Love Junkies and Other Addicts

Next month, there’s a new movie coming out with Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal called “Love and Other Drugs,” so I thought I’d take this opportunity to discuss the ways that romantic love can function as an intoxicant and how serial romance relates to other forms of addiction.

In an earlier post about different forms of love, I described one version where loving a person springs from the way he or she makes you feel and involves little concern for the other. What the “lover” wants is the heady feeling of intoxication, that blissful state where you feel as if life has become a sort of heaven on earth and all your troubles have disappeared.  Falling in love means living happily ever after.  Hollywood, that relentless pusher, pedals this drug in one romantic comedy after another.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to stay high forever.  As we come down, we begin to realize that the person we love isn’t so perfect after all.  Even worse, we find that we still hate our job, we still don’t make enough money, and nothing about reality and its frustrations has changed.  Obviously, we made a mistake in our choice of love object … time to move on. Lather, rinse and repeat.

As I said, this kind of love involves no lasting interest in or concern for the other person.  I’d go farther and say that the drive behind romantic love is often to avoid authentic love, a condition that involves neediness and dependency, and which might mean having to deal with occasional frustration, anger and even hatred.  In other words, romantic love is a flight from the reality of love into an ideal fantasy where you’re merged with someone who perfectly meets your needs.

Some people wake up from the delusion of romantic love to find that the person they’ve chosen  may not be perfect but is still pretty good; authentic love may begin to develop.  Other people can’t bear reality and move on to the next affair. For them, love is a drug that brings the greatest high we humans have ever known; when it wears off, they need another fix.

This dynamic lies behind a number of other addictions, of course:  one of their primary functions is to produce a feeling state that helps the addict escape truth and reality.  In many instances, the reality which the addict wants to escape is actual need and real dependency upon other people.  As many experts have noted, addicts often have stronger relationships with their drugs than with their significant others; but that  may be the cause of the addiction and not the effect, as we usually believe.

Finding Your Own Way:

Are you a love junkie?  If you’ve had a series of short, failed relationships, this may be the reason. Maybe you find the reality of love with dependency difficult to tolerate.

Do you have any other addictions?  I don’t mean in the casual way people use that word today, as in “I am totally addicted to Haagen-Dazs vanilla swiss almond ice cream!”  Real addiction interferes with your life; while it brings immediate pleasure, it usually leads to long-term suffering.

Maybe you spend money in ways you can’t control — compulsive shopping is a kind of addiction.  Alcohol?  Drugs?  Sex?  Surfing the Internet?  Pornography?  Are you using your drug of choice to avoid people, to escape feeling true need and desire for somebody else?  You might find it too frightening to make yourself that vulnerable, and feel safer in the arms of your drug.

While addictions have a physiological component and involve other psychological issues, wanting to avoid the reality of love, need and desire for a separate person often lies at the heart of them.

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Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.

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18 Responses to Love Junkies and Other Addicts

  1. Betty Spence says:

    There’s a book I read quite some time ago, I believe it’s directed primarily to BPD personalities, it’s worth the read. The title is “I hate you, don’t leave me”…I would stay in an unhealthy relationship, really toxic….We’d go along really fine for a couple of weeks, positively wildly in love, and then something would set me off again and I’d blow…..I mean really violent eruptions when I would say the vilest things..And as soon as I had gotten beyond the “insane period” a couple of hours usually. I’d be absolutely contrite and BEGGING for his forgiveness….promising it would never happen again..Then I’d be absolutely fine and it was as if nothing had happened. And we’d be good for another couple of weeks, until the next time…Finally he couldn’t take it anymore and we split….But I thought my heart was absolutely broken, it took me forever to get past it..Of course, I know now that this was never love….what was it ?? An addiction, a need for some sort of release so I’d choose someone with just the right components in order for this to play out ??? I still wonder about this, to this day…Unfortunately I still don’t feel safe enough about these outbursts to even venture out into the dating world again. That seems to be the only time I erupt, is in a romantic relationship. I still see someone and we’ve worked on Dialectical Behavior Therapy, DBT…..I just find cognitive work difficult….I don’t feel like doing the repetitive exercises….it’s sort of boring, actually.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Betty, your comments always get me thinking. This week I’m going to write something at length about this cycle you’re describing. I hope it will resonate for you and other readers. It has to do with why we don’t or can’t learn from our experiences and keep repeating the same cycles.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I didn’t reply to this comment before, Betty — sorry. This week I am definitely going to write about this kind of cycle … the “crime and punishment” cycle, I call it, and what lies behind it.

  2. Renee L. Segal says:

    I always enjoy what you have to say and I am especially glad you wrote about this. My clients with love and sex addiction really suffer. Usually these types of addictions are born out of some sort of childhood pain or trauma in which primary caregiver was either inconsistant, neglectful and the person was sexualized. Sexual trauma is over-looked by our culture. The love addict is looking for attachment needs to be met and becomes preoccupied with another. For the sex addict, it can be as simple as poor sexual boundaries or as drastic as physical touch. The result is some form of sexual shame in which the individual either becomes obsessed and acts out sexually or is repressed and acts in. Our culture is just at the beginning stages of looking at these types of quiet addictions. I am grateful that the new DSM is going to have a catagory for sexual compulsivity.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Thanks, Renee. I have a problem with the DSM and the entire notion of diagnostic categories because labeling so often can be the end of inquiry. I’m sure you’ve also found that ever addiction is different; it often seems to me unnatural to be putting identical labels on people who are entirely different. In my view, our society has gone overboard with the addiction phenomenon; everything is an addiction these days. When a word/label gets over-used in this way, it becomes meaningless.

  3. Kim says:

    I’m looking forward to your read about the repeating cycles, Dr. Burgo! And yes, thanks Betty for your sharing. I think many of these patterns, particularly of these tumultuous love relationships, begin in the teenage years (before a clear sense of ourselves emerges and we are desperate for belonging, connection, grounding, someone to see and be with and love us) and then they continue on as “relationships as we know them” too.

  4. Charlotte says:

    I do understand about toxic love because I lived with a man for twenty-three years and he was a woman hater and a batterer. However, it took me three times of trying to get away from him to finally realize the power I had given him.

  5. Carl Lange says:

    Thank you for your short text Joseph and all others for their sharings. This was and is an interesting issue. Especially when you think about our modern culture and how much “love” is playing the role in it.

  6. Betty Spence says:

    And now you’ve taken back your power Charlotte, hallelujah !! Now on with your journey and healing…..

  7. Aquiles Villarreal says:

    Your comments about this interesting issue are so useful and allow difference between an illusion and a real love. One addictive love is a toxic love and avoid to reach the peace in the soul. Thanks for share this essay

  8. MC says:

    im just wondering because well i dont know..will i always unknowingly look for attachment needs to be met by a partner..i was with a guy for 3 yrs beginning when i was 18..i loved him and he did me but i didnt realize he had serious depression because i was very busy in college and i was just happy with the love i got at the weekend or whenever i was around..i went into it for fun, then i fell in love / or loved someone loving me / and then he got angry at himself and then at me and i pretty much ran..alcohol and abuse are things i grew up with and i try very hard to keep myself mentally healthy as there was damage done and my relationship with my father is difficult and at present i have asked him to please not contact me for awhile as he consumes my time and my thoughts because i want to help him but he appears when drunk to clearly hate me for well being born he says. but i embrace the pain i feel and all the other emotions..i write etc but the idea of it seeping into my relationships worry’s me. i want to be healthy and choose the right person in reality..nobody can make up for something you felt you were deprived of as a child, it would be impossible of anyone to expect that of their partners ..but i suppose they do. im 22 and live in a city and im single. and i can see why people get confused, i may be young but i can see people of all ages in this city frantic to find a mate..week after week if its not her it must be her..and i tend to retreat from it..i have been asked out alot lately but i dont want to risk it..some space is what i want to repair myself . this has just really made me think…and i thank you and all the comments for that. People are beautiful and i believe want to be healed
    mc

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I think it’s hard to find the balance between retreating from relationships when you need to recover versus making yourself vulnerable again. It’s a good sign that you’re not “frantic” like the people you see around you, desperate to fill a void, because when you approach relationships that way, they don’t stand much chance. At some point, though, you’ll need to start dating again. You won’t grow in isolation.

      • Mark says:

        “At some point, though, you’ll need to start dating again. You won’t grow in isolation.” This has everything to do with my own life situation as well. Thanks.

  9. Jenny says:

    Hi Dr Burgo

    What sort of pathological and psycho/sexual issue would you suggest Strauss-Kahn, former head of IMF exhibis?
    Thank you
    Jenny

  10. Hermes says:

    “If it hurts it isn’t love”. So true.
    So so many look to the “other” for validation, instead of first becoming whole themselves, of being at ease with themselves, alone, in order to then attract a healthy relationship.
    H

  11. Anna says:

    I found this article very interesting. Eight years into our relationship, my then-husband confessed his porn/sex addiction to me; I supported him as he entered therapy (while I sank into a very dark place myself), and after a year the therapy was declared finished, and he left me. I still cannot make sense of this; indeed after nearly two years of therapy I am only just beginning to even be able to talk about the details of my marriage with my therapist.

    Right now I’m wondering whether some of the above might be true for me, as a variation on a theme: the bit about “waking up from the delusion of romantic love”. I wonder whether my husband “woke up” from the numbness of his addiction (and presumably the delusions that his addiction had allowed him to maintain) to find that we had a non-perfect marriage, and couldn’t bear the reality.

    I realise I’ll probably never really understand what happened, and that in itself is very hard to deal with. But insights from discussions like this do help in some little way, so thank you.

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      It sounds to me as if you’re on the right track, at least as far as concerns your husband. I would also find it difficult never to understand why a relationship ended.

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