Anyone who tells you that love addiction is just like drug addiction has it wrong. Love addiction isn’t like drug addiction at all. It’s exactly the same thing. Falling in love triggers a cascade of chemicals in the brain identical to the waterfall of chemicals launched by a line of cocaine, a snoot full of champagne, or a winning roll of the dice. Research scientists now have the brain scans to prove it.
And if you’re like me, who never met a feel-good brain chemical she didn’t want more of, that can be tricky. Because the flip side of this flowing fountain of yumminess is that, when the chemical cascade recedes, it feels exactly like withdrawal from heroin or nicotine or sugar. When you are curled up in the fetal position, aching for the phone to ring, just to hear that voice… one… more… time…. You aren’t metaphorically jonesing for him. You are literally jonesing for him.
I like this description by a woman caught in the throes of love addiction:
“The compulsion to call was completely beyond my control. I couldn’t stop myself. I would hold off for short intervals, but always there would come the tide of an overpowering necessity. I was engulfed in it; I felt such a sense of panic that I really believed I would die if I didn’t pick up that phone.”
“A tide of overpowering necessity.” The phrase is striking, lyrical, and accurate. It’s also me cheating. I took that paragraph from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous; it’s actually about the writer’s relationship with booze. I just replaced the word “drink” with “call” and “phone.” Works, though, doesn’t it? If you’ve ever felt a sense of all-consuming urgency to dial that number, drive by that house, read that journal or check that Facebook page, you know what it’s like to be inundated by an oceanic wave, struggling desperately to reach the surface and just please, God, finally breathe again.
Compulsion: a key distinction between addiction and willful misbehavior.
Another way to tell if you have love addiction, as opposed to puppy love (and, seriously, how graceful is it to still have puppy love at thirty-eight?) is that you suffer the twin phenomena of craving and withdrawal. Craving is the need to replay the voice mail just to hear the sound of his voice, and the exhale that comes when you do. Craving is the agitation you feel waiting for him to show up at the door, so anxious that even if he’s on time it feels like he’s late. Craving is what makes you drive by, hang up, check again, ask around, look at pictures of the two of you . . . and then snap at your kid.