Breakups often lead to a state that resembles withdrawal from an addiction. There are seven official criteria for addiction to an activity or drug:
- There is a need for increased exposure to the activity or drug to achieve the desired effect (tolerance).
- Withdrawal symptoms are experienced when the person does not engage in the activity or take the drug.
- The person engages in the activity or takes the drug more frequently and for a longer period of time than initially intended.
- There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to quit or control the activity or drug.
- A great deal of time is spent to ensure that the activity or drug access can be continued.
- Important social, occupational or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of the addiction.
- The activity or drug is continued despite knowledge of the physical or psychological problems to which it gives rise.
Addiction is different from obsession in the clinical sense. The main difference is that in cases of obsession, the “drug” consists of recurrent or persistent thoughts or images. In an obsession cases, the person seeks to control or avoid the thoughts or images by suppressing them or neutralizing them with other thoughts or with actions. But the relief is only temporary. What we commonly call love obsessions typically have both elements of obsession with and withdrawal from an addiction to a particular person.
There can, of course, also be addictions to or obsessions with love or sex as such. In the article “Androgyny and the Art of Loving,” American psychologist Adria Schwartz describes a case of a young man addicted to the chase of women.
A man in his mid-twenties entered therapy after a series of unsuccessful relationships with women. Virtually his entire psychic life was spent in compulsive attempts to meet and seduce women. Occasional successes were followed by brief unfulfllling liaisons which he inevitably ended in explosive fits of frustrated rage, or boredom. Recurrent dreams occurred where he found himself running after a women, catching up to her only to find some physical barrier between them. Women were “pieces of meat.” He found himself excited by the prospect of imminent sexual conquest, but he often ejaculated prematurely and was physically and emotionally anesthetized to the experience of intercourse. (1979, p. 406)
Addiction to “the chase” is similar to love addiction in the more generalized sense. Love addiction in the more generalized sense is a condition in which a person is addicted to the feeling of being in love. People with love addiction have trouble staying in relationships. When the initial feelings of love turn into a more calm state, they get withdrawal symptoms and end the relationship. The “drug” they need is the cocktail of chemicals that floods the body during initial stormy phases of a relationship.
In the Your Tango article “Am I addicted to love and sex?,” Sara Davidson, the author of Loose Change and Leap describes her love addiction as an addiction to being in love with someone who is in love with her. The relationship that made her realize that she was a love addict was with a man she “didn’t even like.” She describes her relationship as follows:
Okay, I know, this sounds like an addiction, but I didn’t recognize it until an affair I had last year with a man I call Billy the Bad. Billy pursued me and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He wore cowboy boots, wrote decent poetry and drove a hybrid Lexus. “I have a tux and a tractor,” he wrote in his online profile. “I can work with my head or my hands.” He said he loved me and took it back, said it again and denied it again. When he turned on the love it was bliss, and when he withdrew it was hell. When he told me again that he loved me the pain went away, only to return with greater intensity the next time he reneged. I cut things off when I could stand it no more. I mean, I realized I was crying over a man I didn’t even like! Something deeper, more primitive was clearly going on, and I turned to books and even a 12-step program for help.
In the Psychology Today online article “Can love be an addiction?,” Program Director of Five Sisters Ranch Lori Jean Glass reveal that she once was diagnosed with love addiction. She describes love addiction as more than just being addicted to the feeling of being in love. For her, love addiction was an addiction to the state of being completely absorbed in someone else’s life and the feeling that someone else needs her and admires her. To me, her condition seems to be an instance of an anxious attachment style rather than love addiction. However, one aspect of Glass’ behavior fits the picture of the love addict completely: Her relationship jumping. As he puts it: “I went from relationship to relationship. The idea of intimacy was foreign. God forbid I let anyone see inside my wounded spirit. Often, I had several relationships on the back burner, just in case. Keeping the intrigue alive and active was important.”