I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that most of us have probably heard the song – Addicted to Love. I don’t think Robert Palmer, the singer-songwriter that recorded this classic 80’s tune, was thinking about love being an ACTUAL addiction; however, he definitely stumbled onto a concept way ahead of his time.
I once heard the term “sex and love addiction” and immediately thought, that is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. How can a person be addicted to sex or love? Well, time has passed, and knowledge has been gained. Today, I’d like to share just a few things I have learned in my journey as a therapist who works with those suffering and battling this struggle we have come to know as sex and love addiction.
♫ Might as well face it;
you’re addicted to love. ♫
The first thing that really stand out to me is that sex and love addiction is NOT really about sex or love; but, instead, it is an intimacy problem. It is about a desperate search for emotional connections, often not experienced during childhood. This addiction is most often driven by attempts to satisfy unmet emotional needs. John Bowlby, a pioneer in attachment theory, states, “we’re only as needy as our unmet needs.” What this means to those experiencing sex and love addiction is that they are searching for something outside of themselves to provide them with the emotional comfort and stability they lack, more specifically, they are trying to “fix” themselves. Unfortunately; though, the bond that forms is not with the other person, but it is formed with the experience of being in love. As a result, as with alcohol and drugs, the “high” of being “in love” will eventually dissipate, resulting in void and empty relationships.
♫ You might think that you’re immune to this stuff.
Oh yeah! ♫
Secondly, there are signs and symptoms commonly experienced by sex and love addicts. Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), a 12-step program for this particular addiction, identifies those symptomatic behaviors as:
- becoming sexually involved with and/or emotionally attached to people without knowing them
- staying in painful, destructive relationships due to fear of abandonment and loneliness,
- confusing love with neediness or the need to rescue/ be rescued, and
- feeling empty and incomplete when alone.
While each of these symptoms may be experienced in healthy romantic relationships, with sex and love addiction, there is a consistent pattern of behaviors that tend to escalate into negative life consequences. Consequences may include, but not limited to: anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, risk of STD’s, legal problems, financial problems, and inability to experience genuine intimacy.
♫ It’s closer to the truth
to say you can’t get enough. ♫
Another interesting aspect regarding sex and love addiction is that withdraw symptoms can and do occur. Those who experience sex and love addiction struggle with real physical and emotional distress when letting go of relationships. “Falling in love” and “falling out of love” impact oxytocin and dopamine levels. A drop in oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” can cause a person to feel lost and confused. Subsequently, a drop in dopamine, our pleasure and reward neurotransmitters, acts like heroin withdraw in that a person will no longer feel pleasure and will likely become depressed. Symptoms can also include irritability, emptiness, confusion of “what’s next?”, shame, guilt, and grief. Grief is experienced much like any loss; only, they also grieve the connection, the relationship experience, and the loss of their self-identity as they typically identify themselves through the eyes of the partner.
♫ You know you’re gonna have to face it;
you’re addicted to love. ♫
My last, but certainly not final, observation in my studies and work with sex and love addicts is that HOPE is possible! Healing can transpire through strong recovery work by creating and implementing healthy boundaries, exploring early childhood attachment injuries and negative core beliefs, exploring fantasies and unmet needs, and learning about healthy relationships. Seeking professional help will be beneficial: a trusting, safe relationship will create a framework for recovery. Additionally, 12-step programs, sponsors, church/ support groups, and accountability partners are often important components for a healthy recovery plan.
In my work as a licensed marital and family therapist and certified sex addiction therapist, I can attest that people often recover from sex and love addiction. The wounded find healing. The hopeless find hope. The distraught find peace. If you are wrestling with compulsive behavior and/or addiction, please don’t wait any longer. Find a therapist who can help you. You deserve peace; you deserve happiness; and you most definitely deserve to feel a genuine, lasting love and the depths of intimacy that grow out it. Blessings.