Obsessive love disorder is a behavioral condition not unlike other addictions to certain activities, such as sex, shopping, or gambling. It involves issues related to impulse control and adverse behavior changes associated with the unyielding desire to experience the rewarding and pleasurable feelings produced by new romantic love and maintaining these feelings no matter the cost.
Like any behavior associated with heightened levels of euphoria-inducing neurochemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, the experience of falling in love can be addictive. Many people with obsessive love disorder report encountering emotional withdrawal symptoms after an intense romance has ended or losing the “rush” and “high” effects when the relationship is no longer new. These withdrawal symptoms are reported to be similar to those suffered by people attempting to discontinue drug or alcohol use.
Obsessive Love Disorder Symptoms
Symptoms of obsessive love disorder may include the following:
- Obsessing about the desired person and an inability to stop thinking about him or her, feeling an overwhelming attraction
- Neglecting or eschewing work, school, and family or friends to be with one’s object of desire
- Attempting to hide the extent of the obsession from loved ones
- Continuing to believe that the romantic relationship or the next relationship will finally make one feel “complete”
- Inability to comply with self-imposed rules regarding romantic relationships
- Having a powerful need to protect the person of desire
- Possessive thoughts and behaviors, including jealousy, regarding of whether it is warranted
- Low self-esteem
Like individuals who cannot control their substance abuse, an obsessive love addict will often fail to control their behavior despite numerous attempts to do so. They may also experience depression, anxiety, desperation, and other uncomfortable emotional and mental symptoms when they are forced to be apart from their love interest. They often struggle to ensure that the romance feels “normal” even when the relationship has fallen into dysfunction or has become unsatisfying in many ways.
People who have obsessive love disorders also tend not to accept rejection. If this occurs, an exacerbation of addictive behaviors will likely soon follow. Other signs of an obsessive lover include the following:
- Repeated texts, calls, or expected and unwanted visits, etc. to the romantic partner or object of interest
- A constant need for reassurance about relationship status and personal validation
- Monitoring the actions of the individual, where they are going, what they are doing, and who they are seeing
- Attempting to control the person’s movements and activities in which the love interest engages
Factors That Contribute to Obsessive Love Disorder
The causes of love addiction typically include a combination of underlying, untreated emotional problems. These may be related to the experience of childhood trauma, abuse, abandonment, or neglect, and mental health conditions such as impulse disorders, depression, or anxiety.
Other causes of love addiction include having low self-esteem, being raised with a lack of positive role models in intimate relationships, and misconceptions about the reality of “living happily ever after” as is idealized by the American culture, especially during youth.
Obsessive Love Disorder as Related to Drug and Alcohol Addiction
A 2010 study from Syracuse University called “Neuroimagining of Love” suggested that falling in love was compared to using cocaine. Both are produced by biological processes involving the rapid release of adrenaline, dopamine, and other neurochemicals essential for intense feelings of well-being. These reactions can cause an individual to associate an object of their desire with feelings of pleasure, reward, and euphoria.
Any experience that releases endorphins and other reward-inducing chemicals in the CNS (central nervous system) can contribute to addiction development. Although there is no direct chemical component, such as that with cocaine and other intoxicating substances, a powerful emotional compulsion can rapidly manifest.
Although experimentation with drugs and alcohol tends to be more prevalent among those with psychological issues, not all obsessive lovers will become addicted to substances. Instead, they may be at a higher risk of engaging in substance abuse due to factors that underpin both conditions. These include mental health disorders, the experience of childhood trauma, and other life stressors that encourage some to engage in self-medicating behavior.
Specific mental health problems that are especially likely to contribute to both obsessive love and substance abuse include the following:
- Reactive attachment disorder (RAD)
- Borderline personality disorder
- Delusional or obsessive jealousy
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Anxiety and panic disorder
Genetic propensities may also be factors, as both behavioral addictions and substance abuse have biologically-based similarities, especially those associated with impulse control difficulties.
Lastly, behavioral and substance addictions, when they co-occur, tend to exacerbate each other. If a love addict feels especially stressed over a relationship, they may be more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol or do so more heavily. Conversely, the use of intoxicating substances often serves to worsen emotional dysregulation further, and the cycle is therefore perpetuated, and without intervention, it may never end.
Treatment for Obsessive Love Disorder and Substance Abuse
Obsessive love and substance abuse are both mental health disorders caused by many of the same underlying factors. They may also worsen each other’s effects, and failure to treat either one can lead to a relapse back into addictive behavior.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer individualized, comprehensive programs designed to help those we treat improve their mental health and physical well-being. Our programs feature therapies and activities clinically-proven to be beneficial for recovery, including psychotherapy, individual and family counseling, substance abuse education, mindfulness therapy, and group support.