Are You Addicted to Love?

By Helaina Hovitz 02/14/17

Do you resort to manipulation in order to hold onto your partner? Is your relationship frequently chaotic? If so, you may be using love as a fix.

A cartoon of a girl chasing a heart with a butterfly catcher
Not just wanting love, but a frantic need for it and the fantasy it provides.

For many people in recovery, it can be subtle—but very possible—to substitute one addiction for another. There are certain chemical highs created by feelings of love, sex, and attraction. We spoke with the experts to find out if you're just looking for a gentle fix or may actually be facing a love addiction.

It’s important to know that there is a difference between sex addiction and love addiction.

Sex addiction, says Sarah Osborne, Director of Clinical Operations at Mountainside Treatment Center, involves preoccupation with sexual acts, and over time, the need for increased risk level associated with them. The sexual acts aren’t about the partner, only about the 'high’ from the acts.

“A person becomes restless or irritable when unable to engage, and the person with the sex addiction is often aloof or avoidant of developing emotional bonds with their partners,” she said.

Love addiction, on the other hand, is qualified by a person using relationships to avoid life issues. A person with love addiction feels the high from the romance, fantasy, and intrigue of the developing relationships and the perceived connection of being "with" someone, and becomes uneasy when away from the person.

“Their relationships are often chaotic with a ‘come here but go away’ style of connection due to the inability to develop true intimacy,” says Osborne.

There’s a lot more to it than that, though—read on to find out exactly what love addiction looks like.

  1. You have a frantic need to be in contact with the object of your attraction

I had a client who abused alcohol and marijuana and was also addicted to her boyfriend. She had a frantic need to be in contact with him,” says psychologist Dr. Jennifer Guttman. “She checked her phone obsessively, preoccupied and irritable in conversations with other people because all she could think about was whether he had responded.”

Even at night, she says, she slept with her phone on her pillow so she wouldn’t miss a text from him and he would never have to wait for the response. Essentially, says Dr. Guttman, she treated him like a lifeline.

The other side of this coin is paranoia in the absence of contact, and overanalyzing the potential negative meaning in every text or conversation to gauge whether or not there are hidden messages signaling they might leave you.

  1. You look to that person to make you feel better/soothe your pain

Love addiction is based on fantasy—the idea that there is someone out there who is going to be the answer and make one feel whole and satisfied. The illusion that this is possible creates the pattern of seeking that out. But the reality is, nobody out there can be your solution—just like drugs and alcohol could never quite “fix it.”

“Eventually, the reality that the object of affection is human, imperfect, flawed, quirky and unable to meet all of one's needs sets in, leaving the love addict disappointed and hurt,” says Aimee Noel, Addiction Specialist at Sober College. “The person ends up being a letdown and the pursuit of the fantasy begins again. 'The grass is always greener on the other side' applies to the pursuit of the perfect partner."

Many people have a hard time just being alone with themselves, and one of the warning signs that you are crossing the line into love addiction is the desperate attempt to remedy the discomfort of sitting with yourself without someone else to help resolve those feelings for you. If you’re dependent on another person to “make everything okay,” most likely, you’re going to be disappointed and worse off than when you started, and things could get pretty rough when that person isn’t around or available—or worse, if they have negative feelings of their own.

“There’s also a chance that you’re diverting attention away from issues that need to be resolved, work that needs to be done on yourself,” she said. “Basically, you are reinforcing the message that you are not enough.”

  1. You base your identity around who you’re with

In her experience, Noel has found that people struggling with addiction, especially young people, start using at a vital time in their lives—when they were in the process of individuating from their families and developing their own identities. 

“Drugs and alcohol interferes with that process, and with the cultivation of self-esteem, emotional development, and interrupting the establishment of a solid sense of self,” she said.

Unfortunately, engaging in these sexually and emotionally-charged relationships creates the same responses in the brain as the substances. Additionally, it produces the same triggers and actually contributes to the risk of relapse on the primary drug of choice. 

You might find yourself suddenly dressing, talking, or acting a certain way to mirror the ways of your partner, or giving up activities you used to like in favor of their personal hobbies and interests.

  1. You’ll go to great lengths not to lose them—including manipulation or intimidation

“There is a tendency to act out by clinging desperately to the relationship, regardless of whether or not it is healthy or produces joy,” says Noel. “If the relationship ends, there is an extreme crash, depression, and a loss of a sense of purpose."

When someone is so determined to hold onto another person that they resort to methods of manipulation, they’ve officially crossed the line into destructive behavior more closely resembling addiction than love. 

Keep in mind that sex is not just an instinct, but can also be a weapon. 

“People have used sex throughout history to maintain a sense of control. It is important to keep tabs on your own intentions as well as the patterns of your partner,” Noel said. “Be aware of tendencies to use intimidation, threats and manipulations as means of control. Openness, honesty, and respect should lay the foundation of a loving, trusting relationship.”

  1. You get angry, irritable, or irrational when plans are changed or canceled

Disappointment is normal, but the intensity and the “why” of that is key when considering whether this applies to you. Case in point, Dr. Guttman had a patient who was a binge drinker and also addicted to his partner. His need for her attention was so extreme that he got angry and cold when her own parents wanted some time alone with her. In part, Dr. Guttman says, it was because he couldn’t stand the separation itself; but he also thought they were talking negatively about him behind his back. It affected his mood in a major way, and when his partner did leave him to spend some time with her parents, he’d binge drink. If you’re sober, that impulse may still be there—you feel like you have to “punish” the person or find a self-destructive way to cope.

  1. You’re always in “chronic pursuit” of a new relationship/person

That initial rush of dopamine that comes pouring out when you make a connection is a high that some people just have to chase, and they can’t stand it when the high runs out.

“Perhaps, at first, you loved spending time with your romantic partner and spent as much time as possible together. But, suddenly, one day you feel bored, like things are always the same and there’s never any excitement,” says Osborne. “You may know that your partner cares deeply about you, supports your recovery, and treats you really well, but now something is missing.”

Keep your eyes peeled for the excitement of the attention of a new person, maybe someone flirting with you at the office or the gym, and the signal being sent to your brain that this is what you really want, this initial butterfly feeling that happened before your own relationship became so “monotonous.”

For everyone, the “honeymoon” phase fades, but like anything in life, it waxes and wanes. If you immediately feel like it’s time to move on to the next, and the next, and the next, when you get this signal, you might be more focused on the cheap thrill of the hunt than an actual loving relationship.

  1. Your confidence level and self-esteem depends on it

For many people, getting a special someone else’s interest feels like a huge win, but for someone who is addicted to love, it’s more than that.

“If you lose your partner’s interest, you see it as your biggest fear of being unlovable,” says Lynn R. Zakeri, LCSW, who works with young people and adults struggling with addiction and other issues. "But a love addict will choose partners who are not able to commit, which is a form of self-harming behavior."

The thought cycle is this: if I love you harder, deeper, and better than before, then you will love me back, and I will be worthy and a success. But when your partner has their own commitment issues, that rejection feeds the cycle. You’re always seeking approval or validation from another person, and can confuse romance or initial interest for love.

“Just as a 'Like' on Facebook feels good initially, it is fleeting. It may satisfy your initial hope that you are lovable, but it doesn’t last because no foundation has been built,” she said. “Someone who is addicted to love, especially someone with a history of addiction, likely has not healed enough to appreciate and enjoy a healthy relationship.”

These “external reassurances” of self-worth only go so far when the story you tell yourself about your own inherent value. When the high wears off, you’ll be left feeling empty.

Helaina Hovitz is an editor, journalist, and author of After 9/11. She has written for The New York Times, Salon, Glamour, Teen Vogue, VICE, Reader’s Digest, Forbes, The New York Observer and many others. Visit her on Twitter, Facebook, or

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Helaina Hovitz is an editor, journalist, and author of After 9/11. She has written for The New York Times, Salon, Glamour, Women's Health, Newsweek, Teen Vogue, VICE, Reader’s Digest, Forbes, The New York Observer and many others. Visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or