As humans, we need a sense of connection to others. And when the brain is in love, it releases feel-good hormones like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin that can produce effects similar to a drug-induced high (Earp et. al., 2017). But for about 5-10% of the U.S. population, this desire for affection can turn into intense cravings for the euphoric or romantic feelings associated with love (Earp et. al., 2017).
According to addiction psychiatrist David Sack, M.D., love addiction goes by several names: infatuation, lovesickness, or limerence, a term created by Dorothy Tennov in her 1979 book Love and Limerence: the Experience of Being in Love (Sack, 2012). But whatever it’s called, love addiction is exactly that: an addiction to the feeling of falling in love. Have you ever suffered from a case of limerence? Here are 8 signs you may be addicted to love:
1: You Have Intrusive Thoughts About a Romantic Interest
It’s normal to think about your crush after you realize your feelings for them. But when you are unable to put them out of your mind to focus on tasks that you enjoy or that need to be done, you may be experiencing limerence. Both people with a crush and love addicts commonly invent scenarios in their head and insert their crush into them. But with love addiction, it may be nearly impossible to snap out of this daydream. Unwanted, intrusive thoughts about your crush keep flooding your mind, making it difficult to concentrate (Tennov, 1979, p. 34). Tennov writes that people suffering from limerence may feel helpless and choose to give in to thoughts of their crush because fighting them takes an enormous effort (p. 36).
2: You Obsess Over Them
Albert Wakin, a psychologist and professor at Sacred Heart University, likens limerence to a combination of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and addiction (Sack, 2012). Whether you’re suffering from love addiction or a healthy curiosity about the other person, you want to know everything about them: their favorite color, what they ate for breakfast, what their dream vacation is. But when this behavior borders on an unhealthy obsession with the other person, especially if these obsessions fall into thought patterns, it may be a sign of love addiction.
3: You Idealize Them
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines idealization as, “the exaggeration of the positive attributes and minimization of the imperfections or failings associated with a person, place, thing, or situation, so that it is viewed as perfect.” Idealization is a common side effect of having a crush. Most of us have known someone who refuses to listen to any criticism of their crush, instead viewing them in a perfect light because of their infatuation. However, with love addiction, thoughts tend to border on extreme idealization, with brief moments of clarity showing you the harsh reality that your crush is not, indeed, perfect (Tennov, 1979, p. viii).
4: Everything Reminds You of Them
With love addiction, things as innocuous as a phrase in a book, a park bench, or a song can trigger vivid thoughts of the person you’re experiencing limerence over, according to Tennov (p. 34). These little reminders of the person release the feel-good hormones associated with falling in love (Earp et. al, 2017). Constant external reminders of the person can make it even harder for the person with love addiction to take their mind off their internal fantasies and intrusive thoughts of the other person.
5: You Go Out of Your Way to Create Chance Meetings With Them
People suffering from love addiction may change their route to work, their hobbies, or their schedule to increase their chances of running into the person they’re experiencing feelings over. The difference between this behavior in a lovesick person and a person with a typical crush lies in the intention behind these “chance” encounters. The goal of someone with a regular crush may be to get their crush to notice them, or to try to set up an opportunity to interact with them. According to a study published in the journal Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, lovesick people try to arrange these chance encounters because the sight of the person gives them a rush of pleasure and a momentary break from their intrusive thoughts of the person — when the person is in front of them, they can transfer their idealization of the person in their head onto the physical person (Earp et. al., 2017).
6: You’re Constantly Looking for Signs of Reciprocation
Tennov writes that something as simple as a glance from the person you’re experiencing love addiction over can send you spiraling into conviction that the person shares your feelings for them (p. 39). We’ve all over analyzed how long it took our crush to call or text us back, but extreme searches for reciprocation could really be searches for validation. That is, basing all your happiness on your perceptions of another person’s feelings for you is unhealthy and may signal that you crave affection.
7: You Feel Shaky or Extremely Nervous Around Them
Experiencing physical symptoms like heart palpitations, shaking, weakness, pallor, or flushing around the person can be another sign you’re addicted to love (Tennov, 1979, 49). These physical symptoms are common indicators of nervous excitement, fear, or a combination of both. Again, these physical reactions may just be signs that you have a crush on the other person, but when they become excessive or trigger feelings of panic or helplessness, they could be symptoms of love addiction.
8: You’re Terrified of Rejection
One of the worst fears of someone with love addiction is that their feelings won’t be reciprocated (Tennov, 1979, p. 48). Researchers Earp, Foddy, and Savulescu describe rejection as the “withdrawal of love,” the painful crash after the high of love (2017). A person suffering from love addiction may be terrified of losing the euphoric feelings of love, and go to extremes such as refusing to change anything about themselves to try and prevent the other person’s feelings (real or perceived) for them from changing (Tennov, 1979, p. 53).
Love addiction is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). Because the brain naturally releases the chemicals that make love feel good, it’s normal to experience one or more symptoms of love addiction. But when these signs seriously detract from your ability to typically function, it may be a good idea to seek help from a psychiatrist or other licensed mental health professional to help break the cycle.
- American Psychological Association (n.d.). Idealization. In APA Dictionary of Psychology. Retrieved 20 May from dictionary.apa.org/idealization.
- Earp, B. D., Wudarczyk, O. A., Foddy, B., & Savulescu, J. (2017). Addicted to love: What is love addiction and when should it be treated? Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology : PPP, 24(1), 77–92. https://doi.org/10.1353/ppp.2017.0011.
- Sack, D. (2012, July 28). Limerence and the biochemical roots of love addiction. Huffpost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/limerence_b_1627089?utm_hp_ref=healthy-living.
- Tennov, D. (1979). Love and limerence : The experience of being in love. Scarborough House.