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Sometimes, things are first noticed by their absence.  "What happened to the sofa in the living room?"  "It seems awfully quiet in here all of a sudden."  "Didn't the sky used to be blue?" So it is with love addiction.  The first clue that we're addicted to something is generally when we start jonesing for it.  Or him.  It's like the old joke about the little kid who didn't talk for five years, and then all of a sudden complains about his lumpy mashed potatoes.  "Everything was fine up 'til now."   

Withdrawal in love addiction is like withdrawal from any other mind-altering drug: miserable, painful, intense.  Pretty much the only difference between this and withdrawal from heroin is the soundtrack.  Most junkies don’t play Leonard Cohen songs over and over again as they shudder and shake. The weeping and the vomiting are about the same.

It amazes people how physical withdrawal can be.  Who would have thought that simply not picking up the phone would lead to sleeplessness, nausea and headaches?  He cancels a movie date, I get a rash.  WTF?  But brain chemistry is brain chemistry, and whether it’s the dopamine rush from a winning blackjack hand or the touch of His hand, the phenomenon of craving and the symptoms of withdrawal persist.

There’s your mild withdrawal after, say, a couple of dates.  That ache you feel when you don't get the phone call you expected.  You begin to long for the sound of that voice. The relief you feel when you do hear it is what any reasonable drug addict would call a fix. Take that fix away for too long, and someone’s going to be lying on the floor, clutching their stomach, staring at the phone and/or howling at the moon.

Get in too deep, or go too long without the object of your desire, and what I call Affection Deficit Disorder kicks in bigtime. You have no appetite. You cry without warning, quite randomly, and frequently in public. You can’t sleep… or you can’t do anything but sleep.  I did get in terrific shape during one withdrawal, because I couldn’t eat and hitting the heavy bag was the only thing keeping me semi-sane.  But then there was this other time when I couldn’t get out of bed and Ding-Dongs were the only thing keeping me semi-sane….

Another hallmark of withdrawal is becoming unstuck from the present tense.  You’re constantly replaying tapes of What Went Wrong, rewriting and revising every conversation you and your beloved ever had in your head or with your friends.  If only you had said this… and then he would have said that… and then you would have said this…. This is incredibly boring to said friends, but no one in withdrawal notices stuff like that.  It’s part narcissism and part pure pain. If I fell down the stairs and was clutching my broken leg in agony, I doubt I would consider whether my whimpering was annoying you.

Another sign and symptom of love addiction withdrawal  –- as opposed to garden variety heartbreak — is what you might call an increased sensitivity to the drug. Once upon a time, it took me six hard months to process the death of an eight-year marriage. By the end of my run, it took me six miserable months to get over the loss of a Muppet with dimples I had been casually dating for maybe five weeks.

Then there’s the classic junkie need to "chip," to have "just a taste."  The love addict version if this is listening to old voicemails, looking at pictures, fingering love tokens.  Does it give you a little lift? Get you just a little high? Does it remind you at all of picking butts out of the ashtray after quitting smoking?

I have no doubt that sex and love are as addictive as nicotine, heroin, or anything else you can name.  Considering how deeply survival-oriented sex and love are, it should be harder to convince people that alcohol can be as addictive as that!

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October: Award-winning author, journalist, and screenwriter Ethlie Ann Vare has survived four marriages, drug addiction, jail, and network television. The wit behind the hot humor blog Affection Deficit Disorder, Ethlie started out as a rock-n-roll disc jockey, then became known as an expert on pop culture and a syndicated newspaper columnist. Her latest book is LOVE ADDICT: SEX ROMANCE AND OTHER DANGEROUS DRUGS (HCI Press 2011).

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