Love Is The Drug: Sex & Relationship Addiction

I am often asked, “What exactly is sex and love addiction?” Or, “How can a person have too much sex or love too much?” To answer the question what is sex and love addiction, we might first begin with the question, “What is addiction?”

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is, “A primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.” Many folks believe that alcoholism is about drinking too much alcohol and, in fact, that is a factually accurate statement.  However, the answer would also miss the greater point and the underlying issue; that alcoholism is no more about the alcohol than sex addiction is about the sex. Alcoholics ultimately drink because they no longer have the choice “not to drink.” Sex addicts often don’t enjoy the sexual behaviors but need to sexually engage in order to avoid, escape or numb feelings and emotions.

Sex and love addiction is the use of intense fantasy and obsession to induce a neurochemical release.

Let’s now turn back to our question, “What exactly is sex and love addiction?” Sex and love addiction is the use of intense fantasy and obsession to induce a neurochemical release. Unlike alcohol which involves ingesting a drug, the sex or love addict is impacted by an internal neurochemical alternation, and, like the alcoholic, these neurochemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin produce changes or alterations in mood. Engaging in sexual behaviors (and even anticipating the behaviors themselves) is about escaping pain or anxiety reduction. It’s a solution.

Sex addiction is:

  • Obsessive
  • Intensity not intimacy
  • Fantasy and escape
  • Shame based
  • Pro-self vs. pro-social

Love addiction as in sex addiction is also obsessive. The relationship itself or the obsession about a love interest becomes the escape. Unlike sex addiction, love addiction is to a person or a relationship, not a sexual act. This can be confusing to the love addict when sex is used as a means to a relationship or access to a love interest.

The relationship itself or the obsession about a love interest becomes the escape.

Love addicts are often not capable of tolerating the reality of a relationship, and, at times, there may only be a hint of a relationship that the addict fantasizes about and embellishes in his or her own mind. The love addict often projects unrealistic expectations onto the love interest. It is common for the love interest to express, “You are demanding all of my time,” or, “I feel like you are consuming my every waking moment.”

Taking Prisoners; Holding Hostages

The need to hold onto the relationship creates a level of fantasy and escape for the love addict. This is often very demanding and can feel suffocating for one’s time and attention. As the love addict’s laser focus on the partner intensifies, the love interest often pulls away forcing the addict to pursue in chase pushing the love interest further away or out of the relationship all together. The love addict at this point of the cycle can resort to behaviors that are demanding, exploitive or even abusive. Love addicts take “hostages” for partners which is neither pro-self nor pro-social.

In addition, love addicts create fantasies about what a relationship “could be” or “could become.” This at times involves a serious distortion of reality or an obsessive fantasy which does not match the other’s perspective. The addict’s fantasy dictates what the relationship should look like. Whereas healthy relationships allow for ebb and flow in interaction or intensity of the involvement between partners, addictive relationships and love addicts often cannot tolerate the other partner’s wishes or desires. As a result the love addict perceives that they are or will be abandoned and intensifies their pursuits driving the love interest away; this self fulfilling and self defeating cycle continues anew.

How To Break the Chains That Bind You

In order to recover, a love addict must break the cycle of obsessional thinking and see the relationship for what it is versus how the addict wishes it was. Professionals call this fantasy contamination.  Most painful for the love addict is the abandonment and rejection that the addict experiences once the reality sets in. Fantasy contamination breaks the addictive spell and leaves the addict without the very person she or he wants or needs. The love addict enters withdrawal at this point and will either seek help or return to the painful and destructive tendencies.  To summarize love addiction is:

  • Obsessive
  • Intensity not intimacy
  • Focused on fantasy and escape
  • Neither pro-self nor pro-social

If you or someone you know is struggling with sex and love addiction, contact Debra to address the underlying and unresolved early attachment wounds or traumas that tend to drive these addictive behaviors.