Nothing beats that blissful feeling of falling in love. Whether it’s a first date or deepening a long-term romantic bond, relationships are an exciting and normal part of life. However, for some people, relationships can become a harmful addiction. While this might sound strange at first, this condition is characterized by similar traits as other addictions like gambling, sex, drugs, or alcohol.

Relationship addiction isn’t a clinical psychiatric condition, yet it is a real affliction that can result in physical, mental, and behavioral issues. People who struggle with relationship addiction become so consumed by their union with another person that they neglect themselves and other people. At its worst, people with relationship addiction engage in obsessive, destructive behaviors and find it difficult to function normally without another person.

If you or someone you know is struggling with relationship addiction, there is help available. Before going into the treatment methods that are available, this article will provide an outline of what relationship addiction is and what the signs and symptoms are.

What is Relationship Addiction?

Relationship addiction is a chronic pattern of recurrent behavior that is typified by pleasurable feelings, cravings, and obsessive thinking. While it may seem less harmful than a dependence on alcohol or drugs, it is still an addiction, just like any other. Defined as a behavioral or process addiction, this type of dependency is rooted in deeper issues that cause a person to develop chronic and compulsive cravings for a relationship.

Relationship addiction follows a similar pattern to substance addiction. For example, individuals will revolve their entire life and activities around the pursuit or maintenance of a relationship. Another defining trait of this kind of addiction is the quest for the euphoric high that accompanies a relationship or the hunt for it. People with relationship addiction will also tend to be in a chronic cycle of drama and conflict that consists of breaking up and getting back together multiple times.

When is a Relationship Healthy or Unhealthy?

For time immemorial, relationships have been revered, romanticized, and pursued in all shapes and forms. How many times have we watched a film where someone idolizes another person and cannot function without them? While this is often viewed as endearing or inspiring, the truth is that for someone living with a relationship addiction, they are rarely feeling good underneath. The addiction is often a way to mask troubling emotions and create a false sense of self-esteem.

The problem with relationship addiction is that defining healthy love can be tricky. Love is subjective — and, let’s face it — beyond definition in many ways. Love is a felt experience that differs between each person and cannot be applied universally. However, there are ways to determine whether a relationship is healthy or not.

Unhealthy relationships are often obsessive or pathological. The characteristics of a person in this state can mirror other mental health conditions where their preoccupations cause them to take less care of themselves and neglect other areas of their life. It is also usually accompanied by feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse.

How is Relationship Addiction Like Other Addictions?

Unhappy couple sitting on sofa

As mentioned above, relationship addiction bears similarities to other addictions. People who are dependent on falling in love and/or being with another person often chase a high that is not so dissimilar to craving drugs. The very act of pursuing a relationship combined with activities such as touching and hugging also releases hormones and neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. These chemicals create feel-good sensations, which, when combined with sexual attraction, can be highly addicting.

And, like an addiction to alcohol or drugs, a person may deepen this dependency to the point where their entire life is consumed by their relationship. Also, like substance withdrawal, they can experience abandonment fears, anxiety, panic, and depression if the relationship ends (or if they are separated from their partner). This results in a cycle of euphoria, despair, longing, and a deterioration in one’s life, much like other addictions.

Potential Origins of Relationship Addiction

Research into relationship addiction is still ongoing; however, research suggests that it can be due to a combination of environment, upbringing, biochemistry, genetics, and socialization.

Some of the other factors include:

  • Childhood trauma
  • Fear of abandonment and/or a history of it
  • History of neglect
  • Low self-esteem, self-worth, and lack of self-love
  • History of inadequate or inconsistent nurturing
  • Insecure attachment style with parents/guardians growing up
  • Sexual lust that triggers a release of addictive sexual chemicals like oxytocin

A Note on Low Self-Esteem

An addiction to a relationship is often rooted in low self-esteem (which can be linked to childhood trauma). These individuals fear being alone, and they may feel as if their worth is based on being with someone else. In other words, they find it difficult to function or live normally without another person.

This results in an excessive need to please their partner and ensure that they don’t leave them. Their strong feelings of low self-worth become deeply entwined with the relationship, and they feel worthless on their own. Poor self-esteem can also cause them to chase more than one person at once and/or be unfaithful.

Relationship Addiction Statistics

While relationship addiction hasn’t been studied or analyzed in great detail, below are some stats about this condition:

  • It is estimated that roughly 5% – 10% of people in the U.S. have some form of relationship addiction. This number may even be as high as 25% in specific populations such as college-age groups.
  • Behavioral addictions such as sex, relationships, and gambling vary, but they make up between 2% and 10% of the U.S. population.
  • According to the FBI, over 10% of murders in the U.S. in 2011 were committed by the victim’s partner or lover.

Signs and Symptoms of Relationship Addiction

While these vary between people, there are key signs to watch out for when it comes to relationship addiction:

  • Repetitive cycles (e.g., breaking up, getting back together, seeing other people).
  • Withdrawing from friends and family and spending all their time in the relationship.
  • A dependence on the relationship for a sense of wholeness or identity.
  • Justifying physical, emotional, mental, or sexual abuse.
  • Staying in a relationship despite dysfunctions and red flags.
  • Committing to a person intensely and quickly.
  • Neediness and an inability to be independent in the relationship.
  • Blaming themselves rather than seeing any shortcomings of their partner.
  • Exhaustion from the ups and downs of the relationship.
  • Chronic obsession about the relationship and how it’s going.
  • A feeling of being unloved or resentful in their relationship.
  • Changing one’s self (or their habits and behaviors) to please their partner.
  • Not having a life outside of the relationship.
  • A dependency on sex to fix issues in the relationship.
  • Feelings of anxiety and/or depression because of the relationship.
  • Engaging in other addictions or compulsive behavior (e.g., binge eating, gambling, taking substances).

Other Signs

Along with the symptoms above, other key signs can indicate a relationship addiction.

Things are Often Difficult Rather than Easy

Disagreements or conflicts are a healthy part of getting to know another person. However, for people with relationship addiction, there is usually constant drama going on. These individuals will tend to thrive on the drama and be unknowingly addicted to it, no matter how severe. If conflict is constant and ongoing every time you’re together, it can be a sign that the relationship isn’t working and that it is an addictive one.

Your Relationship is Like a Roller Coaster

Ups and downs are a normal part of a healthy relationship. However, addictive relationships tend to be marked by a constant roller coaster ride. This is accompanied by intense euphoric highs, followed by a crash into incredibly low feelings about themselves and their relationship. Other traits can be a sick or guilty feeling if you try to walk away — these are similar to the emotions and experiences associated with other addictions.

You Obsess About the Relationship

Relationships are exciting, especially during the early stages. However, for people with relationship addiction, their obsessions become all-consuming. For example, you may find that you’re constantly worrying about what is and isn’t working, whether your partner is happy, or whether they might leave you. Obsessive behavior will also mean that your thoughts and actions are completely focused on your relationship and nothing else.

You are Never Feel Fully Satisfied

Like other dependencies, people with relationship addiction are often never fully satisfied. Whether they’re already looking for the next person to get into a relationship with or finding new faults to fix within their current one, beneath it all is a deep current of dissatisfaction. This can then drive the obsessive thoughts and behaviors even further.

You Often Feel Anxious and Nervous

People with relationship addiction can also be incredibly insecure. They will feel anxious about being abandoned, about problems in the relationship, and/or about how they will find someone new. Sometimes, people have an underlying mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, which also drives their addictive behavior. These feelings might be slightly masked while they’re in the relationship, or they could be even more prevalent. If you find you’re anxious a lot in your relationship, it might be a sign that your addiction is triggered by trauma or other issues that make you feel unsafe, abandoned, or unlovable.

You Feel Oddly Lonely Despite the Relationship

The irony of people with relationship addiction is that they are often deeply lonely. Due to their low self-worth and self-esteem, they can feel an emptiness that is never truly fulfilled. Also, addictive relationships can often occur between people who are not well matched or have little in common. Instead, they are brought together through their addiction, and they may feel lonely due to their differences in interests, world views, and hobbies.

You Neglect Other Relationships and Activities

Addictions are often characterized by neglect of other people and activities. If you or someone you know is suddenly withdrawn and no longer engages in activities they used to enjoy, it can be a sign of addiction as the relationship consumes their thoughts and actions.

You are Always Trying to Please Your Partner

Chronic people-pleasing can be another sign of addiction. This behavior is often rooted in low self-esteem and fears of abandonment. People who are addicted will do everything they can to continue the relationship and ensure that it doesn’t end. This results in a pattern of pleasing that can be obsessive and unhealthy.

You Have an Intense Fear of Being Alone

Many people with relationship addiction are afraid to be alone. Their addiction stems from needing someone else to feel whole or complete. This can be due to a history of abandonment that has made them feel like they will fall apart if they are alone. People with these fears may cling intensely to their partner and never want to be separated from them.

You Feel Like Your Partner is the Only Thing Worth Living For

At the root of all addiction is that a substance, person, or activity has control over you. Everything you do is focused on keeping this thing in your life, and you will do anything to keep it that way. If you feel like life isn’t worth living without a relationship or your partner, this is a strong sign that you are struggling with an addiction.

Treatment for Relationship Addiction

Woman talking to a psychotherapist

If you recognize the signs above and feel as though your relationship is taking over your life, it’s important to seek help. While it can be daunting at first, the fact is that relationship addiction can lead to emotional and physical problems down the line. Below are a few of the ways that you can seek treatment for this kind of condition.

Psychotherapy or Counseling

Relationship addiction is a complicated condition that often requires a holistic approach. One of the first steps you can take is to find a counselor or psychotherapist who can help you understand the root causes of your addiction and how you can move forward. This might involve addressing and healing past traumas, modifying or changing current belief systems, learning how to develop self-esteem, and/or working with different types of mental health therapists.

It is also recommended that you combine both individual and group therapy where possible. Relationship addiction is highly personal, so you may benefit from individual counseling, to begin with. You could then combine this with support groups that deal with behavioral addictions such as sex addiction and gambling. If you and your partner are both seeking help, couples therapy is also beneficial.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

One of the most successful therapies for addiction and mental health conditions is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps individuals change negative cycles of thought and behavior into more positive ones. This kind of therapy has shown to be especially effective for substance abuse and can be greatly beneficial for individuals struggling with relationship addiction. Clients receiving CBT often learn how to recognize “automatic thoughts” and dysfunctional thinking patterns, how to understand the behavior and motivation of others, and how to develop a greater sense of self-understanding and confidence.


If you or a loved one are struggling with relationship addiction, you are not alone. Treatment and support are readily available. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment.

You can also find a list of treatment centers near you on our website to help get you on the path to recovery.

Key Sources

Earp, B., Wudarczyk, O., Foddy, B., and Savulescu, J. (2017). Addicted to love: What is love addiction and when should it be treated? Philos Psychiatr Psychol. 24(1), 77–92.

Livingstone, B. (n.d.). Is it Love or Addiction? Mental

Smith, A. (2010). How to Break the Pattern of Love Addiction. Psychology Today.

Sussman, S. (2010). Love Addiction: Definition, Etiology, Treatment. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 17, 31–45.

Medical Disclaimer

At, we are dedicated to helping people recover from problematic substance use and associated mental health disorders. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone. Information on treatment and support options is readily available through the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-4357. To further assist you along the path to recovery, the treatment center locator on our website allows you to easily find rehabilitation programs and services in your local area.

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