Can I Be Addicted to Relationships?

Do you have a difficult time being alone, without a relationship? Do you stay in a relationship even when you are miserable? Or are you the kind of person who moves from relationship to relationship quickly to feel that “high” of falling in love? Although romantic relationships are part of the human experience, these relationships can have many unhealthy attributes. Can you be addicted to relationships?

More Than Just a Lonely Heart

Human beings naturally crave romantic relationships. The desire to love and be loved is inherent to the human experience. Yet for many people, relationships can be dysfunctional or even toxic. Those with drug or alcohol addictions have a high rate of relationship dysfunction due to the chaos in their lives caused by substance abuse. Then there are those who are codependent, who enable and build their relationship around trying to rescue their partner with addiction. Relationships in which there is emotional or physical abuse are considered toxic, whether you are the abuser or the person being abused.

Why would anyone equate these levels of dysfunction, toxicity or abuse with romantic love? Often, low self-esteem is a significant reason. Another reason is that people who equate unhealthy relationships with romantic love can experience similar reactions within the reward system in their brain when involved in a romantic relationship as they do when using substances. Whether they feel “addicted” to the highs and lows of relationships, or the feeling of falling in love, they are driven by more than just a desire to love and be loved. Their brain is compelling them to seek the emotions and experiences of a relationship.

What Are Process Addictions?

Whether or not you can be addicted to relationships is still a matter of controversy for some people. Many classify relationship addiction as a process addiction, also known as behavioral addiction. These are addictions, such as gambling, shopping, the internet or sex addiction that do not involve partaking of a substance. Rather, process addictions involve compulsory behaviors that create a response that closely resembles the reward process in the brain that someone with a substance addiction experiences. One significant difference is the lack of physical withdrawal symptoms that occur when stopping the use of substances, which is why some are reluctant to give these behaviors the label of addiction.

Conversely, these behaviors are being classified as addictions because even in the absence of physical withdrawal symptoms associated with substances, they are often as difficult to stop as substance abuse is. The chemical reaction in the brain that occurs in a relationship or other behavioral addiction can rewire the reward system to create powerful, often overwhelming cravings to engage in the behavior that are difficult to ignore. Just like a drug or alcohol addiction, the person puts the behavior ahead of their own physical or psychological well-being to the point that the process addiction interferes with their daily life.

How Are Substance Addictions and Relationship Addictions Related?

Drug or alcohol addictions and relationship or other process addictions are often co-occurring. Due to the behaviors associated with substance abuse, dysfunction commonly occurs in the relationships of those with an addiction. Relationships themselves or associated dysfunction can create significant highs and lows that mirror the highs and lows of substances in the mind and body. Considering the fact that the dopamine levels which activate the reward system are similar in relationships as compared to substances, substance addiction and relationship addiction commonly occur together. They may also become a replacement addiction, which is when you exchange one addiction for another.

Why Is Relationship Addiction Dangerous for Me?

The danger of having relationship addiction or another process addiction in addition to a drug or alcohol addiction is that without treating both at the same time, a relationship addiction makes a substance relapse more likely. Abstinence from drugs or alcohol is commonly referred to as sobriety. Alternatively, drug or alcohol addiction recovery encompasses a more complete healing in which you are not activating the reward pathway or engaging in any type of addictive behaviors. Sobriety from substances alone is like living one step away from a physical drug or alcohol relapse.

For some, the relationship itself is the high, making it difficult to be alone and increasing your chances of entering and remaining in a dysfunctional relationship. For others, the increased dopamine levels caused by falling in love, or at least experiencing a new relationship, create the compulsive behaviors that define relationship addiction. Whatever your relationship patterns are that cause you to pursue relationships to the point that they interfere with your daily functioning, these behaviors can also endanger your drug or alcohol sobriety, causing a relapse. For a true recovery, seeking treatment for both relationship and substance addictions simultaneously is necessary.

Healing from addiction is the purpose of DiscoveryMD. Our treatment program allows you the flexibility you need to find the healing you deserve. We offer group and individual counseling to help you maintain your sobriety and build your own recovery. Contact us today to begin your individualized treatment plan and regain control of your life.

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