6 Signs That You Might Be Hooked on Love

New research offers a 6-item scale.

Posted Jun 01, 2019

Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock
Source: Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock

Feeling love, and falling in love, are almost universally desired features of human existence. However, for some people, love becomes an end in itself. Perhaps you have a close friend who seems to fall head over heels with new person after new person. You could almost set your calendar by this friend’s cycles of first meetings that inevitably lead to wild passion which, again inevitably, leads to a miserable breakup. Bouncing back almost immediately, your friend starts the process all over again with the next new person, only to become just as passionately obsessed, and then, after a few weeks or months, having it all come to a halt. As you watch your friend’s cycle of ups and downs with each new love interest, you wonder whether it’s love itself, or the relationship with the partner, that drives this dysfunctional pattern. You get the feeling that your friend enjoys most of all the highs that can come with the early phases of a relationship, only to be brought down again (but not for long) when the reality of maintaining that relationship sets in. As you think about your own relationship history, you realize that there were times when perhaps the feeling of love more than the person you were with became an end in and of itself. 

According to psychologist Sabastiano Costa, of the Università degli Studi della Campania Luigi Vanvitelli (Italy), and colleagues (2019), your friend might be a victim of "love addiction." Defined as love that is characterized by “obsession, compulsive behaviors, anxiety, and negative life consequences,” it can lead to an inability to concentrate on other areas of life and a maladaptive way to cope with stressful situations. Earlier writers in the field liken it to traditionally recognized forms of addiction, sharing “numerous aspects and features of other behavioral or substance addictions” (p. 2). According to previous research, it may affect as many as 3 to 6 percent of the population, with some estimates placing its prevalence as high as 26 percent. Part of the reason for the variation in estimates, Costa et al. note, is that the concept lacks a clear measurement instrument. The purpose of their study was to develop such a scale and then subject it to the kind of rigorous validation that any new measure requires. Across two studies, the Italian team tested an initial scale whose items were based on theory and then refined that scale down to a 6-item version that they believe to be psychometrically sound. This scale, then, would be empirically-based, compared to popular “love addiction” scales available online whose qualities have never been tested.

Thus, Costa and his colleagues began with a theory that drove the specific items with which they started, and then subjected scores on that original scale to an analysis that would allow them to investigate its structure. The theory of addiction that they used as their starting point proposes that all forms of addiction fall along the following six dimensions: salience, tolerance, mood modification, relapse, withdrawal, and conflict. Such dimensions characterize a wide range of addictions, such as substances, television watching, and tanning, among others. For the first round of testing, four questions each tapped each of these dimensions in what they call the “Love Addiction Inventory” (LAI). To test the LAI’s validity against theoretically relevant concepts, the Italian researchers also administered a measure of positive and negative affect. Participants also completed the “Love Addiction Self-Assessment,” available online, which has 25 yes-no questions.

The first set of participants (split into two samples for statistical purposes) included 663 adults ranging from 18 to 43 (mean age of 23 years old), all were Italian, and almost all were female. They reported having at least one romantic partner in a relationship for at least 6 months (with a maximum of 24 years). Most were students, only a few were married, and fewer still had children. These are important points to keep in mind in evaluating the findings, as the LAI would obviously benefit from testing on a wider range of participants.

The 24 items from the original scale became whittled down to six after the statistical analyses that showed these items to be the best representations of their scales. Here, then, is the final six-item scale, along with the dimension of "love addiction" it represents. To see how you would score, rate each statement on a 1 (never) to 5 (very often) scale regarding your current partner:

  1. Feel the urgent need to be with your partner
  2. Feel anxious when you are not in the company of your partner
  3. Feel the need to increase the time spent together with your partner to feel relaxed
  4. Stay with your partner to relieve stress
  5. Not reduce the time spent with your partner
  6. Neglect time studying or working to be in a relationship with your partner

Rather than add your total score, it is more informative to compare your ratings per item to those of the Italian sample. The scales corresponding to each item appear below.

  • Item 1: Salience, the drive to be with your partner. High score = 4 and above.
  • Item 2: Withdrawal, the difficulty you would experience if you have to leave your partner. High score = 2.75 and above.
  • Item 3: Tolerance, needing more and more of your partner as time goes by. High score = 3.6 and above.
  • Item 4: Mood modification, feeling good only when in your partner’s presence. High score = 4 and above.
  • Item 5: Relapse, being unable to see less of your partner without feeling miserable. High score = 3.7 and above.
  • Item 6: Conflict, giving up important other activities due to the need to be with your partner. High score = 2.5 and above.

One who receives high scores on items 2, 3, and 6, in their conception of "love addiction," might be a good candidate. Thus, withdrawal, tolerance, and especially conflict become significant predictors of the extent to which your partner has become an addictive “substance.”

The LAI makes it clear that it is the experience of falling in love, as much as the loved object itself, that fuels the constant cycling through partners. It’s possible that "love addiction" includes an obsession with one particular person, but given the unlikelihood of such relationships lasting, individuals who feel the constant need to be with their partners may continue to find new targets of their desires. Some support for this interpretation comes from the present study, in which survey scores were positively correlated with negative affect.

What remains to be seen in future research is whether "love addiction" relates to deeper indications of people’s needs in relationships as represented by attachment style. The set of characteristics the researchers describe would seem to personify individuals with insecure attachment, always needing to be reassured that their partners really care for them.

To sum up, classifying the pattern described above as an addiction, some researchers suggest, could help establish the reasons why some people are never satisfied in their relationships. To be truly fulfilling, people need to give each other space in their relationships. Learning why some people don’t can provide a first step in helping them achieve their relationship satisfaction in more balanced, and stable, ways.

References

Costa, S., Barberis, N., Griffiths, M. D., Benedetto, L., & Ingrassia, M. (2019). The love addiction inventory: Preliminary findings of the development process and psychometric characteristics. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. doi:10.1007/s11469-019-00097-y