Adolescence is a time when hormonal levels spike and infatuations can easily develop. However, at times these infatuations can turn into what is termed a “love addiction,” and it doesn’t just happen to adults. Love addiction is being in an unhealthy relationship as a way for a troubled teen to cope with feelings of loneliness, low self-esteem, neglect, abandonment, and a way to fulfill unmet needs from an earlier developmental stage.

This particular adolescent can be vulnerable due to the havoc of a parent’s divorce and the feeling of being invisible at home. Though this is also a time when adolescents are breaking away from their families of origin and developing autonomy, individuality, and social skills, not having the safety and security of a home environment can leave an adolescent feeling lost and susceptible to peer pressure, promiscuity, drug or alcohol addiction, co-dependency, and a harmful addiction to a relationship.

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The relationship can serve as a way to numb out and to help cope with all of the adolescent’s unresolved issues. It is an attempt to find something on the outside to fix the unbearable emotional pain and discomfort of growing up in an unhealthy family or feeling ostracized from their peers. By grabbing onto a very intense relationship they begin to feel whole and fulfilled, and it is unbearable to imagine life without this other person. It is as if this other person represents the fix and euphoria drugs bring to the addict. It has also been shown that there are chemical changes in the brain of a love addict. These fused relationships are a way to satisfy a thirst for security and a sense of belonging and losing this love object is seen as excruciating.

Unlike a healthy relationship where there are boundaries, trust, and a feeling of security and safety, the love addict’s relationship is filled with obsession, jealousy, possessiveness, intense anxiety, and a feeling of always wanting more and never having enough of their love object’s attention. The adrenaline rush of these relationships causes intense withdrawal symptoms when the relationship ends just like the dope fiend who needs his drugs. They are in continuous search for that next high, replacing healthy intimacy with an unhealthy need for another relationship to make them feel whole.

This leaves a love addict vulnerable to staying in relationships at any costs even if it is abusive and can jeopardize their safety and security. If an adolescent falls prey to these types of harmful relationships, this can lead to a pattern of needy and clingy attachments in their adult relationships. In addition, they may not only continue to be love addicts, but may use other anesthetizing behaviors such as drug and alcohol addictions, eating disorders, self-mutilation, and/or other risky sexual behavior to avoid the discomfort they feel in their own skin.

It is imperative parents communicate with their teens about these issues, as well as values and beliefs related to sexuality, healthy/unhealthy relationships, boundaries, be good role models, and seek professional help if necessary. Parents need to be aware of the warning signs of an adolescent suffering from a love addiction and place close attention to their behaviors and if anything seems to be out of the ordinary, not to go into denial, but to face the problem head on.

Does your child show signs of love addiction? How can you help them feel secure? Do they need a psychiatrist? What support might you need? Be sure to share your thoughts and questions using the comment section below so we can all learn from and help each other…

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