I’m A Love Addict. This Is What It’s Like.

What does the term “love addiction” mean to you? Do you think it’s a made-up concept? A ridiculous excuse? A laughable construct?

For me, it means pain. Like all addictions, it’s crushing, and can affect numerous aspects of your life.

I realised I was an addict four years ago, when after yet another humiliating experience chasing the latest object of my affections to New Zealand, I was broken and suffering intense panic attacks. I raced to the medical centre feeling like I was going to die. The doctor ridiculed me, hinted I had the shakes because of my obvious withdrawal to Class A drugs and told me to go to Emergency if I was “that bad”. Little did he know I was in withdrawal.

But my drug was a guy.

I took myself to Emergency where I was helped by the mental health unit – temporarily. As I drove home, feeling like I’d been run over by a truck, I stopped at the library to research what the hell was going on with me. As if by some divine intervention, a book fell off the shelf in front of me.

Are you a love addict? It asked me.

As I skimmed through the pages, I was in shock. I’ve never felt so sure of anything. This is what was wrong with me.

Nervously, I took myself to a Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meeting and that was the first time I could breathe again. Listening to stories of others like me and the extent people went to in order to have love, be loved and to love had me in tears. Tears of relief: I wasn’t alone. I went to three meetings a week for two painful and enlightening years and worked through the 12 steps with my sponsor as if my life depended on it.

Yes, love addiction is real. It happened to me.

Under the influence

Certified Sex Addiction Specialist, Jenner Bishop describes it as a relationship to pathological attachment.

“Love addiction is a preoccupation with being bonded to someone else that results in intrigue, infatuation, flirting and obsessively seeking validation. It’s almost like a sport in terms of a chase towards the prize,” she says.

Recent studies have shown that the brain chemistry of a love addict reacts in much the same way as a cocaine or nicotine addict. In one study by the Journal of Neurophysiology, researchers found that regions of the brain associated with distress and physical pain are also activated when a love addict is in the midst of an addictive episode.

“Previously, we would have said if there’s no physical withdrawal we can’t call it an addiction,” Jenner says. “However when you look at the ups and downs in brain chemistry and hormones like dopamine and oxytocin that are released, there is certainly a dependency.”

But surely anyone who has experienced the highs and lows of love isn’t an addict? I went through a phase of denial, thinking that everyone behaved the way I did. In fact I didn’t know any girl who wouldn’t drown herself in gallons of Ben and Jerry’s while waiting for that elusive text. Are we all love addicts?

Jenner believes a huge difference between a regular experience and the love addict experience is sense of self.

“A love addict has no sense of who they are without the love object. They have a confusion that surrounds ideas of ‘self’ and ‘other’,” Jenner explains. “There’s also hypersensitivity to every word, every text, and every movement; every interaction affects feelings. When a person’s wellbeing, safety and self-esteem are only dependent on an external source, there’s a problem.”

The love addict way

Love addicts can also have poor boundaries, co-dependent issues and resort to manipulative ways.

Jenner explains just like most addictions there is a preoccupation with the drug (or person), a tendency to lie and doing things that are against a person’s morals – all to get closer to the love object.

“Other things to look out for are changing plans erratically to get to the love object, obsessing constantly, stalking and a delusional state of being, whereby the situation an addict puts themselves in makes perfect sense in that moment. When they are out of the addictive cycle they may not even contemplate doing it – but right there and then, they aren’t in reality.”

It’s scary that I view myself as quite a balanced person who has their shit together, yet I can agree with all Jenner’s warning signs. I’ve been there. I’ve done ridiculous things, dated ridiculous people and put myself in inappropriate situations. My addiction knew no bounds. I cringe at how I used to behave before I got help.

A helping hand

So what’s the best help if you think you may have this addiction?

Jenner suggests the program SLAA I was involved with is great for shame reduction. For me the benefits were that it was free, supportive and a safe non-judgemental environment where I didn’t feel ashamed.

Her second choice would be seeking a certified sex addiction therapist. “Sex and love addiction often go hand in hand as addicts often use sex as a means to get to ‘love’. They will also be trained in attachment and love issues and the certification means it’s taken seriously. The last thing you want is to be shamed or stumble across a professional who’s never heard of love addiction.”

My suggestion for a first step? Read books. There are many on the subject and a book is what gave me my a-ha moment. Everything suddenly made sense and I finally felt a sense of hope. I knew I wasn’t alone.

If you’re not a love addict, maybe you consider yourself a relationships master?

If you’d like to talk about any issues with your mental health and options getting long-term help, you can reach Lifeline on 13 11 14, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

A published freelance writer from print to online,  Katy’s passion is honest authentic writing. From the mundane experience to a sensational observation, Katy always finds a way to voice what she sees. Relatable and quirky, she writes with warmth and familiarity. She also loves lists, matching socks and edamame beans.