Addicted to Love

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.


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Palmer, Robert. “Addicted to Love.” Lyrics. Riptide. Island Records, 1986.

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  • hi Jennifer:

    Just wondering if you can email me or call me.

    416 488 9412

    Dr. Raymond Rupert

  • ank

    Falling in love is something to be treated? The euphoria and everything are symptoms of addiction if we want to put it that way. Wanting something very much is a symptom of addiction? I must be addicted to food, because i feel bad when I’m hungry and I feel ecstatic when I fulfill my appetite with my favorite food. And I do it all my life. Well love is a food for the soul, for the spirit. I don’t think one can get too much of it. One can however get too much of another person’s manifestations of love. That’s different. This is probably also one of the reasons behind such research – someone must have felt too much attention coming from a significant other, and decided to call them addicted. Someone must have felt too little attention coming from a significant other, and decided to call himself (or herself) addicted, and go get treatment, as the significant other appears to constantly be refusing to get any closer to meeting this person’s wishes. There we go: a research study: every one who has such problems is invited to get treatment as if no one is to benefit from the wounds of love, the destructible inner fire that turns to ashes nothing more than some childhood attachments to ideal parental figures. We grow up and become more autonomous people, if we survive the ups and downs of love relations and find love in our hearts at the end of such a bumpy road.

    • Ulla

      The tendency for addiction is human. It is the social treat, so we cannot think every sign of addiction is treatable.

      But a too high need for something that you don’t get maybe will cause abuse, and you can abuse another person as well as you can abuse social bonds, gambling, drugs etc. A child abuse the parents as instance. This is also a part of the court behavior in romantic love. Someone said the border is drawn where the other allow this behavior or not. It almost always has two parts, inside and outside.

      We should try to look for the reason to this behavior, instead of treating love addiction? Bad self-esteem maybe?

      I guess the same behavior is behind admiration of idols, and this is one of the biggest socilizing factors.

    • Paulo

      Well, I agree, and disagree… but I think the way it works is like this. In the physical realm (the Universe etc) everything is made from complex chemical constructs and (like our bodies) relies on complex chemical interactions to exist. When our physical vessels (made from chemicals) lack something, it is manifested as a feeling…hunger for example, is not pleasant…then, once we’ve eaten, we’re happy. Our bodies have a reward system and this is based in survival. Nerves tell us when something is hot, it hurts, we move away, we don’t die. Same with food, same with sex/love. Our brains release endomorphines into our system to reward us for trying to procreate the species. Endomorphines make you ‘high’ (as you feel when you are in love: Over the moon, super happy etc)….when the endomorphines stop being released, you come down, you get withdrawl, and you suffer (thats why eating chocolate helps, but only a little, as it makes your brain release endomorphines which make you feel somewhat euphoric). This is where that addiction comes in. I once read an interesting study that a mother produces a lot of endomorphine in her milk, and the action of the baby sucking her teat makes her brain release endomorphines into her body thus creating a chemical bond (dependancy) between the two which is the love between a mother and child…it is necessary for survival. You can easily throw this balance out, for example, if the mother is on some heavy drugs, the baby doesnt receive the love and care it should from the mother who is always off chasing her next hit….the baby gets sick etc… not good for the species… Chemical imbalance.

  • Jennifer,
    This is a brilliant article! I just wanted to say “hey” and let you know how much I enjoyed reading it. A little oxytocin was released (just kidding!)

  • jhoxyl jhoi

    i thought my axons were dmyelinated while reading this.. kidding aside, i really enjoyed reading your article.. 🙂

  • Pingback: Opioid Addiction – Inherent Differences In Brain Functions | Top Medications Online | Top Medications Online()

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.

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