Are You Addicted to Love (or Sex)? Find Out Now & Take the Quiz

Robert Palmer - Addicted To Love (Official Music Video)

Might as Well Face You’re Addicted To Love

“My fear of abandonment is exceeded only by my terror of intimacy.”– Ethlie Ann Vare

“Addicted to Love” was a hit song for Robert Palmer in 1985 and remains a perennial pop favorite today, but the reality of love addiction isn’t so much fun.

Being in love feels fantastic but not when it crosses into obsessive thinking, manipulation, crippling fear, and panic attacks. If self-worth and happiness all hinge on a romantic relationship, it places a stranglehold on a healthy life. This overwhelming need, this
starvation for love, thrives on a dangerous blend of high expectations and low self-esteem. The ‘love addict’ begs for a love that he or she feels unworthy of, creating a no-win situation.

In her book, Love Addict: Sex, Romance, and Other Dangerous Drugs, Ethlie Ann Vare offers incredible insight into the rarely discussed affliction of love addiction. By using alcoholism as a comparison, she found that many of the psychological and behavioral issues were the same, which indicates that, like the difference between a heavy drinker and an alcoholic, there is a difference between someone who loves love and a love addict.

There really isn’t a strict test to decipher if you’re a love addict, but Ethlie offers a series of statements to consider that may indicate a problem.

Here are 10 of them:

1. I often feel an instant connection to someone I’ve just met.

2. I consistently choose partners who are emotionally, geographically, or logistically unavailable.

3. I have passed over family, social or career opportunities in favor of romantic and sexual ones.

4. I use sex to hook a prospective romantic partner.

5. I have considered, threatened or attempted suicide over a relationship.

6. I feel worthless when I am not in a relationship and jump into the next one as quickly as possible.

7. When I’m attracted to someone, I often ignore warning signs that this person isn’t good for me.

8. I am possessive and jealous when I’m in love.

9. I like to be the pursuer in the game of love, even chasing after people who have rejected me.

10.I have been dependent on drugs, alcohol, gambling, spending or food in the past, but most people think I have my life together.

Again, this is not a scientific test and it’s actually possible to answer “yes” to all of them
and not be addicted to love. However, your gut reaction to the questions and the intensity
with which you can answer “yes” is a good indication of whether or not you should take a closer look. The concept of love addiction is incredibly complicated, largely because it is so hard to understand. As Ethlie puts it, “Sex and love aren’t the problem. They are someone’s solution to a problem we don’t understand.”

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As described by doctors Harvey Milkman and Stanley Sunderwirth in their book, Craving for Ecstasy: The Consciousness and Chemistry of Escape, the brain’s reward system has three divisions:

1. Arousal: gambling, cocaine, extreme sports, sex

2. Satiation: overeating, alcohol, heroin, relationship attachment

3. Fantasy: LSD, marijuana, religion, and romance

Romantic relationship elements are the only ones that cross all three divisions, making love addiction quite intense. What helps define behavior as an addiction is the obsessive element. A desire for love is replaced with an obsessive need for love that can lead to stalking tendencies, excessive relationship “hoping,” and mistaking every “hello” as an invitation for romance.

The brain chemicals most associated with love addiction are dopamine, serotonin, vasopressin, oxytocin, and phenyl- ethylamine (PEA), with others like testosterone and adrenaline coming into the mix as well. While all of these elements play a big part in a healthy romantic relationship, it is the miscommunication between these elements within the addict’s brain that causes problems. In Healing the Addicted Brain, Dr. Harold Urschel uses the analogy of a phone call to describe how this miscommunication happens:

If one cell is trying to speak to another cell but doesn’t have enough of the necessary neurotransmitters, it can only whisper its message or even become mute. If it has too much of certain neurotransmitters, it may send an incorrect message. Conversely, if a cell is trying to listen to another cell but doesn’t have the proper assistance, it will only hear the message faintly, if at all. Or, if the cell has too many of a certain receptor, it will ignore the messages of others. It’s not an imbalance that happens as much as the addict brain isn’t using what it has properly. The trigger, whether it is cocaine or a new relationship, gives a short-term boost to these transmitters, causing a chain reaction through the brain’s reward center, which in turn creates a hunger for these euphoric feelings.

Love addicts can feel a gaping hole in the center of their lives when they are not in a relationship. It is in his or her nature to quickly, desperately find the next partner, simply to have someone, anyone, to give their life meaning. It is easy to focus on the potential of
something instead of the reality of it. You must look at your situation as an outsider and examine the facts as they are today.

  1. Is this relationship healthy?
  2. Are my needs being met?
  3. Have I accidentally placed my partner on a pedestal?
  4. Are we equals or am I the only one willing to compromise?

Sadly, making the choice to stop loving in an unhealthy way may result in the need to end a damaging relationship. A partner, who has been treated like royalty, with no need for compromise or equality, may not know how to give you the healthy relationship you need.

Even the end of a bad relationship needs a grieving process. It helps cleanse the psyche so the same negative patterns don’t get repeated. Give yourself time to fully feel the loss and try to find the positive things that you can take away from the experience.

Addicted To Sex

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Enjoying sex certainly isn’t a cause for concern, nor is a desire to have sex often. However, there is a line that can be crossed when desire becomes an obsession and that’s when things become troublesome and dangerous.

Sex addiction afflicts someone that has a compulsive sexual disorder with no (or little) self-control. It is believed that as many as 30 million people in the United States suffer from some level of sexual addiction.

Consider the following questions that are used to define someone’s level of addiction:

1. Do you think about sex so often that it interferes with your concentration?

2. Are you obsessed with a specific person or sexual act even though it brings you cravings and discomfort?

3. Are you finding your sexual pursuits affect your ability to manage your life?

4. Do you HAVE to flirt?

5. Do you feel you are entitled to sex?

6. Would life have no meaning without sex?

7. Do you think that sex is the only thing that really gives you value?

8. Do you use sex as an escape from other problems or stress?

9. Do you keep a list of the partners you have been with?

10.Do you need the “high” that the dangerous sex and the risk of being caught can promise?

If your answer to all these questions is “yes”, then you possibly suffer from sexual compulsion. Sexual addiction is a relatively new addition to psychosexual disorders. People were simply defined as being hyper-sexual, players, promiscuous, and not wired for

“Sexual addicts are willing to sacrifice what they cherish most in order to preserve and continue their unhealthy behavior.”– Dr. Patrick Carnes

It was as recent as 1983 that sexual addiction first came to the front and center of the news as a legitimate medical concern upon the publication of Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction by Dr. Patrick Carnes. These hyper-sexual behaviors are
oftentimes connected to other addictive or obsessive personality traits, psychological disorders, self-esteem issues, self-destructive behavior, hereditary addiction issues, and lowered sexual inhibitions.

A sexual addict’s mind is sparked the same way as most addictions occur. The brain tells
the sex addict that having illicit sex is good the same way it tells over-eaters that over eating is good. The addicted brain fools the body by producing intense biochemical rewards (levels of PEA phenylethylamine) that boost euphoria for self-destructive behavior.

There are three-stage progressions in becoming addicted:

1. In the first stage, the person actually believes that his or her addiction is healthy, normal, and pleasurable.

2. In the second stage, the person has conflicting thoughts about whether or not the addiction is healthy, normal, and pleasurable.

3. In the third stage, the person realizes that they are addicted and feels unhealthy, abnormal, and more pain than pleasure, yet he or she maintains and feeds the addiction.

The key is to discover the thought processes that are at the base of the addictive behavior and working to replace them with healthy behavior or eradicate them. Trauma, grief, previous abuse, anxiety and depression have all been linked to sexual addiction. In these
cases, the act of intercourse is not treated as something sexual, it becomes medicinal. The endorphins, serotonin and testosterone of sexual activity and release create the bandage that briefly soothes the deeper, untreated pain.

The four most common methods for treating sexual addiction are the same as treatments for any other addictions:

1. The Twelve Step Programs

2. Psychotherapy

3. Sex Addiction Treatment Facilities

4. Spiritual Intervention

Like food addictions, sexual addiction can be challenging to treat because sex is an important part of life. It’s our second basic instinct after survival, and unlike learning to function without drugs, alcohol or cigarettes, learning to function without any sex at all is not possible when trying to build or maintain an intimate relationship.

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva from Pexels

Understanding how a healthy sexual and intimate relationship looks and feels can be difficult after sexual addiction treatment. As a child abuse survivor, recovered sex addict, and therapist, Maureen Canning speaks from experience as she identifies the 10 characteristics of a healthy relationship in her book Lust, Anger, Love: Understanding
Sexual Addiction and the Road to Healthy Intimacy.

1. Sex provides a feeling of wellbeing.

There is a safety in a healthy relationship that may be a bit scary at first. It will take patience and perseverance to move beyond the feelings of disconnection and shame that may have been part of the previous sexual experiences.

2. Emotional and physical sensations are more positive.

Romantic intimacy requires vulnerability and emotional honesty without numbing or “chasing the orgasm.”

3. Creativity and passion are rediscovered.

As sex is no longer the only outlet for emotional expression, the brain learns to use these tools for creative exploration in new ways.

4. You nurture yourself in non-genital ways.

Pleasure is expanded beyond the previously exclusive channel of sexuality to include all aspects of life.

5. Suffering is tolerated as a part of life.

When life’s challenges, disappointments, and difficulties come along, they are dealt with in a more cerebral rather than sexual way. They are faced, not hidden.

6. You can be emotionally vulnerable.

It is common for sexual addicts to fear betrayal and to suppress their feelings instead of risk being hurt. In a healthy relationship, vulnerability is not only acceptable but also necessary.

7. You develop and maintain healthy boundaries with others.

Boundaries are the enemy for many addicts and in some cases work as the trigger for destructive behavior. Acknowledging, accepting and embracing the safety within these romantic boundaries are an important part of recovery.

8. Sexuality is well balanced and moderate.

Sexual energy in all its extremes is used to motivate the life of a sex addict. With sexual maturity comes the appropriate flow of this energy.

9. You are curious and caring about other people’s reactions to you.

Whereas sex addiction is very ego-driven and the emotional lives of others are kept at a distance, healthy intimacy requires empathy and understanding for your partner’s point of view.

10. You learn to trust others.

The first step in overcoming sexual addiction is learning to trust yourself and accepting the truth of who you are. This personal trust gives you the courage to lower your guard
enough to invite in the truth and trust of a partner.

If you or a loved one is experiencing sex addiction, these resources may be helpful:

Find out more about Love Addiction here to get help.


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