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By Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Robert Palmer may have already known what researchers now claim: Love can be an addiction. In a new study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, investigators examined and compared the clinical, psychological and biological details of love, passion, gambling, and substance dependence. It turns out that an addiction to love is almost indistinguishable from other addictions.

Love addiction, or pathological love, has been described as repeated or uncontrolled care and attention to a romantic partner. This attentiveness often occurs at the expense of other responsibilities or activities, with or without returned emotions, causing considerable pain and suffering. Love addiction is not often studied, and can even be glorified to some extent by society and the media (or stoic fashion models playing guitars in music videos), but an addiction to love is not as warm and fuzzy and it sounds. Love addiction — distinct from sexual addiction or delusional love — has no unique clinical criteria, but the new study reports that the phenomenon shares striking characteristics with better-understood substance and behavioral addictions.

(“The lights are on, but you’re not home/Your mind is not your own/Your heart sweats, your body shakes/Another kiss is what it takes…”)

Love addiction renders euphoria in the presence of the object of affection, just as drug intoxication elicits euphoria. Negative mood and affect, lack of interest in once pleasurable activities, and sleep disturbances accompany separation from the loved one, just as they accompany withdrawal from drugs of abuse. Obsessive and compulsive thoughts and behaviors, including focused attention and intrusive thoughts about the loved one and maladaptive or disruptive behaviors, knowingly and despite the consequences, are also signs of an addiction to love, as well as substances or behaviors.

(“…You can’t sleep, you can’t eat/There’s no doubt, you’re in deep/Your throat is tight, you can’t breathe/Another kiss is all you need…”)

A handful of studies, mostly in non-human mammals, suggest that the regions and transmitters of the brain that are involved in the reward system mediate not only healthy, appropriate reward and emotions, but also substance and behavior abuse. Researchers believe that a dysregulation of the reward and stress systems, which include dopamine, opioid peptides and corticotropin-releasing hormone, lead to dependence and a vulnerability to addiction and relapse. There may be genetic markers that control the development of compromised reward and stress systems, but none has yet been identified.

(“…You like to think that you’re immune to the stuff…It’s closer to the truth to say you can’t get enough/You know you’re gonna have to face it, you’re addicted to love…”)

The neurobiology of love likely evolved as a way to make the mating process in humans more efficient. Romantic and sexual attraction allows humans to focus their courtship attentions on specific people, conserving valuable time and energy. The attraction and subsequent monogamous pairing facilitates mating and parenting, and, therefore the propagation of the species. Romantic love and monogamy share the same dopaminergic reward pathways as other pleasurable activities, emotions and actions necessary for survival and progress. The formation, expression, and maintenance of healthy social pair bonds are reliant on dopamine. However, in most cases, the reward system functions normally, and a romantic relationship does not descend into an addiction.

(“…Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love…”)

Still, the similarities between love and substance abuse are undeniable. Love is as strong of a pleasurable experience as cocaine or other drugs of abuse, and obsessively seeking love’s “high” is no less harmful than that of a drug. People at risk for love addiction are the same who are at risk for substance use disorders: those who suffer from rejection, loss of self-worth, low self-esteem, anger, impulsivity, feelings of failure, distrust or loss, or other self-defeating behaviors. Similar to other addicts, love addicts will seek out one relationship right after another, will compartmentalize relationships from different areas of his or her life, and will have a high tolerance for risky behavior. While a clinical diagnosis for love addiction has not been defined, many clinicians do recognize the signs and characteristics that so closely resemble substance and behavior abuse diagnoses. In the future, a better understanding and criteria for the disorder will allow clinicians to tailor cognitive and behavioral therapy to treat patients who are addicted to love.

Curtis JT, Liu Y, Aragona BJ, & Wang Z (2006). Dopamine and monogamy. Brain research, 1126 (1), 76-90 PMID: 16950234
Fisher HE, Aron A, & Brown LL (2006). Romantic love: a mammalian brain system for mate choice. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 361 (1476), 2173-86 PMID: 17118931
Fisher HE, Brown LL, Aron A, Strong G, & Mashek D (2010). Reward, addiction, and emotion regulation systems associated with rejection in love. Journal of neurophysiology, 104 (1), 51-60 PMID: 20445032
Koob GF (2006). The neurobiology of addiction: a neuroadaptational view relevant for diagnosis. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 101 Suppl 1, 23-30 PMID: 16930158
Palmer, Robert. “Addicted to Love.” Lyrics. Riptide. Island Records, 1986.
Reynaud M, Karila L, Blecha L, & Benyamina A (2010). Is Love Passion an Addictive Disorder? The American journal of drug and alcohol abuse PMID: 20545601
Sophia EC, Tavares H, Berti MP, Pereira AP, Lorena A, Mello C, Gorenstein C, & Zilberman ML (2009). Pathological love: impulsivity, personality, and romantic relationship. CNS spectrums, 14 (5), 268-74 PMID: 19407726
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I want a new drug

Just a few days ago, "I want a new drug" by Huey Lewis & the News was going though my head, and it seemed to me that Karezza did act like some kind of 'new drug'.

"One that won't make me nervous
Wondering what to do
One that makes me feel like I feel when I'm with you
When I'm alone with you"

I'm honestly confused as to how to use this information. If daily bonding behaviors and Karezza every few days keeps us happily in love, how it is not actually a "drug" fueling what appears to match the description of a love addiction? I do feel a sense of bliss & euphoria from Karezza with my partner.


Because life is not about who you were, it is about who you are becoming.

I think the difference is

that the usual love addiction is based on fundamental feelings of lack and neediness. Makes sense. All addictions seem to involve low dopamine, which produces those feelings.

In contrast, Karezza helps build feelings of wholeness, so lovers don't come at each other on the basis of neediness. Instead they have "extra gas in the tank" for sharing. It makes the connection more lighthearted and playful in my experience.

An Eat, Pray, Love quote about love as addiction.

"I was suffering the easily foreseeable consequences. Addiction is the hallmark of every infatuation-based love story. It all begins when the object of your adoration bestows upon you a heady, hallucinogenic dose of something you never dared to admit you wanted-an emotional speed-ball, perhaps, of thunderous love and roiling excitement. Soon you start craving that intense attention, with a hungry obsession of any junkie. When the drug is withheld, you promptly turn sick, crazy, and depleted (not to mention resentful of the dealer who encouraged this addiction in the first place but now refuses to pony up the good stuff anymore-- despite the fact that you know he has it hidden somewhere, goddamn it, because he used to give it to you for free). Next stage finds you skinny and shaking in a corner, certain only that you would sell your soul or rob your neighbors just to have 'that thing' even one more time. Meanwhile, the object of your adoration has now become repulsed by you. He looks at you like you're someone he's never met before, much less someone he once loved with high passion. The irony is,you can hardly blame him. I mean, check yourself out. You're a pathetic mess,unrecognizable even to your own eyes. So that's it. You have now reached infatuation's final destination-- the complete and merciless devaluation of self." - pg 20-21"
— Elizabeth Gilbert

(Haven't read the book, haven't seen the movie)


Because life is not about who you were, it is about who you are becoming.

I am beginning to wonder if

I am beginning to wonder if it is even possible to not be addicted to something. I mean it just starts to get confusing on what I am allowed to feel or do and what I could be addicted to.

I am with Quizure. If I begin bonding behaviors with someone and I want to do them all the time is that an addiction ? I mean would that be bad ? If so why ? I mean should I not want to do such activity with a partner ?

I am not asking the questions right. It is just how the @#%# do I know if it is bad good or it just is ?

I would I know if I have slipped to addiction or if I am going in the right direction. I mean both will feel good.

I mean hell masturbation "feels" good. Why is it bad ? why do I need to change that behavior I mean really I do not have to.
I mean could I be happy doing it ? I know I am not any longer. I want something else. I want to change that behavior and I am.
It is just how the hell are we supposed to know or figure out what is addiction and what is healthy ?

are not all relationships some form or addiction at heart ? I mean If I want to be with a person all the time is that bad ? if so why ?
I mean how am I supposed to know if the attraction I have for someone is the "right" amount.

who gets to decide that amount me ? If so then if a drug user wants to use as much as they want are they addicted ?

I know I am confusing things and still not getting my ideas down the way I want.

It just seems to me that love would equal a form of addiction how would it not ?

I think

I've experienced both, and there *is* a difference. It's in my outlook. If I need my partner to do bonding behaviors (or vice versa) it's not the same as both of us willingly engaging in them because it's fun and it feels good.

You're right though, that the brain chemistry behind mate attraction is the same brain chemistry that's behind all addictions (when it's out of balance). And much romance is based on imbalance of that system. Smile

I think you actually are familiar with this distinction. Take masturbation. You know what it's like when it's compulsive and driven. And you know what it's like when you're full of energy and able to exercise (some) self-control. Your head is in a different space.

Same goes with romance.

When I was attending SLAA

When I was attending SLAA (sex and love addicts anonymous) meetings, there was the occasional protest: Love cannot be an addiction, its too pure!
One man would come every single meeting and make the same protests. I eventually had to speak up and make the suggestion to replace the word "love" with the word "romance", and get on with it.

Romances can be compulsive and addictive. Having been in several of these relationships, I notice them in other new potential mates pretty quick now and am usually repulsed. The sex and love addiction in combo is a very strong hit. In fact, I tend to attract women who are romance addicts and they feed my sex addiction while I feed their love addiction until it explodes into craziness.

Part of the problem in our culture is that we are ill-equipped to recognize the difference between healthy partnerships and unhealthy partnerships. Its not too surprising either. Not only do most of us adults lack the basic training from our parents in this area, but our language can hardly deal with it-

“Sanskrit has ninety-six words for love; ancient Persian has eighty, Greek three, and English only one.

Distinguishing it is difficult, but I think Marnia is dead on. It can be determined in the same way that masturbation is determined to be healthy or unhealthy. It takes a lot of practice, sensitivity, honesty, and reflection in the same way orgasm was determined to be either good or bad for us.

A lot of people in the SLAA meetings would determine romances as being a bottom line in the same way they would for any other addictive behavior.

However, it is my favorite drug,
especially in spring on the beach with a picnic... there's a twinkle in her eye... wait, thats a reflection of the twinkle in my eye from the confidence of knowing that if this picnic doesnt work out and we're not rolling around the grass nude in a half an hour, then I have my porn on my computer when I get home. The best tool for male empowerment my dear. And, baby, even though my eyes wander to perky versions of you half your age, Ill never let you down... and when your mean sister tells you "I told you so", let me remind you that I never promised I wouldnt lie... And I never told you that I promised you everything... You were imagining us riding off into the sunset... baby, I was just imagining you nude forget the sunset, the parking lot of Burger King will do just fine...

And baby, after we make sweet love... Its probably time for me to go home... not because I dont love you, but because my favorite program comes on in 20 minutes. I know... To see me leave the scene with the possibility of me never coming back sparks your most primal abandonment nerve, and that exit sign flashing on my forehead doesnt mean me exit from you, but it means us exiting together from this awful insecure world into a suburban safehaven where I am guaranteed to stay tied to you through the birth of our children. You didnt kill my dreams, sweetheart... they died in the embrace of our sweet love.

Courage is knowing what not to fear.