Love Addiction: It's For Real

02/03/2012 09:46 am ET Updated Apr 04, 2012

Perhaps you've found yourself in this position, curled up on the couch in a fetal position, hugging your knees and staring at the phone. Waiting for him to call. Your head aches. You have no appetite, but it doesn't matter because you can't taste anything anyway, except sugar and salt. You relive past conversations in your head, revising and rewording them over and over. "I should have said this, and then he would have said that, and I would have said this..."

You weep at random intervals.

You can't fall asleep. If you do finally fall asleep, you can't stay asleep. In the morning, though, you can't get out of bed. When you finally get up, the first thing you do is check his Facebook page. His status update feels like a knife in the gut, because it has nothing to do with you. So you reread some old e-mails, or maybe listen to old voice mails instead. It's calming, somehow, to hear that voice. You write an e-mail you will probably never send, revising and rewording it over and over.

You weep at random intervals.

The phone rings and you leap for it like it's a pot boiling over on the stove. The anticipation makes your whole body quiver. If it is him, the euphoria feels like pink champagne tickling your nose. Your voice goes up a register. If it isn't him, the disappointment weighs like lead. You go back to the couch and curl up in that fetal position, hugging your knees ...

You weep at random intervals.

If you go out, which happens less and less often, your heart lurches into your throat every time you see a car the same make and model as his car. Or a similar make and model. Or the same color. You imagine he's about to walk out of every doorway, about to turn every corner. You look at every girl on the sidewalk and imagine that he's going out with her. The sight of two lovers kissing makes you nauseous with envy.

You weep at random intervals.

It sounds like depression, but it's not. In fact, it feels closer to a nicotine fit than it does to the blues. These are the symptoms of drug withdrawal -- withdrawal from a powerful drug called love. Physiologically, there is almost no distinction between withdrawal from heroin and withdrawal from the intoxication of infatuation. They differ mainly in the soundtrack -- junkies don't play so much Adele.

Dr. Reef Karim, psychiatrist and addiction specialist, remembers one patient in particular who impressed upon him the physical power of love addiction. "You know how you see Jamie Foxx in 'Ray' or you see 'Requiem for Dream' and you see the guy on a beat-up cot in a darkened room and he's jonesing and sweating and vomiting and shaking, the worst drug withdrawal you could possibly have, with incredible physiological effects?" he asks. "This woman was lying on her bed in the fetal position, shaking, screaming, sweating, pounding her head against a wall, vomiting -- you would think she just shot a whole bunch of heroin and was withdrawing from it then and there. You would not know the difference looking at her. Because that six-foot-two-inch bag of heroin she's attached to was not there."

According to Dr. Karim, who specializes in behavioral addiction at the Control Center in Beverly Hills, "when you do research on behavioral addictions, you find they massage the same neurochemistry as substance addictions. They hijack the limbic system and take over the dopaminergic response. You get euphoric recall, you get withdrawal."

Bottom line: Falling in love affects the brain about the same way snorting cocaine does. Lucky me: I've been addicted to both. How do you know you're addicted to something? Take it away and see what happens.

But -- and it's a big but -- just because love is addictive, doesn't mean you'll become addicted to it. If you're overwhelmed by anxiety waiting for that special someone to invite you to the prom and you're actually in high school and going to a prom, this is perfectly normal. Sucky, but normal. If you're 36 and still waiting for that call, you may have a problem. If getting over a relationship lasts longer than the relationship itself, that's another clue. If it happens again and again, a parade of new yet strangely similar faces, all of them the Love of Your Life of the Week ... you just might qualify.

Love addiction -- and its testosterone-fueled doppelganger, sex addiction -- are admittedly controversial. They are, at the moment, a little too trendy for some tastes. God knows they are more shame-based than your Girl Scout cookie habit. But as far as I'm concerned, love addiction is neither better nor worse than any other process addiction: compulsive gambling, binge eating, uncontrolled shopping -- even cigarette smoking. Love addiction is perfectly willing to afflict anyone with what researchers now believer to be a genetic predisposition for addiction. It doesn't care if you're gay or straight, rich or poor, fat or thin, or even male or female. Men are love addicts, too.

They probably aren't reading this section of the Huffington Post. But that doesn't mean they couldn't use it.