Addiction & Recovery Perspectives: Love is a Drug

Note: Addiction is no longer an official diagnostic term, but describes a pattern of behavior most of us can recognize.

There may be as many ways to describe addiction as there are people who experience it. Even though it has been called a disease, it is an acquired condition like most chronic health problems. It also does not FEEL like a disease to those affected.

Addiction always begins with a relationship between a person and drug or activity – alcohol, tobacco, opioids, amphetamines, tranquilizers, gambling, sex and even certain foods. Most of the time, it is one specific drug or activity that we find most attractive. We like it. We want it. And eventually we need it to function “normally.”

Many people have described their addiction as a “love affair” (Read “Drinking: A Love Story” by Caroline Knapp.) This is a way to think about addiction that may make it easier to understand why we will sometimes sacrifice our families, friends, jobs, reputations, and peace of mind to pursue an unhealthy relationship with a substance of our choosing.

Romantic love is the stuff of legends, art, and literature. From outside, it can look like a form of madness. We suddenly discover one person who satisfies a deep need we might not even have known we had. Our life suddenly has meaning and purpose beyond anything else we have known. The rest of our daily life seems shallow by comparison, and we will do almost anything to pursue the subject or object of our love. We are “in heaven” or “over the moon.” When our love is not there, we feel sadness, pain, loss or longing.

As most of us have learned, that intense state of love doesn’t last. Eventually, reality starts to creep in, problems surface or resurface and we discover that this person cannot meet all of our needs. In pursuit of our love we may have already sacrificed a great deal and are very unwilling to let it go. We rationalize, make excuses and go to great lengths to rekindle the flame.

We want the romance back at any cost. If the one person we fell for is not “the one” we may try someone else, or several more. Romantic love is a drug, and we are addicted. A love relationship becomes a love/hate relationship.

Every psychotherapist knows better than to try to convince anyone in this stage of love that their love is not real, or healthy, or headed for disaster. It just doesn’t work. Rational thinking and romantic love are truly incompatible.

When the breakup happens, no matter how that occurs, we are devastated. We feel like we have lost everything and that life may not be worth living. Our cup, which once overflowed, is empty. We have to rebuild ourselves from scratch, start over and find our meaning and purpose in loving relationships based on honesty, trust, and mutual respect. It can be a long road back.

Sometimes after it’s over, we give up on love completely to avoid the pain of loss or rejection. If we do, we may never discover the deeper kind of love, love that lasts, love to satisfy the universal need that we share with all humans: the need to love and be loved.

We can live a happy and good life without drugs, but not without love.

Gary Olson
Executive Director

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