The Struggles Many Face During Breakups
Love can easily turn into obsession.
Now, since we’re not together
My life is black and white, I’d pay any price
For just one night together
So I can mainline, freebase, shoot up your love
I’m an exaholic, call it what you call it
All I know’s I want it, I-I can’t help it
In a recently leaked demo track titled “Exaholic,” Britney Spears brings public attention to the debilitating experiences many people have when going through a breakup.
The Highs and Lows of Falling in Love
Think about how it feels to fall in love. You meet someone new and they spark your interest. Curious and intrigued, you start thinking about this person more and more. You feel exhilarated when they are near. You want to be with them as much as you can because you feel amazing when you’re together. And, when you’re not together, you’re fantasizing about them, talking about them, and planning for the next time you can see them.
Like getting high, falling in love can feel absolutely euphoric. And your new lover becomes the center of your energy, attention, and time because they cause such blissful feelings in you.
And then, for whatever reason, you break up. The high that you once felt for your lover turns into obsessional thoughts, cravings to see them, and emotional misery. You want to be near them again. You feel out of control and lost without them. The person you once felt intense love for is gone and you don’t know how to move on.
Can Falling in Love Be Like a Drug?
For many of us, getting over an ex can look and feel very much like trying to stop using a drug. Although not a clinical diagnosis and widely disputed, the concept of love addiction suggests that the brain can respond to a person or behavior in much the same way it does to drugs of abuse (see Bobby, 2015; Fisher, Xu, Aron, & Brown, 2016).
When you fall in love, the brain’s reward system is activated, which includes dopamine-rich regions that are also stimulated when using drugs. As a result, you may experience phenomena that are analogous to addiction, including intense cravings, euphoria, tolerance, withdrawal, and emotional dependence.
The Torture of a Breakup
For any of you who may feel “addicted” to an ex—which is has been referred to by some as being an “exaholic”—breakups can be tortuous. After the loss of a former love, you enter into a state of withdrawal in which you may feel completely obsessed with them. This highly unpleasant preoccupation drives impulsive and compulsive behaviors aimed either at making contact or distracting yourself from the pain of not having your ex in their life.
For example, you may find yourself calling or texting your ex repeatedly, going to their favorite hang-out spots to try to run into them, or looking them up online and through social media to learn what they are doing. Over time, this may lead you to feel profound despair, hopelessness, and misery.
The Naked Truth is this: If you are struggling with this kind of experience, know that you are not alone. Finding a good therapist and/or joining an online support network can help you get through it and create the life that you really want to live—with or without your ex.
Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D., ABPP
Note: I cannot respond to personal requests for advice over the internet. Best on your continued journey.
Potential Financial Conflict of Interest: I am a consultant for and investor in EXaholics.com, an online support organization for people struggling through a romantic breakup. Although I strongly believe in the mission of EXaholics, I also benefit financially from their success.