Might As Well Face It: Why Love Addiction and Substance Addiction Are Nearly The Same

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Might As Well Face It: Why Love Addiction and Substance Addiction Are Nearly The Same

More than 30 years ago, the late artist Robert Palmer crooned “the lights are on, but you’re not home/your will, is not your own…might as well face it you’re addicted to love.”

That’s my best friend. At least according to her.

I write a lot about the mechanics of addiction and how it affects the brain. But for this piece, I think I’m going to stick to the basics and fall back on my personal experience and how my recent interactions with her improved my understanding of love addiction – and my own addiction.

Before I elaborate, I will say this – according to LiveScience, love “…floods the brain with chemicals and hormones that produce feelings of pleasure, obsession, and attachment.” Love addiction is technically a behavioral addiction, whereas substance addictions affect specific brain transmitters and receptors; however, some evidence does suggest that the attractiveness of someone else affects precisely the same reward center of the brain as opium.

Still, the result is the same – all addictions develop due to chemicals that result in pleasurable feelings, attachment, and the need for more good feelings. That said, I’m going to share a revelation that may seem obvious – but for me, I had never quite put the pieces together. Maybe I was too close to the situation, or maybe I was too busy in my own head to notice what was going on in hers.

As my friend and I were talking the other night, she said something to the effect of “How come the person I loved most in my life also hurt me the most?” I was struck my this immediately because I’ve been known to say similar about my own addiction – that alcohol was both the cause of and solution to all my troubles.

You see, she’s been involved in a relationship for about 23 years. They were together for several years before they got married. In the last few years, especially, it fell apart. He’s lied to her many times and cheated on her as well. He’s abused her emotionally, and whenever she tried to exert her independence, he pulled her back in. And even now as it finally ends, she still believed she couldn’t live without him.

But there were good times, she said. Well, of course, there were. That’s what most addicts say.

I couldn’t understand for the longest time her attachment to this man, after everything he had put her through. But then I suddenly realized how similar our situations were. I’m an alcoholic. That is, despite all the bad times with alcohol, there were good times, as well. It is those times that keep us coming back for more.

love addiction | Just Believe Recovery PAAt some point in my adult life, my brain latched onto alcohol as a panacea. My friend’s brain did the same with her ex. Early on in the relationship, he said and did the right things. In her mind, according to her own brain chemistry and personality, that feeling became set in stone.

So much so, that time after time when he failed her, she kept going back trying to find that original feeling – as if it were something evasive, yet still obtainable.

And this is exactly what happens to drug addicts and alcoholics. We are trying to get back to the first time that our substance of choice made us feel so great. But our brains adjust, and ultimately, when we become addicts, we are all hooked in the same way.

We stubbornly and illogically think that we can regain that feeling and also the control we once had. But neither is really possible. I also wonder if emotional neediness can be somehow compared to drug tolerance – that is, perhaps a person in love grows to need more attention, just as an addict needs more of the drug to achieve the same effect.

I told her she was chasing the dragon. We all are, when we become addicted to something – whether it’s drugs, food, exercise, gambling, love, sex, whatever. And we’ll never catch that damn dragon. He’s long gone – if he was really there in the first place.

love addiction | Just Believe Recovery PA
My best friend and I, my wedding day, 2010.

I told her that this man was her alcohol He is her heroin, her fix. And she has no access to the alcohol anymore, so she has no choice but to get over it – to recover. Just like alcoholics and addicts recover after years of substance abuse. Is there a rehab for love addiction?

And just like love addicts, substance abusers fit Palmer’s profile. Our will is not our own. Our heart sweats, and body shakes. Another kiss (or fix) is what it takes. Love addiction or alcohol addiction – the mechanics are a bit different, but the result is very much the same.

I write about substance abuse and dependency – that’s my specialty, and how I make my living. My best friend and I have known each other for about 30 years. And still, at that moment, I realized that we had so much more in common than I ever thought. This man hijacked her life, not much different than how alcohol hijacked mine.

The best kind of friendship is when you can learn from each other about yourselves. I think I finally understand what it feels like to be in her head – and as a result, my empathy has grown immensely.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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