Addicted to Love…

The ultimate reductio ad absurdum argument is that any behaviour can become potentially addictive.

Which leads to the next logical question: are there any good addictions? Researchers today talk of addiction as a disease. And in that trope, the “disease concept” of addiction is really just a metaphor. A metaphor with connotations.

Researchers posit that for a behaviour to become harmfully addictive, it would involve some type of “rush” effect, time-intensive repetition, intense behavioural or cognitive preoccupation, loss of control, and negative consequences.

At this point in time, we have a long list of things that can be counted as addictive, including prayer, meditation, and even religion. But for now we focus on perhaps the oldest of all behaviours — love.

The relationship between passionate love and addiction has been debated exhaustively amongst social science circles for many years. It began with Sigmund Freud, who had intimated the existence of a similarity between amorous passion and drug addiction. Currently this is ill-defined. That is to say, there are no recognized or standard definitions or diagnostic criteria for “love addiction”, “love passion”, or “sex addiction”.

Is there a difference between love and addiction? Is being addicted to love a disease? Is social attachment an addictive behaviour?

All loaded questions with no easy answers. Some sort of parlance on the subject comes from the world experts in all things pertaining to love and sex — the French. A group of French researchers, publishing in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, describe the clinical distinctions between “love passion,” “love addiction,” and “sex addiction”. Using advances in neurobiology to compare clinical, neuropsychological, neurobiological, and neuroimaging data on love and passion.

They begin with the most pertinent question: “Is there any legitimate reason to associate a pathological condition (addiction) and a natural, pleasurable one [love]?”

With there being no recognized definition or diagnostic criteria for “love addiction” it is hard to posit an idea. But the bare bones of it all has some similarities to substance dependence:

“euphoria and unrestrained desire in the presence of the love object or associated stimuli (drug intoxication); negative mood, anhedonia, and sleep disturbance when separated from the love object (drug withdrawal); focussed attention on and intrusive thoughts about the love object; and maladaptive or problematic patterns of behavior (love relation) leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, with pursuit despite knowledge of adverse consequences.”

The notion of love as an addiction is described pertaining to all the usual disease addiction tropes — from a clinical description, comparing the absence of love to substance withdrawal, and — most importantly — the shift that occurs from normal to addictive state. A shift that is barely perceivable due to the simple fact that such a dependence is present in both states.

“Addiction would be defined as the stage where desire becomes a compulsive need, when suffering replaces pleasure, when one persists in the relationship despite knowledge of adverse consequences (including humiliation and shame).”

The fact that there is currently no data on the epidemiology, genetics, co-morbidity, or treatment of love addiction lead the researchers to conclude that to place some cases of “love passion” within a clinical disorder spectrum or to firmly classify it as a behavioural addiction (or to a lesser extent a disorder of impulse control) would be premature.

Addictions, particularly those to substance, short-circuit and often circumvent the natural and complex mechanisms for managing a whole range of humanistic behaviours — sensations, emotions, cognition and relationships. Add to this the fact that certain mechanisms are not well understood. Making it hard to apply it to love.

A further complication is the simple and often overlooked fact that “love” is the source of the strongest sensations, emotions, and passions known to human beings.

Originally appearing at The All Results Journal

Reynaud, M., Karila, L., Blecha, L., & Benyamina, A. (2010). Is Love Passion an Addictive Disorder? The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 36 (5), 261-267 DOI: 10.3109/00952990.2010.495183


4 Responses to “Addicted to Love…”

  1. 1 Leilani Leszkay June 15, 2012 at 05:59

    For a more thorough — albeit lighthearted — examination of the subject, I recommend LOVE ADDICT: SEX, ROMANCE AND OTHER DANGEROUS DRUGS (HCI Books, 2011) by Ethlie Ann Vare.

  2. 2 Darwin February 19, 2013 at 05:43

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  1. 1 URL Trackback on June 16, 2012 at 20:38
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