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How to Recognize and Treat Love Addiction

Most people have that one friend who finds the single life unbearably miserable. Relationships can be dysfunctional or abusive, yet they stick it out time and again due to an overwhelming fear of being alone.

This kind of behavior, according to new research by Dr. Vineeth John of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, seems to indicate that “love addiction” is a diagnosable disorder.

Love addicts experience a constant sense of discomfort and inner turmoil caused by the highs and lows of a dysfunctional relationship. It is commonly a co-occurring disorder, existing alongside substance abuse and behavioral addictions like sex or gambling. What’s interesting is that, despite a fixation on loving feelings, the relationships of a love addict rarely provide real intimacy.

Researching Love Addiction

For purposes of the study, love addiction was defined as “a pattern of maladaptive behaviors and intense interest toward one or more romantic partners at the detriment of other interests, resulting in a lack of control and significant impact on functionality.” Doesn’t sound very loving, does it?

In a quest to understand addiction to love, Dr. John’s team looked at the similarities between drug addiction and attachment behavior. When shown a picture of his or her lover, activation was seen in the same area of the brainstem that has been implicated in substance abuse. The team also found links between certain neurotransmitters and hormones like dopamine, opioid hormones, vasopressin, and oxytocin. Not surprisingly, the related chemicals are known to play a role in romantic feelings.

Who’s at Risk for Developing an Addiction to Love?

Data from the study found that love addiction affects upwards of 3 percent of the population. In young adults, however, the number jumps as high as 25 percent. With this statistic alone, it becomes clear that young people are at a much higher risk for love addiction. Other risk factors include:

  • An immature concept of love
  • A maladaptive social environment
  • High levels of impulsivity and anxiety
  • Displaying an anxious-ambivalent nature
  • Possess a form of structural affective dependence

How to Treat an Addiction to Love

“But the most plausible and practical aspect of love addiction would be to look at how to treat it,” Dr. John said in a statement to the press. Unfortunately, when it comes to treating love addiction, the evidence is lacking. Since research has not been conducted on the benefits of psychotherapy or medication for love addiction, Dr. John and his investigators developed hypothetical guidelines meant to target its symptoms. They suggest:

  • Self-help groups
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy
  • Enrolling in Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous

“It might be possible to devise drug-based therapies for the treatment of difficult love, based on neurobiological substrates. But this is clearly a futuristic concept,” said Dr. John.

Learn more about sex addiction and treatment options

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