While there are many misconceptions surrounding love addiction, it can be a serious condition with harmful emotional and physical effects. Here, 28-year-old Hannah*, an account manager and aspiring TV presenter from Sunderland, tells Cosmopolitan UK how her addiction to love left her having anxiety attacks and needing psychotherapy.
My friends would describe me as the most independent person in the world. I’ve moved away from home, got a really good job and I take care of my appearance. I’m always outgoing and never shy in social and professional situations. Basically, I’m the complete opposite of what love addiction does to a person.
When I’m single, my life’s in check. I date guys and everything’s great. Even if someone I'm dating's really good looking, I always start off disinterested. The guy then falls for that girl, the cool, together, outgoing one. But the minute I start to fall for them - which usually happens around the two or three month mark - I literally just lose it.
Something takes over me and I completely lose sight of myself. I won't care about going out with my friends. It'll all be about spending time with my boyfriend. It used to embarrass me to admit this, but I'm basically a bunny boiler girlfriend... to the point where I almost suffocate the poor guy.
Why do I get like this, when my life is usually so together and sorted? It's because I get so physically addicted to the feeling I have when I’m with them, that nothing else compares. That feeling, the love, is similar to when you do a line of cocaine and it releases endorphins. It's not the actual person I get addicted to, it's the feeling I have when I'm with them.
Pretty much every long-term relationship I’ve been in has gone like this. I was with my first boyfriend for three years, from when I was 15. It was quite a young relationship so I don't remember it ever being that intense with him. The first time my love addiction really hit full swing was when I met my second boyfriend aged 19. Since then, it's just been the same pattern over and over again.
But it wasn't until I met Matt* on Match.com in 2014 that my addiction reached a whole new level. I was 25 and Matt had just come out of a serious relationship. He'd been engaged to her and they'd lived together for five years before she left him alone in their big, beautiful house.
At first things were great, but about three months in, it all started again. I’d obviously been to his place where they used to live together, but suddenly even the simplest thing could set me off, like finding one of her highlighter kits in a drawer. It would trigger this rage inside of me. 'Why haven't you got rid of this yet?' I'd scream at him. 'We're together now.' It felt like I was living in her shadow. At the forefront of my mind, I worried he was going to abandon me. 'He wants to be with her. He's only not with her because she ended it. I'm a rebound,' I told myself.
Of course he'd say that he was over her and he loved me. He may as well have been talking to a brick wall. Everyone around me thought I was mad and told me Matt had upgraded. All I could see was that he was going to leave me. I was afraid I wouldn't get that hit of love anymore.
Then, my jealousy and rage turned to panic attacks. It's really embarrassing because this isn't the type of behaviour I'd warrant in my everyday life, but whenever he went out for beers with the boys I'd be physically ill. I couldn't eat. I'd be sat next to my phone, staring at it, waiting for him to text me back and having an actual panic attack. Anxiety would just surge through me. If I saw he'd read my message and not replied, I convinced myself he was with another woman. Something would totally take over my mind.
I'd call him crying and all he could do to stop it was come home. I could see how angry it was making him. He'd say, 'you've ruined my night' and be really upset. But as soon as he cuddled me, told me he loved me, and reassured me, I came back down to Earth. That constant reassurance was the hit I needed. Only then, after I'd calmed down, would I realise how irrational I'd been.
We ended up living together for a few months but only because we had to - my new place had fallen through and I was homeless. Being around him every day did ease my worries, but he didn't like it. 'This is exactly what you want,' he'd say, 'to know what I'm doing all the time.'
In the morning, he'd put his suit on to go to work and I'd feel absolutely shattered. It killed me that he was leaving and I wouldn't see him all day. It was gut-wrenching and I felt physically sick. It was messed up. I know it's normal to miss someone, but imagine that feeling being turned up to 1,000.
And, obviously, the more I pushed him like this, the more he pulled away. It was like he was a puppy. And I kept chasing, and the puppy kept running away from me. It got worse and worse, until I was trying to pull him back to me so much that he just couldn't deal with it anymore.
Matt wasn't the only one. Even my friends didn’t know me anymore and I lost friendships because I put people through hell. One weekend when Matt said he needed space, I went to stay with my best friend. I was howling and screaming into cushions. She couldn't take all the crying. I think she also felt I was using her when Matt didn't want to be with me. And to be honest, I was. He was my priority and nothing else mattered.
Even though I’d tried to have conversations with friends about what I was going through, it’s a bit embarrassing to say I had a panic attack because my boyfriend went out for a beer. And honestly, I'd be judgemental if I didn’t know what love addiction was. I’d be like, ‘Oh get a grip!’.
My work suffered too because I couldn’t concentrate. I missed business meetings because I’d be sat in the car waiting for a phone call or text from him. I couldn’t face speaking to people until I got a message saying ‘I love you’ or ‘I miss you’. Only then would the anxiety and panic all go away and I’d feel normal again.
Although I knew my behaviour patterns weren’t normal, I didn't really know why. It was almost like I was subconsciously attracted to the idea that I knew I was going to get hurt. Like I got a thrill of it all ending in tears. My mum and friends would say it was 'daddy issues’ because my father wasn’t really there when I was younger, and it had made me feel rejected.
Desperate, I Googled ‘fear of abandonment’ and ‘co-dependency’ and I came across the website of psychotherapist called Helen Mia Harris. All the symptoms of love addiction she'd listed in her YouTube video made me say, 'Oh my god, that’s me’. When it said people with a love addiction experience ‘a feeling of awkwardness in their partner's presence’ I realised that was exactly how I felt. It was because I knew he was causing me all that pain. By this point, I almost hated him for the feelings he triggered in me. I was addicted to his love, but ultimately, I loathed him.
In 2015, I booked in for psychotherapy with Helen to address my love addiction. I'd speak to her about what had been going on that week and what symptoms I was experiencing. She talked me through why I felt the way I did, linking those feelings to my childhood which gave me explanations for why this was happening. Opening up about my behaviour wasn't even difficult. It was a relief to tell someone what was going on without them judging me. I'd go to Helen once a week feeling like a broken woman, and I'd leave feeling like I had my shit together again.
Through guided meditation I learned how to relax my anxiety and gained coping strategies and techniques. Although by the time I went to see her the damage was done in the relationship, the therapy helped me massive amounts.
Matt and I finally broke up about three months into my treatment. Although it was awful, it was 50 per cent absolutely agonising and also per cent, ‘I’m going to come out of this and never put myself through it again’. I knew it was what I had to do to stop the pain.
And it did. Psychotherapy taught me that what I have isn’t strange, that I shouldn’t berate myself constantly for being like this. 15 years ago telling someone I had this would make them think I was ‘crazy’. Love addiction isn’t really discussed or seen as a mental illness, but I think over time it will be. From speaking to women on online forums I know loads of people are going through the same thing - they’re just scared to say it. They’re embarrassed because of what it turns you into and I get that. No one wants to admit they’ve lost their shit over a guy.
Now, I’m probably the most focused I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve been dating a guy recently and when he wouldn’t text me back straight away, although I started feeling panicky again, it was on a very low-key level. It's probably just how normal people feel when someone they like doesn’t text them back. We’re taking things really slow because I’ve got loads of personal goals I want to achieve over the next few months. I don’t want to get distracted, I cant take the risk of this happening all over again."
*Names have been changed