Love Addiction Isn’t About Love at All
Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques reveal that love stimulates the same parts of the brain that are lit up through use of addictive drugs. One study in particular showed people pictures of their romantic partner and observed the results using fMRI imagery. The very same pathways were excited by images of romantic partners as are often observed in those using powerful drugs like cocaine.
A person can become addicted to romance/love for the same reasons a person gets hooked on drugs – escape from negative emotions by masking them with intensely positive feelings. People who experience love addiction are frequently discovered to have had some sort of traumatizing emotional experience in childhood. They may have been battered, sexually abused or even emotionally neglected, but there is nearly always some deep wound that is being avoided through a preoccupation with pleasant feelings.
Unfortunately, love addiction also follows the same trajectory as drug addiction. A person builds up a tolerance for the relationship until it no longer excites the neural pathways just as the drug addict eventually builds up a tolerance for his/her drug. The relationship ceases to be thrilling and therefore ends. But pretty soon the love addict is craving those initial feelings so they seek out a new relationship and the cycle repeats.
After a while, drug addicts need more of their drug or seek out new and stronger drugs in order to maintain intense responses. Love addicts follow the same pattern. Each time the person seeks out something to make the relationship even more exciting. They may choose unavailable (already married) partners or partners who are clearly not good for them. They may engage in risky sexual behavior – whatever it takes to regain the intense emotions.
Of course, love addiction is not about love at all. It is about using other people in order to gain pleasurable feelings. The person addicted to love and romance demonstrates a fixation with relationships that mirrors a drug addict’s preoccupation with substances. The person thinks about and fantasizes relationships all through the day. They may surf the Internet looking for partners all evening. Life is a constant search for new and exciting romance scenarios.