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What is Love Addiction? How to Stop and Heal the Cycle


What is Love Addiction

There is some research that states that romantic love can be literally addictive, according to the National Library of Medicine. Love addiction is a topic that is controversial and highly debated due to there being many opinions in this area. Love addiction is sometimes known to be an intimacy or attachment disorder, however, there is no official diagnosis identified in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) used by mental health professionals.


What is Love Addiction?


As previously eluded to, some experts believe that love addiction may share similar qualities with substance use disorders and addiction of any kind. Love addiction is what is known as a process addiction, meaning one is not addicted to a substance, but an unhealthy behavior pattern instead.


A 2016 study compared brain scans of people with drug addictions and people who identified with having love addictions and found that both addictions similarly engaged regions of the brain which give off dopamine. Love, like every emotion, can be felt on a pendulum. Love addiction is generated from deep attachment wounds that ideally serve a protective purpose when we are in adult bodies and seeking affection and security in a love interest, especially when we had earlier experiences of chaos, abuse, childhood trauma, or abandonment. Pia Mellody, an author and educator in the realm of codependency and treatment of addiction, has identified that love addiction tends to occur in a cycle, which includes:

  • Attraction to an avoidant partner
  • Sense of relief when the partner provides attention (hence an escape from a feeling of loneliness)
  • Denial of the avoidant partner’s disinterest
  • Awareness of partner’s lack of interest
  • Withdrawal symptoms (e.g. irritation, anxiety, fatigue, etc)
  • Obsessive ideas about getting the love interest back
  • Compulsive acts to win their love or the love of a new partner


Much of the love addicted cycle starts with a fantasy and an unconscious loyalty to that fantasy being true. Due to love having such a strong impact on the brain, this is where the addictive piece comes in. Dopamine can be released simply with the “obsession” about something or someone else, thinking of the feeling of safety that they can provide, so much so that red flags of that partner can be potentially ignored.


When one is experiencing an intimacy or attachment disorder, they could be experiencing fears of abandonment, being alone, or being rejected, and are rather craving that intimacy as they would any substance or behavior that can provide comfort or an escape from those negative feelings. Hence, the cycle that occurs. While there are many arguments about this topic, when it comes to love addiction, Pia Mellody states, “A co-addicted relationship is not based on healthy love, but on extreme positive and negative intensity.”


Signs of Love Addiction


It is estimated that between 3%-6% of the general adult population experience love addiction. However, it is notable to state that the findings are subjective due to there being no standardized way to analyze these findings. Love addiction can take on the following symptoms, but this is by no means an exhaustive list:

  • Obsessing over a romantic interest
  • Experiencing cravings, withdrawals, and dependency towards your partner
  • Inability or overwhelming fear of being alone
  • Persistent attraction to emotionally unavailable people
  • Lack of self-identify outside of a relationship
  • Feeling as if you are empty unless you are in a relationship
  • Feeling the need to fall in love often
  • Putting your partner on a pedestal (to a point where it may cause harm to yourself)
  • Finding that your romantic relationship interferes with your career or personal relationships


In her book “Facing Love Addiction,” Pia Mellody states that there are two fears of a love addict, one is conscious, and one is unconscious. The most conscious fear is being left or being abandoned. However, those struggling with love addiction tend to not have had enough healthy intimacy from their caregivers growing up to know how to be intimate in a healthy way. Unconsciously, they choose a love interest who cannot facilitate a healthy relationship, or is emotionally unavailable, in an attempt to heal that wound from childhood.


It may also be helpful to discuss more deeply that these patterns can develop as a result of how we were treated in the past, most importantly by our caregivers. Relationships that were formed in childhood tend to be a template for our attachment to others and how we learn to relate to others.


Individuals who have an anxious attachment are in alignment with inconsistent attention from caregivers as well as love addiction. You may be exhibiting some of the above-mentioned compulsive behaviors because you are attempting to cope with or avoid anxiety or other unwanted emotions.


Pia Mellody delves into a key fact with any addiction, but specifically to love addiction, that these behaviors are directly related to our inability to have a relationship with ourselves. People who struggle with love addiction tend to have difficulty with loving themselves, identifying who they are, caring for themselves, and moderating themselves.


Healing From Love Addiction


Love is a powerful emotion, and one that is easy to get lost in. Love addiction is a form of addiction that will always have to be worked on due to sexual activity and relationships being a natural part of life. There are a multitude of options to provide hope for people who are seeking help and support. These being:




Seeking out therapy, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can help identify core beliefs of the self, others, and the world around you. Therapy can help to unpack early childhood trauma, unlearn false messages of love and romance, gain awareness of what certain triggers are and learn to identify and utilize specific coping skills that fit your needs, foster your self-worth, gain clarity of your needs in a romantic partner, learning how to set boundaries with people in your life, and how you would like to show up in a relationship.


Attend Meetings


There are many resources out there, such as Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA). If you are not wanting to seek out support in person, there are many support groups and meetings that are held online as well, both state-wide and country-wide.


Meetings are also free of charge, they abide by anonymity, and you can also find a community of others who are going through the same struggle you are, so you don’t have to go through this alone. You can also possible reach out to find a sponsor to do work specifically on this topic with someone who has gone through the same steps you will be going through.


Support Groups


If going to a meeting seems like too big of a step at this time, that’s okay. There are many different groups that you can find around attachment, trauma, gender, love, death, grief, etc. There, you can also find a group of individuals going through similar difficulties as you are, and able to create a healthy community to lean on for support.


Engage in Hobbies


This could look like anything from listening to music, getting a massage, exercise (releasing endorphins in a healthy way), going to a comedy show, taking yourself out on a date, etc. These are all ways of finding ways to soothe yourself so you are not relying on others to increase your sense of self.




Find books around love addiction such as “Facing Love Addiction” by Pia Mellody. There is also the Love Addiction Workbook by Dr. Howard C. Samuels.


Recovery IS possible. It may be a long journey and take a lot of challenging work, but it will be worth it to find how to experience healthy and mature romantic love. You are worth it, give yourself that chance.

Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.


Author Bio

Raquel VanLoon, LCPC, CSAT, CADC, is a Clinical Associate for Modern Intimacy. Raquel feels passionate about helping individuals through their journey on becoming their most authentic selves in any relationship or setting. Raquel works with people to develop and maintain healthy boundaries.



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