When we fall in love and fall in love with someone special, we often feel like we’re “addicted” to that person. Sometimes we experience it as something exciting and a source of happiness, as when the experience gives rise to a relationship that gradually strengthens, and sometimes we experience it as the opposite, something that can happen if the feeling n is not reciprocal or if under the aegis under cover of a love story arise dynamics of dependence or even psychological manipulation.
For all this, it is not uncommon to hear that love is a kind of addiction. What is true in this reasoning? Is there really an addiction to love or through love? Here I will give my point of view on the subject.
What is an addiction?
Addictions are a set of psychiatric and neurological disorders in which the person develops a strong dependence on the consumption of certain substances or the performance of certain acts, to the point that they experience clinically significant discomfort if they spend several hours or days without doing them.
These types of pathologies have a biological and psychosocial basis. On the one hand, as they consolidate in the body of the person with the disease, the reward system of his brain is altered by the addiction, so that he reconfigures the whole brain activity so that performing addictive behaviors (e.g., drinking alcohol) becomes the top priority, and ultimately the only source of motivation for the individual. On the other hand, addiction causes the person to internalize certain routines and habits that constantly expose them to the temptation to continue this dynamic of behavior (for example, by replacing their lifelong friends with the company of other people with the same addiction), so even if you want to “disengage” from all this, the risk of relapse increases.
While most psychiatric and psychological disorders place the person in a vicious circle from which it becomes increasingly difficult to break out, addictions are all the more gifted there as, over time, the options for breaking this dependence: the withdrawal syndrome becomes very strong, and in addition you need to consume more and become more involved in addictive behavior to experience the same level of relief or momentary pleasure.
The latter, which is a phenomenon known as tolerance, occurs because addiction causes the brain to transform to direct all physiological and mental processes towards the constant repetition of that experience that generates pleasure or well-being. for a few minutes, so that exposure to this type of experience no longer “hits” or interferes so much with its functioning dynamics, but integrates better with it, thus losing the strength of the effect. This also explains the withdrawal syndrome; the nervous system gets used to being subjected to these streams of chemicals again and againwhether they’re generated by the brain itself (in the case of non-substance addictions) or fueled by drug use, then removing that “stop” suddenly makes everything wobble for a few days while the neurons learn to reconnect in a more or less normal way.
Can love addiction occur?
From what we have seen so far, love and the desire to be with the person we love has certain characteristics that resemble the typical addictions that, year after year, lead thousands of people to seek a therapeutic support to disengage, for example, from a drug. such as alcohol, cocaine or methamphetamine. Now… Can it really lead to a non-substance use addictive disorder, as it does with the tendency to over and over gambling (pathological gambling)? The answer is that, technically, love addiction does not exist as a mental health disorder and this term can only be used as a metaphor or simplified explanation. another psychological problem.
This is due to various reasons, but in short, one could say that addictions are not just an addiction that generates discomfort, but a very specific type of addiction that generates discomfort.
First, as we have seen, addictions generate a so-called tolerance effect, whereby the person becomes increasingly dependent on the addictive experience to the point that his social life and his physical and mental health are left behind. . This is not the case with love: we don’t need to spend more and more time or sacrifice everything we need to be with someone just to love a person.
Likewise, when we separate ourselves from it for a few hours or a few days, we do not suffer from the typical symptoms of the withdrawal syndrome, which can be very intense and uncontrollable, both psychological and physiological: tremors, triggered stress levels, somatic disturbances, fatigue, in some cases fever, etc.
On the other hand, if by “love addiction” we mean the need to relive the experience of falling in love again and again, the comparison does not hold either. Addictions are a very specific and objective action or experience: taking drugs or interacting in a specific way with an object or place. In place, falling in love is a much more experience based on abstract thoughts and context, and is not limited to one type of location or objects to interact with. And besides, hardly anyone would be able to consolidate an addiction to something relatively exceptional, because one rarely falls in love several times in a row in a few hours or a few days.
This time scale would hardly cause our brain reward system to undergo significant structural and functional changes, because between one fall in love and the next, another type of stimulating situation would influence our neurons, changing the way we interact with others.
Does that mean you can’t live without it?
Not exactly: poor management of romantic relationships can promote the emergence of psychopathologies, but not the category of addictionsbut otherwise.
For example, in some diagnostic manuals, a psychopathology based on emotional dependence is defined, and in addition, borderline personality disorder is also known to often lead to addictive dynamics. What happens is that in these cases the problem itself is not love (of course), but rather a whole series of fears associated with the fear of abandonment and insecurity. personal, which leads the person to constantly seek emotional refuge with someone special.
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My name is Tomas Santa Cecilia and I am a psychologist specializing in the cognitive-behavioral intervention model, very effective and versatile in dealing with emotional problems. I attend my consultation in person in Madrid and also online via video call.
- American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- World Health Organization (1992). International Classification of Diseases and Health-Related Problems, Tenth Revision (ICD-10). Geneva.
- Sternberg, R. (2004). A triangular theory of love. In Reis, HT; Rusbult, CE Close relationships. New York: Psychology Press.