When you hear the term ”love addiction,” you may think of a storybook character who gulps down a pink, sparkly love potion and suddenly finds themselves instantly infatuated with someone.
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In most cases, the spell or potion doesn’t last long, and these folktales leave us with a cautionary message: Love, in excess, can become harmful. Rather than be consumed, it’s better to strive for a healthy, balanced relationship where love is reciprocated.
In real life, we navigate love in different ways by going on dating apps, managing the odds of being ghosted or dodging love bombs. But can a passion for someone else actually become addictive? While there’s no definitive research on this topic, psychologists do point out that love — or the pursuit of it — can be the root of other issues like anxiety, depression and unhealthy relationship patterns.
In other words, if you feel like love can make you obsessive, you’re not alone. Real-life love can be complicated stuff — and it’s never as simple as waiting for the love potion to wear off.
Postdoctoral psychology fellow Gina Gerardo, PhD, talks us through “love addiction” and how you can strengthen your relationship with love.
There’s no precise definition for love addiction because it’s not an actual condition as much as it is an abstract concept. After all, you can’t really test love in a lab and see how someone reacts.
But as some research has explored, you can make note of how relationships affect our lives, both physically and mentally. A 2023 review described love addiction — sometimes called relationship addiction or obsessive love disorder — as an overwhelming and compulsive longing for love, attention and affection from others.
It can look like developing feelings toward specific people in an unhealthy or extreme way, or as constantly seeking out romantic partners.
While love addiction isn’t an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), Dr. Gerardo points out that the term can help define certain relationship problems or emotional issues you could experience.
“If someone finds that love is becoming particularly distressing or disruptive to their lives, it’s worth asking more about it and potentially treating,” she explains. That means while you might never get a diagnosis for love addiction, you can treat the associated behaviors.
In fact, love addiction may not always come across with the behaviors typically associated with addiction. It can also go hand-in-hand with a mood disorder, an obsessive-compulsive disorder or even an impulse-control disorder.
If you’re a fan of love songs and romance novels, you may have an idea in your head of the symptoms of love addiction: Feeling empty when the person isn’t there, having to be in touch with the person constantly, having an overwhelming physical reaction when the person is in the room.
And, according to the current research, that’s not too far off.
“One distinction from other types of addictions is that there’s a love object,” clarifies Dr. Gerardo. “As opposed to a substance that people feel is addictive or find that they are dependent on, this would be an object, whether that’s a person or something else, they start to become obsessed with.”
For example, a 2023 study examined how love addiction and unhealthy attachments between adults can lead to intense negative emotions and feelings of low self-worth.
Another study from 2010 study found similarities between extreme passion and substance dependence — from feelings of euphoria when near one’s love object to a negative mood and sleep disturbances when separated.
Symptoms of love addiction can include:
When it comes to matters of the heart, it can be difficult to recognize when the love in your life is doing more harm than good.
While symptoms of love addiction can weave into other mental health disorders, they can also magnify existing problems. Some mental health issues associated with love addiction include:
Dr. Gerardo also warns of love addiction affecting your day-to-day life.
“If it’s harming your other relationships with friends and family or if it’s keeping you from other responsibilities like work, taking care of children, keeping up with bills or medical appointments, that’s a sign that there could be a problem,” she says.
When dealing with love addiction, you might consider quitting cold turkey, swearing off love and moving to the woods alone. But just like other addictions, an obsessive need for love should be treated with care.
Plus, love is something that’s very important to make us feel fulfilled in our lives. Rather than trying to let it go completely, you can work to find a healthy balance.
Some coping strategies that Dr. Gerardo suggests include:
As symptoms of love addiction will usually involve another person, communication is key when it comes to resolving any issues you may be having. You might realize that you’ve been avoiding communicating because of fear or anxiety — but having an open dialogue about your feelings can ultimately bring clarity to your relationship.
“This includes communication with the partner, with yourself and even with friends and family before entering a relationship,” explains Dr. Gerardo.
Specifically with a partner, it’s good to be honest with some of the complicated feelings you’ve been having. This can help you feel more open about what you’re feeling and can clue them into what you might be working through and why.
For example, maybe to deal with feelings of love addiction, you decide to spend more time alone. Communicating this change in your behavior with your partner so they know what your motivations are can help maintain a healthy bond. And if you’re having trouble putting your emotions into words, couples counseling can also be a good option.
One common red flag of any relationship — romantic or otherwise — is if it puts blinders on you from the rest of the world. When this happens, it can be hard to notice any problems or toxic behaviors. Dr. Gerardo recommends popping this “love bubble” by seeking out people in your life to get their points of view.
“If your friends and family notice that these problems are persisting for a long period of time and are getting in the way of all your normal responsibilities and behaviors, then that would be a cue to pump the brakes and communicate your needs with your partner,” she says.
Individual or group therapy can help address underlying issues and learn healthier relationship patterns.
If you feel like love addiction might be affecting your personal health or the health of your relationship, talking with a therapist can help you work through your concerns. A session with a couples counselor or some other kind of group therapy can also help get you and your partner to a healthier and more balanced place.
An addiction to love can definitely have an effect on your well-being. If you find yourself completely engrossed by someone and something to the point that it’s affecting how you eat, sleep or react to stressful situations, it might be time to assess your relationship with love. With focus, outside perspectives and counseling, there are ways to find peace with feelings of love and turn them into a more positive force in your life.