Addiction in Society

Addiction—the thematic malady for our society—entails every type of psychological and societal problem

Lovers Who Kill Themselves

Love can't cure all, and seeking salvation in love may have dire consequences

Unlucky in love?
In August of 2011, Rush Limbaugh spent a good half hour of his radio show lambasting me—including my view that love can be addictive.  Certainly, he didn't accept the idea that love has the worst withdrawal symptoms.  (Of course, he was motivated to do so by my position that the Tea Party expresses magical thinking and addictive urges, which I presented on MSNBC's Martin Bashir Show.)

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But it was interesting that Rush's main point of departure was my love addiction concept.  I am more likely to be attacked for my view that addiction isn't a disease.  One might wonder about Rush's own romantic history in this regard—he was married for the fourth time last year.

But, in any case, were I to talk to Rush, I'd point out that, when queried about why they stay with abusive spouses, women overwhelmingly claim to "love" the man. I'd say that intimate relationships are the predominant "causes" of violence and abuse, murder, and suicide, for both teens and adults.

I would describe how the dynamics of addiction apply in such relationships. A person is locked into a relationship with a person out of a feeling of need—of desperation at the prospect of leaving a partner—even though their connection leads, periodically or predictably, to violence and pain.  As with substance addictions, the reassuring predictability of the thing guarantees its continuation even as it results in negative, sometimes life-threatening, outcomes.

There are several kinds of addictive love. On the one hand is the aforementioned "put-up-with-pain-because-I'm-in-love" variety, which can lead to injury and, more than any other type of addiction, death. On the other hand there is the "clutch-onto-each-other-like-we're-sinking" variety. And although the latter often appears more fuzzy and appealing, its result can be equally fatal.

As an illustration of that process, I would use the case of Romeo and Juliet.  Do remember that Romeo and Juliet were two youngsters, each of whom committed suicide? They weren't murdered or executed by hostile external forces. Shakespeare is not inclined to have people kill themselves without reflecting on the characteristics leading to this denouement.

At the end of the day, I reflected on Rush's bashing me to millions of people at my favorite place on earth: Rockaway Beach, New York.

And my mind wandered to the suicide-drowning there some years earlier of Jeremy Blake, a rising star in the art world, after he found his beautiful and talented partner, Theresa Duncan, dead in their apartment from an intentional drug overdose (she left a suicide note). According to the LA Times, "The couple [was] extremely devoted and still very much in love after 12 years."

Don't get me wrong. I have no quick "love is addictive" answer to explain this joint suicide, which involved many layers (including Duncan's career tailspin and encroaching mental illness). But it certainly had a "Love and Addiction" aura about it. According to the LAT: "In the days since their deaths, a clearer picture has emerged of a couple bound very tightly but suspicious of outsiders and increasingly losing touch with reality."  As I and Archie Brodsky said in "Love and Addiction":

As with heroin and its irrecoverable euphoria, or cigarettes smoked in routine excess, something initially sought for pleasure is held more tightly after it ceases to provide enjoyment. Now it is being maintained for negative rather than positive reasons. The love partner must be there in order to satisfy a deep, aching need, or else the addict begins to feel withdrawal pain. His emotional security is so dependent on this other individual around whom he has organized his life, that to be deprived of the lover would be an utter shock to the system of his existence.  For as with heroin and other addictions, it is traumatic for addict lovers to re-enter the broader world with which they have lost touch.

But Rush, for someone who has been divorced three times, seems (might one say willfully?) prepared to ignore that love does not always end well, can be compulsive, and can have very bad outcomes—from tears, to violence, to death.

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P.S. (January 23):

Alice Carleton commented:

Is there ANYthing that is NOT...an addiction?

Please!

So much psychobabble abounds

I responded:

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

I say only compulsive involvements that severely disable people but that they nonetheless can't terminate, whether those occur with people, drugs, activities.

On the advent of DSM-V declaring gambling addictive (did you know that, Alice -- in any case, what do you think of this step by DSM?), I commented for Psychology Today (the magazine):

The problem with the DSM-5 approach is in viewing the nature of addiction as a characteristic of specific substances (now with the addition of a single activity). But think about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People are not diagnosed based on the specific habit they repeat-be it hand-washing or checking locked doors. They are diagnosed with OCD because of how life-disruptive and compulsive the habit is. Similarly, addictive disorders are about how badly a habit harms a person's life. Whether people use OxyContin or alcohol, people aren't addicted unless they experience a range of disruptive problems-no matter how addictive the same drug may be for others.

What do you think, Alice?

 

Stanton Peele, PhD, JD, is the author of Recover! He has been a pioneer in the addiction field since publication of Love and Addiction in 1975.

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