TRUE STORY: Love addiction is real, and it's not about sweaty palms and bouts of anxiety when the object of your affection is not around. Picture: Pixabay

From 12-step programmes to rehab treatments, could love addiction be the ‘disease’ of forlorn lovers? Marchelle Abrahams finds out more.

Robert Palmer’s song Addicted To Love was a smash hit in the 1980s. We didn’t know much about love addiction then, but the lyrics rang true for many.
And then something strange happened. Celebrities started popping up all over the place, coming clean on their “love addictions.” US actress and reality star Amber Smith made her startling revelation on Celebrity Rehab With Dr Drew in 2012 and even went on to write a book about her experience.

And just to prove that an addiction of any kind doesn’t discriminate, Canadian pop singer Alanis Morissette shocked her fans in 2013 when she openly admitted to being a love addict, in a candid blog post.

The world started taking note, asking: Is this thing even real?

Yes, love addiction is real, and it’s not confined to sweaty palms and bouts of anxiety when the object of your affection is not around. “A huge part of love addiction is being attached (obsessed, rather) with someone who is emotionally unavailable,” Smith noted during an interview when asked to define the term.

But it’s not all fun and games - according to the stats, about 10 percent of love addicts contemplate suicide, while many crimes of passion stem from obsessed love addicts.

Love on the brain

Love addiction works in one of two ways, points out relationship coach Kas Naidoo: The person is addicted to the feeling of falling in love. This person has multiple relationships which they leave as soon as the initial butterfly feelings start to fade.

They often blame the other person and say: “You are not the person I fell in love with.”

“In this scenario, the one addicted only sees what they choose to see in the other when they first meet and this causes them to fall in love, believing that this time they have found ‘The One’,” says Naidoo.

The second type is the person who becomes addicted to one particular person and no matter how the other person feels or treats them, they believe that they cannot exist without that person.

The cure and the cause

Like any other addiction, if left unchecked it can get worse and that is why proper treatment is imperative. Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) even have their own 12 Step programme based on the AA model for recovery.

SLAA South Africa says the only requirement for membership is “a desire to stop living out a pattern of sex and love addiction.”

By giving and receiving support from others, they believe addicts not only have a better chance of staying sober, but also begin to learn how to engage with people in a non-addictive way.

Simon Turner, founder of Cape Recovery, can identify with fellow addicts.

Clean and sober for four years - after a 20-year addiction to alcohol and drugs - his organisation refers addicts from across the globe to rehab and treatment programmes in the Western Cape.

He explains that when it comes to love and sex addiction, both are treated in similar ways - but the two should never be confused.

“A love addict is not so much focussed on the sex. In fact, they can often take it or leave it. What is important to them is the affirmation and companionship that being in love and in a relationship gives them,” he adds.

“Sex addicts tend to separate feelings for the person from sex, so it often doesn’t matter that no love exists as long as the sex is on tap.”

However, having said that, Turner reiterates that there is no hard or fast rule and the lines can be blurred between the two, with many people being diagnosed as love and sex addicts.

Treatment comes down to identifying the problem and dealing with the underlying issues.

“We treat each person as an individual and, as such, I believe every single addict’s recovery journey is different so must be treated as such.”

A bitter pill to swallow

University of Oxford researchers may even be on to something by suggesting conventional views of the addiction are one-minded and should be supported by medical interventions. According to them, love is addictive, literally, and could be curable.

The team says that enough evidence from brain-based studies suggest that to love intensely is to essentially be addicted to another person and that people suffering the attachment ought to be offered the same support and treatment as drug abusers.

Their prediction? Targeted pills or “anti-love biotechnology”, which could be readily available in the future for those in need of a “chemical break-up”.

In extreme cases, it sounds like a dream-like solution. Struggling to get over an ex? Swallow a pill

Naidoo, however, has a simple solution: it all comes down to loving yourself.

“When you feel self-love; you don’t seek out someone to ‘complete’ you.

“You realise that you are whole and complete and seek someone, who is also whole and complete, to share a healthy, happy, loving relationship with,” she concludes.

How to get help

* SLAA offers support groups and meetings across the country: http://slaasa.co.za/

* Cape Recovery has treatment and addiction centres across the Western Cape: http://caperecovery.co.za/

* Clean Start is a Joburg-based psychology centre that offers outpatient recovery programmes: http://www.cleanstart.co.za/

* We Do Recover has a series of addiction programmes across SA, including Durban: http://wedorecover.com/