Can You Really Be Addicted to Love? - Page 2

By Catherine Townsend 05/18/11

Experts claim that desperate reactions to a break-up—like the urge to throw the nearest bunny into a saucepan—could be a clue that you're suffering from yet another addiction.

Try telling him it's a disease. Photo via

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“We've all had to deal with heartbreak and excruciating pain in our lives,” says Alexandra Katehakis, Founder and Clinical Director of the Center for Healthy Sex in West Los Angeles. “The true test of mental health is how you cope with these setbacks. Do you turn to family and friends, or do you start spinning out of control and stalking your ex? When something happens to blow up the fantasy, true love addicts go into physical withdrawal, and then into psychiatric meltdown.”

“It’s complicated. So many powerful experiences can be addictive, and love is the most powerful of these,” writes Stanton Peele, addiction expert and author of Love and Addiction. “These experiences can form the basis for addiction, but since responses are so variable over people…they can't really be classified as diseases.” Peele doesn’t buy into the disease model, and claims that love addiction is “not lifelong, not inbred.” According to him, as we mature in life, most of us eventually overcome love “addiction” —which is why there are more love-struck teenagers than adults.

So maybe the reason that so many of us identify as love addicts now is that we stay stuck in adolescence, constantly looking for that falling in love feeling. Do we just need to grow up and get over it?

Looking around at the love-lorn women crowding the church basement, it occured to me that in our modern world,  relationships have become tantamount to a religion. We get older, but we still hold on to that Prince Charming ideal. Pia Melody, the author of Facing Love Addiction, points out that love addicts have typical traits: They are often abandoned by one parent and spend lots of time alone, fantasizing about connecting to someone.

So these women did have something in common with me after all: They were addicted to the fantasy, not the real person. “You have to work with the addictive process, the fantasy, the denial that protects the fantasy, the withdrawal from the fantasy, the returning to the relationship and return to the fantasy, or spinning off and doing it with someone else,” says Katehakis. “Then you have to do trauma work with the original neglect or abandonment. Then you have to do what I call core work: teaching them how to esteem themselves and how to take better care of themselves. That is where they are really weak: it is self-care and self-esteem.”

I didn’t go back to S.L.A.A. Not because I felt I didn’t belong, but because I feel like everyone has these tendencies, whether they realize it or not—and I didn’t want to put myself into a special category. If love addiction is a disease, then we're all infected. My dysfunctional love life resembled a Sex and the City episode. Except that instead of stalking out when my therapist said “The one constant in all of your failed relationships is you,” I perked up.

For a long time, I was drawn to seemingly strong, successful but distant men—just like my dad—guys who looked great on the outside but weren’t emotionally there for me. But that didn’t mean I had to jump into super-intense relationships with them! Over time, I started making better choices, but I’m still a work in progress. Sometimes, in the aftermath of yet another heartbreak, I find myself wondering if it would be easier just to be zapped with an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-style cure. Dr. Fisher explains that some antidepressants can help after tough breakups because they elevate the brain’s serotonin levels, but there’s no magic pill for heartbreak. “Serotonin blunts the emotions,” she says, “so it can theoretically kill feelings of romantic love —unless you are so passionate that nothing will kill it. The best way to speed the recovery from romantic rejection would be to treat it as an addiction. Throw away all the cards and letters, cut off all contact. Ultimately the only cure is time—and a new partner.”

So for all you love addicts out there desperate to ditch an old lover, a tried-but-true canard may provide the surest route to recovery: "The best way to get over someone is by getting under someone else."  Just make sure you don’t find yourself hiding in the bushes later.

Catherine Townsend has written for New York magazine and The Independent in London. Her book, Sleeping Around: Flings and Faux Pas of an American Girl in London, was published this month. Follow her at

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