Society creates a narrative around “love addiction” that seems to downplay it as an actual condition that can cause harm. We see movies and songs that talk about “love being a drug”, and there’s even a Victoria Secret’s “Love Addict” lotion and perfume.
Although it isn’t defined as an actual mental disorder in the DSM-V, the diagnostic manual used by psychology professionals, it’s illuminating to take a look at the following criteria for substance use disorders.
- Craving to use the substance
- Wanting to cut down or stop but not managing to
- Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of the substance.
- Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than you’re meant to
- Neglecting parts of your life because of substance use
- Continuing to use, even if it causes problems in relationships
- Using substances even if it puts you in danger
If you replace the word “substance” with “dating” or “relationship” in these criteria, this is what you get:
— Craving to use the relationship
Note that this criterion states that you need to crave to USE the relationship, not just crave the state of being in a relationship. An example of this occurred in my own life.
Love addiction itself can come in many forms, but for me, it came in ferocious serial dating. I had a close friend tell me that I “used people like batteries until they run out of juice, then I move on to the next one”. Even when he told me that, I didn’t realize that I was just essentially using people to give me a high. The high, for me, was the honeymoon phase. That’s why my relationships lasted about 2–3 months on average. As my body acclimated to the ‘highs’ of that stage, I saw my honeymoon stage often grow shorter and shorter. At my worst, I had a honeymoon stage last for about 2 weeks.
That may be a more extreme case, but this kind of thinking and behaving may be more prevalent than you would think. For example, if you’re in a relationship to “have someone to do stuff with”, or because “they make you want to be a better person”, or even “they make me happy”, you may be falling into this criterion.
First off, those things are inherently selfish, because they come back to you and how you feel. Not only that, but you’re using the relationship to feel a certain way or induce a state of being. There’s nothing inherently bad about being selfish (we all are — and genuinely can’t get away from it) or using a relationship to meet your needs and/or wants, but it’s important to see the reality for what it is (“using people like tools/drugs”) and decide, based off of that, who you want to be.
— Wanting to cut down but not managing to
This may be the case for relationships or dating in general.
For myself, I have gone on dating or relationship fasts in the past for a set period of time (I’m currently on one right now). However, on more than one occasion, even though I would tell myself I’m taking a break, I would still find myself dating again within several months. I would make excuses or rationalize why I should be dating that person, which is classic addict behavior.
Sometimes, people stay in toxic or abusive relationships, even if they know it’s not healthy for their lives. Many people even go back to abusive relationships after leaving them, not always because they need to in order to survive physically or financially, but because of “love”. The relationship or experience has power over that person’s life, keeping them from living the life they know is best for themselves.
In other words, the relationship (or serial dating) is what’s controlling you. It has a hold on your life in a way that you are simultaneously aware of but powerless to control.
— Taking the relationship in larger amounts or for longer than you’re meant to
What does it even mean to “take” a relationship in larger amounts, or take it for longer than it’s meant?
First off, it’s revealing to note that many people do not go into relationships with a definition or clear goals — they passively fall into it because someone pursued them, or they felt butterflies and that was enough to engage romantically with another person.
Because of this lack of definition, people are not aware of when a relationship is no longer beneficial — they may pursue a romantic relationship (including marriages) far beyond any other type of relationship in a way that is fundamentally unhealthy for their life.
People may not know what an unhealthy or codependent relationship may even look like, so how would they be able to tell if they were in it for “longer than they’re meant to”?
If you have no idea how long is “too long” to be in a relationship, you have no awareness of the problem, if and when it comes up. Even without the awareness piece, it’s clear that people do indeed struggle with toxic relationships, far past the point of what is beneficial and healthy. This is either because they don’t know what an unhealthy relationship looks in the first place, or perhaps they DO know and still can’t end the relationship, which all reinforces the idea that romantic relationships are taken in larger doses or for a longer period of time than someone is “meant to”.
— Neglecting parts of your life because of relationships:
How many of us have had friends drop off the map entirely because they just got into a new relationship? Even more so, months or years pass by, and you observe that they’re starting to lose all their friends, they no longer do the hobbies they used to enjoy, they smoke weed on the couch with their partner and binge TV shows, and honestly, they’re really just not that interesting anymore. This is just what happens after periods of neglecting your own interests and pursuits outside of the relationship.
How many times have we done the same thing? It’s easy to start neglecting important aspects of our lives and get sucked into romance due to the incredible chemical highs of the honeymoon stage.
If our life revolves around a relationship/s, whether it’s with one specific person over a longer period of time or with many people for shorter periods of time, there’s a chance that pieces of your life may atrophy and slowly die out without due attention.
— Continuing to “use”, even if it causes problems in relationships
Some people (we all know at least one) will completely neglect the advice of their closest friends and family for a relationship, particularly if that input is not what they want to hear.
Whether or not that advice is justified, this can create tension in those relationships. People elope, alienating their relationships with their parents. Or, they might complain about the drama in their dating life until no one wants to be around them anymore. Staying in a relationship that is toxic is also another example of continuing to “use”, even though it’s causing problems.
— Using relationships even if it puts you in danger
This seems extreme, but people will evidently do all sorts of things because of relationships even if they cause mental and physical harm. This woman got lye thrown in her face and still married the man who did it, and this lady cut a tattoo out of her own body and mailed it to her ex. Whether it’s for love or because of love, people evidently do crazy things and continue to date in spite of the consequences.
Although ‘love addiction’ isn’t classified as an official disorder in the DSM, it does seem to exhibit typical traits of addiction, similar to becoming addicted to substances. The DSM itself is a document compiled by research workgroups (so basically, a bunch of white guys in a room), and there’s plenty of debate as to what should go in the DSM and how to even classify certain conditions. As of now, the only classified non-substance-related addictive disorder is gambling.
Despite the lack of classification or official diagnosis for love addiction, there are people who evidently still suffer from the effects of it. Luckily, there are resources available for these individuals, like Facing Love Addiction, a book written by the well-known dependence and recovery expert Pia Mellody, one I desperately read and re-read when I was trying to break my addictive cycles.
Also, it’s helpful to note that co-dependency and love addiction are often overlapping conditions. Despite sometimes looking very similar, there are still some key differences, with codependency being the broader term. For example, codependency can occur outside the realms of romantic love, because a father-daughter relationship or friend-friend relationship can also be considered codependent.
Another resource I heavily relied on was a local 12-step group. Before entering that world, I had no idea there were so many types of 12-step groups, including those for narcotics, gaming, survivors of incest, and debtors. There’s even a Racist’s Anonymous. I found a welcoming community of people that understood what I was going through, supported me through it, and kept me accountable. That was crucial in those first few months.
To hear more about Joyce’s personal journey with love addiction, check out this episode on her podcast, Overthinker.
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