In the immortal words of Robert Palmer, “you know you're gonna have to face it, you're addicted to love.” Though he probably meant it as a metaphor, scientists from Oxford University claim love addiction is, in fact, a real thing.
After reviewing 64 studies on love and addiction between 1956 and 2016, the researchers not only point out the obvious similarities in the symptoms of the two, but note two distinct forms of addiction to love, a “narrow” view and “broad” view, both of which are painful. Their study is published in Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology.
Not all psychologists agree love addiction is real or a “disease”. It depends on how you define both love and addiction, though the similar reactions both produce in humans are startling. Both trigger the reward center in the brain, which can create feelings of euphoria, exhilaration, and ecstasy, and when taken away can leave the person with cravings, despair, dependence, withdrawal, obsessive behaviors, and grief.
What they call the “narrow” view accounts for the most extreme and harmful forms of love-related behaviors and is potentially the most addictive form. The authors describe it as rare and involving attachment issues that can interfere with someone’s everyday life. Strong cravings to be near the object of their affection and obsessive and constant thoughts can impair people’s control over their behavior.
This type of love addiction is the result of abnormal processes in the brain reward center, and produces an unusually strong reward signal. Similar to an addictive drug high, people keep going back for more, at the expense of other interests in their life, to experience the “high” again.
The second type identified, called the “broad” view, is recognizable as so-called normal love, but still involves stronger than normal cravings, though these can be controlled. This was harder to define as it is based on observations of behaviors similar to the high-low cycle of addiction ie the rush or high, followed by desperation and depression if it's taken away.
The researchers found both types of love addiction can be harmful to people, not just in experiencing detrimental lows but in some cases leading people to stay in unhealthy relationships or become obsessed with unsuitable or dangerous people. In the most extreme cases, it can lead to stalking a subject and causing them harm if rejected.
The authors conclude that there is evidence to show people who experience love addiction share processes in the brain with people with drug addiction. Thus, if love addiction becomes problematic, treatment in some form should be available, and so further study is needed to discern how.