Hooked on a feeling

How love addiction affects teenaged relationships

Scout Molder, Co print editor-in-chief

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*Names have been changed due to source requests for anonymity

When they first got together, they were happier than they had ever been before. They said they were in love. As time wore on, though, their attachment to each other—to that feeling they had in the beginning— started to feel less like love and more like an obsession.

This phenomenon is known to psychologists as love addiction, and it’s something that many people experience without even realizing.

Love Addiction defined

According to psychologist William Berry in an article for Psychology Today, love addiction can be loosely divided into two types of situations.

The first is when a person becomes addicted to the positive feelings that a relationship, especially the beginning “honeymoon” phase, gives them.

The second is when a person becomes addicted to an individual, which is also known as codependency, or unhealthy attachment to another person.

“Many who have these types of addiction may never notice it,” Berry wrote. “Their codependency or their short-lived relationships are accepted as normal…many people who suffer from love addiction are completely unaware, and actually believe what they experience is normal and healthy.”

Neuroscientist Berit Brogaard also wrote in an article for Psychology Today that this experience is particularly common in teenagers.

In her book “On Romantic Love,” Berit explains that the chemical and neurological processes associated with falling in love are similar to that of using cocaine.

Since teenagers are more prone to addiction in general due to a lack of cognitive control, Berit asserts that they can also be more prone to love addiction.

“You grow so much from the time you leave high school and your frontal lobe gets fully developed, because it’s not developed all the way until you’re in your 20s, and your frontal lobe is where you make your decisions from,” counselor Marge Eckard said. “So your decisions may not always be rational, due to your brain not being fully developed.”

Essentially, according to Berit, this means that it is easier for a teen’s developing brain to become addicted to the fluctuations of dopamine associated with love, which can lead to the dependency described by Berry.

High School Relationships

Eckard said that she has seen this pattern of obsessive behavior related to relationships in high school students.

“I think there are some people that feel like they have to have a boyfriend, or they have to have a girlfriend, for their self- worth,” she said. “Like, they kind of can’t function or don’t do well if they don’t have somebody. So like, if a girl is going out with a guy, and then they break up, two days later, they have to find somebody else.”

One senior girl, Charlotte Hall*, who said she had experienced love addiction, said she felt that this “need” for a relationship was a result of a need for attention.

“I think relationship addiction is totally a real thing,” she said. “Being addicted to the attention you get from the relationship and the feeling that you’re wanted is probably the main two I think high schoolers experience.”

Another senior girl, Mia Wilson*, who also said she felt she has been in relationships where love addiction was present, agreed that love addiction is real.

“I think it’s really easy for people to become addicted to the feeling that they get from being in a relationship, because eventually that person becomes your everything,” she said. “Whenever you want to be happy, you’ll go to that person. I think that soon a relationship and love just becomes something that you need on a daily basis, and without it people kind of dip into bad places.”

In her own past relationships, Wilson said she felt maturity had played a role in this phenomena.

“I think that especially in high school, it kind of becomes like you have to date somebody, and you have to be all over the person,” she said. “And so, like, maturity-wise, neither of us could really handle the relationship in a good way. And we both kind of lashed out like kids and reacted to certain situations like kids because we’re still so young. So maturity-wise, we weren’t ready to take on the relationship that we were attempting to.”

The Reality

In a relationship where love addiction is present, one or both people can be addicted to the feeling of “love” they get from the relationship or the other person. Wilson said that she felt that in her relationships, the other person was the one who was obsessed.

“One [of my past partners] kind of became obsessed with being a part of all of the aspects of my life,” she said. “So soon, nothing I could do was really private or just to me. It became that who I talked to, what I did, where I was was almost monitored. Another time it became more of, like, a possession. So when I went somewhere, the person was with me. When I wanted to go do something they wanted to come along. And it became in both situations that I wasn’t my own person. I was almost an object that they owned or had control of.”

Hall said that she also felt that the love addiction in her relationship came in the form of possessive behavior.

“I think I realized I was in a controlling relationship when I noticed all of the double standards,” she said. “If I had guy friends it wasn’t OK, but if my partner did it wasn’t a problem and any time I brought it up they would act like I was crazy.”

For Wilson’s relationships, the level of obsession her partners had escalated beyond just being controlling.

“Both of them had threatened to kill themselves if I were to leave them,” she said. “Both of them had threatened that they wouldn’t let me go, so I definitely felt like if I were to break off with either of them they could (a) try to come in and like ruin me or come for me, or (b) they would harm themselves in some sort of way.”

It’s also important to acknowledge that boys can be victims of love addiction as well. One senior boy, Ford Johnson*, said that he had an experience with an ex-girlfriend that was very similar to those of Wilson and Hall.

“I think she really tried to pull me into things that I didn’t want to do, and she really made me feel like I was the one that was wrong,” he said. “When we broke up, she kept on saying, ‘What’s wrong with you,’ like, over and over. Every single night she would be texting me, like five times in a row, and it’s just the things she said to me kind of made it feel like it’s kind of addiction.”

Eckard said that controlling behaviors related to love addiction probably stem from the individual’s issues with self- confidence.

“They have control issues, and I also think maybe they have self-esteem issues, like their self-esteem is defined by whether or not they have a significant other,” she said.

breaking a love addiction

According to Brogaard, since love addiction shares so many similarities with cocaine addiction, it can be just as difficult to break (or break off). Eckard recommended essentially going “cold turkey” to solve this problem.

“I think you need to cut off ties, because that’s the best thing for you, because there’s not really a gentle, slow way of letting somebody know,” Eckard said. “They’re going to keep hanging on and it gives a double message.”

Hall said the tipping point for her in the relationship came when she no longer felt respected.

“I realized it was unhealthy, because I was so sad and disappointed all the time and felt like I wasn’t being listened to,” she said. “I got out of it when my partner started pushing boundaries and changing the title of our relationship just so it would then be acceptable to do certain things with other people.”

Both Wilson and Smith said rebuilding self-confidence and establishing a support network were crucial for them in regaining their independence.

“It came to a point where I didn’t really have anybody else but my significant other, so I kind of had to build myself a structure of support, such as my mom,” Wilson said. “I became really, really close to her as well as to my friends.”

“It was tough, but I really reached out to people which I never really did before,” Smith said. “I kind of boosted myself to be confident that I am first and my happiness matters a lot.”

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