-anxiety effects.
A couple with hands and heads touching.
Love addiction is described as "an obsessive need and use of relationships." iStock/Getty Images Plus

What Causes Love Addiction?

Various factors can cause love addiction, such as the following, according to Durvasula and Ferretti:

  • Insecure attachments.
  • Dysregulated personality styles (i.e. like we might see in personality styles such as narcissism).
  • Trauma histories, such as emotionally unavailable parents or abandonment issues. A person addicted to love is attempting to fill the void, numb their pain, and/or avoid dealing with their internal conflicts, Ferretti explained.
  • A tendency to display addictive behavior in other areas, such as substance use, can also be a risk factor for love addiction.

Signs of Love Addiction

1. Seeking Validation

Love addicts often "use relationships to regulate," according to Durvasula. Such relationships aren't mutual and respectful relationships but rather ones that serve a function of calming, soothing or validating the person, which is "not what a relationship is designed for," the psychologist explained.

Kilmer said love addiction is most commonly down to childhood history. "Having been conditionally loved or even not feeling loved, one may grow up looking for constant reassurance from others that they are wanted and worthwhile."

Love addicts often use someone on the outside to feel better about themselves on the inside., while underneath, it can be difficult for them to trust that "if someone truly sees you, they'll love you," Kilmer said.

They may "use partners to control for reassurance and then push them away when the idealizing, merger phase ends," she added.

2. Low Self-Esteem

A person with low self-esteem may find comfort in their partner who helps to provide them with that, Carney said. "Or someone might develop love addiction as a way to overcome childhood trauma, low self-worth and even a lack of attention and love from oneself and others."

Typically with love addicts there is "tremendous insecurity about one's lovability underneath," Kilmer said, and therefore there is that need to control others for "providing that reassurance on the outside."

3. Preoccupation

Those who are addicted to love may be "preoccupied with the relationship, distracted by it," Durvasula said.

4. Devoting Too Much Time

People suffering from love addiction devote "disproportionate amounts of time" to their relationship. This extends to a point where they neglect other aspects of their lives, said Durvasula.

5. Pursuing a Fantasy

According to Carney unlike sex addiction, love addiction always involves another person, even they are not in a relationship with this person and the relationship is just a fantasy.

6. Fear of Being Alone

Similar to drug, alcohol and sex addiction, an addiction to love can develop from the fear of abandonment, said Carney. "Those suffering often have a fantasy of being rescued and protected by their loved one and believe that the individual can save them."

Ferretti added many of those addicted to love fear being alone. They experience negative emotions when they're away from their partner, lose their individual identity, and feel inadequate when they are not in a relationship.

7. Difficulties with Intimacy

Kilmer explained: "For someone who has never felt seen or truly loved, committing to and sustaining a long-term, vulnerable relationship is challenging, because of mistrust that if your partner truly sees who you are, they could not possibly love you."

A woman looking a man using phone.
Love addicts often use relationship to calm, sooth or validate themselves. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Can You Recover from Love Addiction?

Carney said: "Love addiction is treatable." But as with battling any addiction, the process for overcoming love addiction can be extremely challenging. "The individual may start to experience withdrawal symptoms and they come face to face with unresolved childhood trauma," she noted.

Since the causes and conditions of love addiction can vary by person, in order for treatment to be effective "it must be bespoke and treat all aspects of the individual" and "the issues underpinning their addiction must be treated comprehensively" with professional help, Carney said.

Recovery from love addiction requires "temporary abstinence from romantic relationships," which can sometimes cause withdrawal symptoms, Ferretti said.

Love addicts can benefit from therapy to help develop coping skills for processing negative emotions and tolerating uncomfortable feelings as well as maintaining healthy boundaries and unpacking trauma from the past, he advised.

Engaging in individual activities, focusing on self-care, purpose and fulfilment outside of a romantic relationship generates self-worth, he added.

Kilmer also advised finding a support group such as Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous or a therapist who has expertise in this area.

Durvasula said: "It's hard and a lifelong commitment." Recovering from an addiction to love can entail the following, according to the psychologist:

  • It may mean giving up the idea of a relationship as the most important thing in a life.
  • Finding new ways to regulate.
  • Doing the work in therapy to understand the root causes of your addiction to love.
  • Maintaining other healthy relationships outside of romantic ones.
  • It can also entail giving up the idea of romantic relationships having to always be exciting and rather to be even keeled.
An affectionate couple sitting on a sofa.
Love addicts devote "disproportionate amounts of time" to their relationship. iStock/Getty Images Plus