Even for a securely attached personality, falling in love can be temporarily disorienting. We are all familiar with phrases such as “she took my breath away” or “he swept me off my feet.” Usually, however, this initial whirlwind is followed by a period of trust-building and the establishment of true intimacy based on mutual respect and understanding.

The above phrases often have a very different meaning for a love addict. They signal destabilization and loss of autonomy. Infatuation can mark the beginning of a downward spiral into obsession and constant preoccupation.

Why is this experience of falling in love so different for love addicts?

The answer lies in their motivations and underlying approach toward love itself. For the addict, falling in love is a means of escape, rather than an opportunity for growth. The addict seeks either to enhance pleasure or avoid pain. Rarely are their actions in love about the magic of genuinely encountering another person, flaws included.

Love addiction is a painful and debilitating illness, just like alcoholism. Here is a summary of the major symptoms, followed by a description of what might constitute alternative healthy behavior.

  • Tolerance. The love addict requires increasing displays of romance, contact with the object of affection, or emotional highs related to being in love. A healthy partner recognizes another’s limitations and boundaries and does not use the other person as an object to medicate emotions.
  • Withdrawal. If this “supply” of romance becomes threatened, the love addict experiences withdrawal symptoms akin to those of an alcoholic or drug addict: anxiety, physical ailments, sleeplessness, eating problems, despair or anger. They may even retaliate. When faced with disappointment, a healthy partner practices acceptance and patience, realistically assessing their lover’s availability and deciding to move on if unhappy.
  • Isolation. The love addict slowly becomes more and more preoccupied or enmeshed with romantic affairs, to the exclusion of self-care, work responsibilities, family and friendships. Isolation sets in. A healthy partner pursues life goals independently, continuing to grow as a person in all areas. He or she maintains strong ties to a community, whether it be family, friends or a support group such as a 12-step program or therapy group.
  • Denial. The love addict returns to hurtful or dangerous relationships over and over, unable to extricate himself or herself from the situation. A healthy partner acknowledges a dysfunctional partnership and recoils from it, seeking the help of a support group or therapist if necessary.

If you feel that you or someone you know has a problem with love addiction, take heart. By working through issues of childhood trauma, self-doubt, fear, anxiety and depression, the addict can get back on track toward a rich and rewarding emotional life free from romantic drama.