Warning: contains some spoilers for Love's first and second season.

At the end of Love Season 1, Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) hits rock bottom and a plot twist catches us out. We know she’s got issues but despite the multiple references made to her substance abuse problems in the earlier episodes, her downfall doesn’t focus on her giving up on sobriety. Instead, it comes from her compulsive relationship to the people — and cat — in her life.

When Mickey harasses Gus (Paul Rust) at work, the man she’s been dating who won’t text her back, his nice guy mask drops: “Just because you’re okay with fucking up your life doesn’t mean you can come in and fuck up my life,” he snaps and Mickey heads home to find her cat has vanished and fights with her flatmate.

We know from her perspective, she’s lost everything: the seemingly sweet guy she’d started falling for, the only close female friend she has and even her cat. We see her outside a church and assume she’ll be headed to an AA meeting — but instead we’re confronted by a notice on the door: “SLAA meeting today.” Over the next few minutes, we watch Mickey discover that she’s a sex and love addict.

And just as the driving thrust of the plot in Season 1 was Mickey and Gus attempting to admit their feelings for each other despite their differences and issues, in Season 2, Mickey learning to accept and live with her love and sex addiction is what moves the story forward. So what is a love and sex addict?

In 1975, Stanton Peele first popularized the idea of love addiction in his book Love And Addiction. It proposed the idea that addiction isn’t limited to alcohol or drugs, which doesn’t seem so radical now, but back then was virtually unheard of. The following year, a 12-step program Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous was launched, loosely based on Alcoholics Anonymous.

I spoke to both sex and love addiction author and professional Robert Weiss and Love and Addiction author and addiction psychologist and psychotherapist Stanton Peele about the topic.

Weiss explains that the two types of addiction are differing forms of the same problem; “in both [types of addicts], that [desired] person is more of a love object than a person. The goal for the addict is not a true, intimate connection but rather to get that person to care for them in ways that help them feel special, desired, important and needed.”

However, Weiss defines sex addiction as “the objectification of body parts and the people who have those body parts in order to get those people to validate [the addict]. The thought [process] behind sex addiction is similar to the love addict but much more specific to the sexual act. If I can get that hot person to want me, desire me, be sexual with me, then I feel important, wanted, special.”

In other words, sex addicts use seduction, manipulation, lies, rage, caretaking and money to try and get what they want from that person sexually.

Weiss stresses a key difference from someone enjoying casual sex is that “sex addicts get trapped in patterns of using sexual intensity for emotional escape and to feel better,” thus they can’t stop. “They lose a girlfriend, they lose a job because they get caught looking at porn at work, they lose their kids, they get arrested for prostitution.”

And it’s not just about shrugging off serious consequences of your actions, but about how the emotional high built around sex becomes the addict’s go-to activity just to feel OK. Weiss describes the inner voice of a sex addict as being along the lines of this:

“When I have a bad day, I go look at some porn to feel better, when I have a really good day and I want to celebrate, I’m going to go pick up a prostitute. Whatever I’m feeling in the need for – connection, support, validation, whether I’m feeling a little shaky inside or I want to celebrate — I just add sex to the mix because it makes me feel better.”

Weiss has experienced the potentially lethal consequences of the addiction while working as a sex addiction professional, citing the Ashley Madison hack as having led to the suicide of two of his clients. He also describes other clients jumping from buildings as a result of their self-hatred, shame and inability to control their sex addiction. Clearly, it’s not an addiction to be underestimated.

A love addiction sounds just as sinister. Weiss describes the addiction as one in which the love addict uses the object of their desire “to make them feel loved and appreciated and validated but not necessarily caring much about who the other person is and what they need. What they love about the person is how much they love them…how good they make them feel.”

This can manifest itself in one of two ways: with the addict being a serial monogamist who throws themselves into the relationship for the first 6-9 months before getting bored and believing themselves to have fallen out of love with the object of their desire once things reach a deeper, more intimate level (which if you’ve watched Season 2, sounds a lot like the part where Mickey starts reconnecting with her ex-boyfriend as soon as things get more serious with Gus) or they pursue people who, for whatever reason (heavy drug use, their mental health) are unavailable and can only give them intermittent moments of real attention.

And just like a sex addiction, a love addiction can be lethal. Peele emphasizes the gravity of the addiction in a comparison to heroin: “I’m not personally aware of a single human being who ever killed themselves when they went through heroin withdrawal. But there are many, many cases where people going through love withdrawal kill themselves over another person.”

So when watching Love Season 2, one aspect of the plot might make you uneasy: while Mickey starts regularly attending SLAA meetings, she also gives up on her resolution to stay single for a year and almost immediately becomes embroiled in her connection with Gus. Wouldn’t this be like an alcoholic attending AA meetings and drinking?

Weiss thinks so, arguing that in recovery for female love and sex addicts, a “time out” is essential. He explains “Female sex and love addicts tend to use a lot of seduction as a means of getting attention and when there’s a problem or things aren’t going their way, they’ll be sexual or romantic to distract [themselves]. So it’s really important that they learn how to be in intimate, non-sexual relationships with people.”

He suggests a period of six months where especially female addicts can use resources like SLAA to build up a community of women and find the emotional support they often bounce from man to man for in platonic friendships.

However, Peele argues that “The NA and AA model is object-based” and it differs from SLAA in how “it says that thing is so addictive, they couldn’t resist it. You know, heroin and alcohol, who could resist it? But it’s crazy to apply that to love, because as soon as you say that man or woman was so irresistible that anybody would have become addicted to them, you automatically know that’s bullshit because you’re probably the only person addicted to them. The question becomes, what about your life has oriented you to plug this person into you in a way that’s become increasingly dysfunctional, painful and maybe even lethal?”

When I bring up the fact that Mickey suffers from the whole package — substance abuse issues, alcoholism and love and sex addiction — Peele doesn’t find this unusual or unrealistic, since “if a personal vulnerability or emptiness or a bad period in your life makes you susceptible to addiction, it’s logical that it would make you addicted to more than one thing simultaneously.”

So how can you kick a love and sex addiction? Peele bristles at the idea of there being one straightforward solution (“it’s not nuclear physics”) but argues that a key strategy in combating love or sex addiction is harm reduction, the idea of taking practical measures to reduce negative consequences surrounding addiction, which is a strategy straight out of treating a substance abuse issue or alcoholism.

However, unlike AA, there shouldn’t be hard or fast rules involved in tackling love or sex addiction, because after all “If you accept the AA model and say abstinence is the only way out — as in, here’s the deal, you’re just never going to have sex again and you’ll be OK — you’re not going to get a ton of candidates, are you?”

Instead, the association focuses on finding “certain self-protective mechanisms” tailored to each individual and their circumstances by asking questions like “How did you know you were addicted to this person before?” and if they cite quitting their job or stopping talking to their family because their partner asked them to, using this as a marker for toxic behavior caused by the addiction to avoid going forward.

Weiss uses the same idea of markers (watching porn, using the services of sex workers, etc.) that would count as a “slip up” in the same way that a drink for an alcoholic would be a slip up, but also emphasizes the importance of building a plan that includes positive activities as well as activities they shouldn’t do: “…we make a list of things that would be healthy for them, things they’re not really doing because they’re spending most of their time looking for or participating in sex and romantic situations, just as a drug addict’s time goes to using. What I want them to do is start practicing healthy interactions that are not about work or sex or love, so I want them to grow, I want them to join a team, I want them to start having fun in the world, I want them to spend time with their kids. And then we’ll have lots of things we support them doing more of, so that [their life] feels more fulfilling and they won’t be as empty inside and turning to sex.”

However, Peele is also concerned about people identifying themselves as love and sex addicts too early in life, since he believes it’s an addiction that’s curiously universal. After all, “virtually every human being has experienced something like love addiction. Either they were in a vulnerable period or they were young or they went overboard, but they then recovered from it when they developed a more stable life.” A very basic rule of thumb: if you’re in your twenties and you’re engaging in melodramatic, unhealthy relationship behavior, that may just be your age.

Ultimately, Peele stresses that anyone suffering from symptoms shouldn’t despair. “While love and sex addictions can be every bit as virulent as drug and alcohol ones, that doesn't mean that they are inescapable.  In fact, the reverse is true. The fact that most of us outgrow the phases in our life when we were so prone to such destructive entanglements shows us that we can recover from any form of addiction as we mature and become grounded in our lives.”

If you’re concerned that you may be suffering from a love or sex addiction and want to know more, you can take the Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous quiz, read about the common symptoms of love or sex addicts here, or visit one of the SLAA meetings held all over the world.

Stanton Peele has most recently co-released the book Recover!: An Empowering Program to Help You Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life with Ilse Thompson, and he also offers a Life Process program, an online resource for addicts.

Therapist Robert Weiss is the author of Sex Addiction 101 and the just-released Out Of The Doghouse: A Relationship-Saving Guide For Men Caught Cheating. Weiss runs a free weekly anonymous, internationally available sex and love addiction counselling group online.

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