When you first fall in love your whole being is affected. Emotions run high. Your body responds. Your mind becomes preoccupied with thoughts of the other person. In many ways the first flushes of romance mirror some of the symptoms of addiction. Is it therefore possible to become addicted to love or romance?
Are Love and Addiction Similar?
Certainly the term lovesick suggests that romance can trigger significant physiological changes, but is that the same as being addicted to another person? And what of those who engage in serial sexual encounters because of the thrill of novelty and pleasure – are they sex addicts? It is an oft-discussed topic among experts.
The question really goes to the heart of whether a profound experience such as romantic love can be brought to a superficial level of utilitarianism. Can love be used like food or television for its temporary pleasure alone? Can something that is a positive and meaningful human experience be misused?
The ancient philosopher Aristotle is credited with first presenting the notion of human flourishing. According to Aristotle, humans need profound (call them intrinsic) experiences in order to flourish, and that man cannot flourish when his life is filled with only hedonistic pursuits.
People must realize their inner potential in order to be truly healthy and well, he suggests. Fleeting delights do not satisfy a person’s need to operate on a deeper level. Modern science and psychology agree. Several studies have explored this idea of human flourishing and its impact on physical and mental wellness. The overriding conclusion reached by investigators is that profound experiences such as love protect humans against illness and stress while boosting immunity, sleep and recovery from disease.
Profound Experience Versus Superficial Activity
There are a few important differences between an intrinsic or profound experience of love and mere sexual encounters. In both cases the person may become preoccupied with the object and that is similar to drug addiction, where the individual obsesses over a substance. However, profound love opens new doors of giving, sharing and receiving. With sincere love the relationship is a growing and deepening learning experience. By contrast, when romance or sex becomes a superficial activity it is primarily about receiving, and it becomes a highly repetitive experience that cannot satisfy a person’s need to explore and grow.
So, the answer seems to be “yes.” Love and sex can become addictions when they are engaged in on a superficial level with a high degree of repetitiveness – when the focus is on receiving transient pleasure rather than development and growth. People flourish when they engage in deeply meaningful experiences like loving another person. People are harmed when they use these things superficially without gaining from the depth of experience.