Why Are Toxic Relationships Addictive & What Are The Signs You’re In One? (2023)

Why Are Toxic Relationships Addictive & What Are The Signs You’re In One? (1)

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Toxic relationships can be hard to spot and even harder to let go of. Many people describe being in a toxic relationship as being addicted to drugs — that’s how problematic and controlling it can be. Many people are addicted to toxic relationships because of various factors like codependency, insecurity, or trauma bonds.

If you’re not sure or aware of whether you’re addicted to toxic relationships, then there are some questions you can ask yourself, which are discussed below. But, breaking an addiction to a toxic person can be a lot harder than it may seem.

What is a toxic relationship?

Before talking about why toxic relationships are addictive, let’s figure out what toxic relationships are. Toxic relationships can be any form of relationship- a parent-child relationship, brother-sister relationship, or the most common kind, romantic relationships.

When these relationships are based on a system of abuse, insecurity, neglect, and self-preservation, they turn into toxic relationships, where the abusive partner only cares about themselves.

Toxic relationships can be extremely harmful and dangerous and can lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trust issues, and other mental health problems. These are also marked by addictive relationship cycles, which can be hard to break.

(Video) 7 Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship

Why are toxic relationships addictive?

Everybody knows toxic relationships are bad. Then why is it so difficult to spot them, and why are toxic relationships so addictive? Many times people tend to internalize what their partners tell them. If your partner treats you like a child, you tend to think of yourself as incapable, so you’re dependent on your partner to take care of you.

Another example is if your partner tells you their love language gets too physical sometimes, but that only means they love you. This way, they mask their toxic behavior, and you get addicted to toxic relationships because you tend to think that this is what love is.

Because toxic partners tend to disguise their abuse and keep you controlled, it can be difficult even to realize you’re in an abusive relationship. This video gives some insight into what abuse in a toxic relationship can look like:

Why Are Toxic Relationships Addictive & What Are The Signs You’re In One? (2)

Signs you are in a toxic relationship

It can be hard to tell if you’re addicted to a toxic relationship, even if you think you’re in one. If you’re unsure of whether you’re in a rough relationship, here are some addictive relationship signs as well as signs you are in a toxic relationship:

1. You feel controlled by your partner

A common sign you are in a toxic relationship is when you feel like your partner controls your every move. You might’ve internalized asking for permission and checking in with your partner every time you do something.

Asking for permission, even for the smallest of things, and feeling obligated to do so is one of the many addictive relationship signs. You’re addicted to feeling like you need to be looked after or told what to do. This type of addiction to external toxic relationship traits can harm your self-worth.

Related Reading: How to Get Out of a Controlling Relationship

2. Your partner verbally or physically abuses you

If you constantly get into screaming matches with your partner where you’re left on the floor crying, and you continue to stay with him regardless, you might be addicted to drama in the relationship. This toxic love addiction makes you think your relationship has passion, but it is abusive.

(Video) 8 Signs Its A Trauma Bond, Not Love

If your partner physically abuses you, like hitting you in the face or hurting you during sex, then brushing it off as his love language is wrong. If you think it’s a small price to pay to be with him, that’s a big sign you’re addicted to a bad relationship, and you need to get out.

Related Reading: Best Ways to Protect Yourself From an Abusive Partner

3. You feel uncomfortable around your partner

If you feel like you can’t open up to your partner or you’re scared to do so, that could be a sign you are in a toxic relationship. Another reason you might feel uncomfortable is if he’s trying to make you behave like a person you’re not — he’s trying to change you.

If you think changing your personality is a good thing just so you can be with your partner is a good thing, then you’re only fooling yourself, and you’re addicted to toxic relationships.

Psychologists often talk about how if he’s trying to change who you are as a person even when you don’t want to, then it’s time to think about breaking an addiction to a toxic person.

4. Your partner doesn’t trust you

If you have to always keep your partner in the loop about what you’re doing or who you’re with, and he throws tantrums when you miss a call, it shows that he doesn’t trust you.

If you think this shows how much he cares about you, you’re deluding yourself, and it probably means you’re addicted to toxic relationships.

Trusting your partner is a sign of a healthy relationship. Be aware of jealousy—it has the power to take over your relationship. If you’re always attracting jealous partners, then it’s time to figure out the best way to avoid toxic relationships. And if you’re in one right now, it’s time to call it off.

Related Reading: How to Resolve Trust Issues in a Relationship – Expert Advice

5. Your partner treats you like a child

Toxic partners tend to infantilize their partners. They make you feel helpless and tell you that they will look after you. Scenario:

(Video) 10 Signs You're In a Toxic Relationship

Your partner convinces you that nothing you do is good enough and that you should listen to them and do things their way. And you agree with them and start doing whatever they tell you.

Does this sound familiar? If yes, then it probably means you’re being controlled, and it could mean you could grow to get addicted to toxic relationships. Infantilizing you is the best way someone can make you feel powerless.

A balance of power is necessary for a healthy relationship. Any unbalanced relationship tends to be toxic.

Of course, these are only a few of many signs that could hint toward a toxic relationship. This extensive article gives you a list of 40 signs of what a toxic relationship looks like. Reading through this can help you better understand what such relationships look like and recognize any familiar patterns in your relationship.

Why Are Toxic Relationships Addictive & What Are The Signs You’re In One? (3)

Why is it so difficult to break free from a toxic relationship?

Addictive relationship cycles can be challenging to overcome. Being in a toxic relationship gives you a false sense of security and comfort, distorting your idea of what love and care look like.

Getting out of this mindset, realizing that you’re addicted to toxic relationships, and finally breaking it off are all steps that take a lot of emotional effort.

Most therapists say that breaking off a relationship, especially if it’s a toxic one, is hard because you might be afraid of being alone and that you’re scared of confrontation. However, staying addicted to toxic relationships can damage your self-worth and mental health.

(Video) Signs You're in a Addictive Relationship

How do you get out of an addictive toxic relationship?

Here are some basic, straightforward ways to start your process of healing and get out of a toxic relationship:

1. Being self-aware

Being mindful of your relationship and your rapport with your partner is essential. Being self-aware can help you realize you’re in the wrong place before you get too addicted to a toxic relationship and can help you get out of it faster.

If you’ve noticed that you’re always in such toxic relationships, taking some time for yourself can help you break the toxic love addiction cycle and guide you towards healthier relationships.

2. A clean break

Once you’ve realized that you’re in a toxic relationship, prolonging your breakup will only do more harm than good. Don’t try to “fix” your partner or make them a “better person.”

You’re only getting more deeply addicted to a toxic person. A clean, swift breakup and getting them out of your life is the best way to start healing.

Why Are Toxic Relationships Addictive & What Are The Signs You’re In One? (4)

3. Counseling

Being in a toxic relationship can cause a lot of pain and trauma. This trauma is not something you can get over by relaxing at a spa. Seeing a counselor or a therapist is very beneficial to stop your addiction to toxic relationships and to help you break this cycle.


Figuring out whether or not you’re in a bad relationship and being addicted to toxic relationships can be difficult. It’s a lot to unpack emotionally and can be pretty draining.

(Video) 20 Signs a Relationship is Toxic

However, there is good news – research shows that almost 64% of experts agree that the best way to get over a toxic relationship is to substitute it with positive, healthy behaviors.

So healing from such trauma is very much possible. So once you’re out of such an addictive, toxic relationship, your future can look very bright indeed!


Why am I addicted to toxic relationships? ›

Why are toxic relationships so addictive, and why do people describe it as similar to a drug addiction? Toxic relationships can often feel addictive in nature. The highs are high and the lows are low, leaving us reeling from the desire and the rejection. This type of toxicity begins in our primary relationships.

Why do I always stay in toxic relationships? ›

A lot of people in abusive relationships stay in them because they love their partner and think that things will change. They might also believe their partner's behavior is due to tough times or feel as though they can change their partner if they are a better partner themselves.

Why being in a relationship is addictive? ›

People in love often experience euphoria, cravings, dependency, withdrawal, and other behaviors associated with addiction. This happens, researchers explain, because the dopamine reward system in your brain is activated by romantic love, just as it's activated by substances and addictive behaviors.

What is the root of toxic relationships? ›

The root cause of such toxic behaviors in relationships is a lack of empathy. Refusing to understand each other's feelings, demanding that your partner lives up to your expectations, and making them feel guilty for not doing so is caused by a lack of empathy.

How do I stop being addicted to toxic relationships? ›

5 Steps to Heal from an Addictive Relationship
  1. Admit you are powerless. ...
  2. Get support. ...
  3. Feel your feelings. ...
  4. Develop a “No Contact” guideline. ...
  5. Develop a mindfulness practice.
Aug 1, 2018

How do I stop obsessing over a toxic relationship? ›

What To Do When You Start Thinking About Your Ex?
  1. Do something you enjoy to help you get your mind off your ex. Work out, start a hobby, hang out with friends, or do anything else that's good for you.
  2. Practice meditation and mindfulness. ...
  3. Avoid talking to them or lurking on their Facebook. ...
  4. Seek help.
Apr 27, 2023

How many times does it take to leave a toxic relationship? ›

Some might feel trapped financially or worry about their children. In abusive relationships, victims make an average of seven attempts to end the relationship before they do, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Do toxic relationships change you? ›

Toxic relationships can create lasting effects. If we do not work through that trauma, it can have the ability to affect many different areas of our lives. It can create self-doubt, avoidance of intimacy, and paranoia, to name just a few.

What are the effects of toxic relationships on mental health? ›

Unhealthy relationships may contribute to a toxic social environment that can lead to stress, depression, anxiety, and even suicide. It is important to recognize the warning signs and find ways to reduce or avoid relational toxicity. This is especially true for people recovering from a history of substance abuse.

What are the signs of love addiction? ›

Signs of Love Addiction
  • Needing to be in love.
  • Putting the romantic partner on a pedestal.
  • Obsessing over romantic interest.
  • Experiencing cravings, withdrawals, euphoria, and dependency on their partner.
  • Needing to fall in love often.
  • Seeking emotional comfort from a partner to the point of unrequited love.
Mar 10, 2023

Do I love him or am I addicted? ›

According to Gaba, the difference between healthy love versus “love addiction” is that those who experience the latter tend to focus more on the beginning stages of love when emotions are intense. These feelings of euphoria may lead to infatuation and even obsession.

How do you know you are addicted to someone? ›

Signs of relationship addiction may include a cycle of breaking up and making up, a lack of self-control with others, an inability to maintain relationships and having a life outside of them, constantly chasing the thrill of new love, entering unhealthy or addictive relationships to avoid loneliness, and experiencing ...

Do toxic people know they are toxic? ›

People with toxic traits know they have them

It's natural to assume someone's bad behavior is a conscious choice. But many people with toxic traits don't realize that their behavior impacts others. You may have toxic traits that you don't know about. Some toxic traits, like absolutism, manifest subtly.

Why are toxic relationships the hardest to leave? ›

Lack of control

People who are in an unhealthy relationship frequently attempt to end it. But they don't in the end. It occurs because some people have low self-esteem and, due to that, they believe they have no control over relationships and situations. As a result, people choose to stay rather than leave.

What is toxic love like? ›

A toxic relationship is one that makes you feel unsupported, misunderstood, demeaned, or attacked. A relationship is toxic when your well-being is threatened in some way—emotionally, psychologically, and even physically.

How do you know if you are a toxic person? ›

A toxic person is anyone whose behavior adds negativity and upset to your life. Many times, people who are toxic are dealing with their own stresses and traumas. To do this, they act in ways that don't present them in the best light and usually upset others along the way.

Why do we crave toxic people? ›

If you're searching for toxic people to fill a void in your life, it could mean that you need to amp up the self care. Sometimes we beat up on ourselves for maybe not being good enough, pretty enough, smart enough and little by little, this chips away at our self-esteem.

Can a toxic person love you? ›

Real love cannot happen in a toxic relationship.

You must first cleanse your relationship before you can even think of finding true love within it. But sometimes that isn't possible. Relationships are always difficult. Two people have to merge their lives and validate each other's decisions.

How do you know when to leave a relationship? ›

If both partners are giving equally, the relationship will work. But if your partner takes you for granted or doesn't respect you, that means trouble. Sometimes this is a result of relationship stressors that can be fixed. If you feel deeply that your partner no longer values you, it could be time to leave.

How do you find peace after a toxic relationship? ›

Have a Strong Community. During your healing journey, it's important to surround yourself with people who genuinely love and support you. Whether it's close family members, friends, or even your therapist, having people to talk to and lean on during difficult moments will help you find peace after a toxic relationship.

How do you walk away from someone you love who is toxic? ›

Make a plan.

Decide how, when, where, and why you are ending the relationship and do it. Don't look back, don't give in (to your own desires and feelings, or theirs), and trust that you are doing the right thing. Write yourself notes about why you are doing it to remind yourself. Reward yourself for not going back.

What are 3 signs of a toxic relationship? ›

Recognizing the signs of unhealthy relationships
  • Control. One person makes all the decisions and tells the other what to do, what to wear, or who to spend time with. ...
  • Dependence. ...
  • Digital monitoring or “clocking”. ...
  • Dishonesty. ...
  • Disrespect. ...
  • Hostility. ...
  • Harassment. ...
  • Intimidation.

Can a toxic relationship ruin your life? ›

A toxic relationship takes a huge hit on your self-esteem. If your partner is horrible to you or insists on betraying you whenever they can, the result will be a lack of self-esteem. It's not going to bode well with other areas of your life. You will start to doubt yourself as a person, friend, or coworker.

Can a toxic relationship change your brain? ›

Chronic stress from toxic relationships can cause a long-term activation (3) of the brain's CTRA, contributing to chronic inflammation and increasing the risk of health problems like adrenal fatigue.

What are toxic things to say in a relationship? ›

Toxic phrases that can slowly destroy your relationship
  • “You don't deserve me.” ...
  • “Stop asking if I'm okay. ...
  • “You're pathetic.” ...
  • “I hate you.” ...
  • “You're a bad parent.” ...
  • “You're being crazy.” ...
  • “You're so needy.” ...
  • “I'm over this.”
Feb 13, 2023

What happens to your brain after a toxic relationship? ›

Toxic relationships create mental strain and stress, and even all out health problems. Our emotions and nervous systems can only handle so much. This study found that toxic relationships increased anxiety and stress disorders, while health relationships decreased anxiety and stress disorders.

Can you get sick from being in a toxic relationship? ›

know that it's hard to believe but a toxic relationship can make you sick. Just like being exposed to a toxic smell in the air or ingesting a toxic chemical by mistake, being in a toxic relationship can have serious side effects on your health, side effects that can be truly debilitating and life changing.

How do you not let a toxic relationship affect you? ›

How to Remove Toxic Relationships From Your Life to Improve Your Mental Health
  • Identify Toxic Relationships. The first step is identifying who in your life is causing you harm. ...
  • Be Firm. ...
  • Set Boundaries for Yourself. ...
  • Forgive But Don't Forget. ...
  • Find Your Support Network.
Apr 14, 2023

Who are love addicts attracted to? ›

"More often than not, the love addict will be passionately attracted to someone who is emotionally unavailable, at times withdrawn and unresponsive, or someone who will disregard/neglect the relationship."

What are the three main signs of addiction? ›

Loss of energy or motivation. Neglecting one's appearance. Spending excessive amounts of money on the substance.

What are five warning signs of addiction? ›

Psychological warning signs of SUD
  • Appearing fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason.
  • Lack of motivation; appearing tired or "spaced out"
  • Periods of unusual increased energy, nervousness, or instability.
  • Sudden mood swings, increased irritability, or angry outbursts.
  • Unexplained change in personality or attitude.

What is the difference between true love and toxic love? ›

Love: Relationship deals with all aspects of reality. Toxic love: Relationship is based on delusion and avoidance of the unpleasant. Love: Self-care by both partners; emotional state not dependent on other's mood. Toxic love: Expectation that one partner will fix and rescue the other.

Is it love or just an addiction? ›

A sex addict may have a problem with pornography or repeated anonymous sexual experiences, while the love addict acts out in relationship-by clinging to a partner (sometimes one who is destructive to him or her), by avoiding love and/or intimacy with a partner, by moving from one relationship to the next, and/or by not ...

What is a pathological love relationship? ›

Introduction: Pathological love (PL)–behavior characterized by providing repetitive and uncontrolled care and attention to the partner in a romantic relationship–is a rarely studied condition, despite not being rare and causing suffering.

How do you break a love addiction cycle? ›

How to Break the Pattern of Love Addiction
  1. Acknowledge the Addiction. The first step in breaking the pattern is to recognize it. ...
  2. Invest in Healthy Relationships. ...
  3. Learn About Love Addiction. ...
  4. Abstain from New Relationships for a Period. ...
  5. Develop Awareness of Your Triggers. ...
  6. Become Grounded in the Present. ...
  7. Get Professional Support.
May 1, 2022

What are four symptoms of addiction? ›

Confusion, delusions and hallucinations. Irritability, anxiety or paranoia. Changes in heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. Nausea or vomiting with weight loss.

Can you fix an addictive relationship? ›

An addictive relationship can't be saved unless you recognize and heal your relational wounds. If you are in an unhealthy relationship, you will first need to identify your own feelings and be honest with yourself and your partner about both the negative and positive aspects of the relationship.

What triggers a toxic person? ›

Many people who behave in a toxic manner have been through trauma themselves, and instead of dealing with that trauma, these people start exhibiting toxic traits. These people usually don't know how to process trauma and stress in a healthy manner, so they end up being unpleasant around people.

What happens when you let go of a toxic person? ›

Letting go will likely come with guilt, anger and grief for the family or person you thought you had. They might fight harder for you to stay. They will probably be crueller, more manipulative and more toxic than ever. They will do what they've always done because it has always worked.

What are the stages of toxic people? ›

Toxic relationships generally follow three stages: idealizing, devaluing, and discarding. Learn about each of these stages and the impact it has on you.

Why can't I let go of my toxic ex? ›

Put simply, one of the main reasons you're not letting go of a past relationship is because you're lonely right now, said Erika Ettin, a relationship coach and founder of A Little Nudge. "Rather than pining over someone who wasn't right for you, focus on yourself," she said.

Why can't I end a relationship? ›

Healthy relationships are not rooted in guilt, shame, detrimental obligation or blind loyalty. Many of us struggle to leave because we don't want to let our partner down or break a promise. This anxiety might be combined with our concern about our partner's future.

Why does it hurt when a toxic relationship ends? ›

A study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology has found that a relationship breakup may feel so painful because it activates the part of the brain associated with motivation, reward and addiction cravings.

What are 7 signs of an unhealthy relationship? ›

  • 10 Signs of unhealthy/abusive behaviour. Whilst all relationships have their ups and downs, an unhealthy relationship is one where a partner or close family member shows behaviour that is disrespectful, controlling or even violent. ...
  • Obsessive behaviour. ...
  • Possessiveness. ...
  • Manipulation. ...
  • Guilting. ...
  • Belittling. ...
  • Sabotage. ...
  • Isolation.

Can too much love become toxic? ›

Although it's not true that too much love will kill you, it can lead to unhealthy—and at times damaging—dynamics between partners. For example, love may cause obsessive or controlling behaviors in some cases. You may also reach a point where your needs go unmet because you're so focused on your partner's needs.

Is True love toxic? ›

In true love, there is comfort in separate interests. We can have our own friends and meaningful relationships outside of our romantic relationships. We can pursue interests and ideas without fear of reprimand. On the other hand, in toxic love, there is total involvement in one another's lives.

Why are toxic relationships hard to leave? ›

People who are in an unhealthy relationship frequently attempt to end it. But they don't in the end. It occurs because some people have low self-esteem and, due to that, they believe they have no control over relationships and situations. As a result, people choose to stay rather than leave.

Can you be addicted to trauma? ›

Endorphins can provide a very attractive release for those experiencing chronic physical or emotional pain. But unfortunately, when this release is the only escape from the pain, our bodies naturally crave more. Another addictive chemical release that can occur during trauma exposure is dopamine.

Can toxic relationships cause trauma? ›

If you're in a toxic relationship, the trauma can have immediate and lasting effects on your emotional well-being. In some cases, people in these types of relationships develop relationship post-traumatic stress disorder, or relationship PTSD.

Why can't I let go of someone toxic? ›

Why Leaving a Toxic Relationship Is So Hard. Leaving a toxic relationship can be very hard because of all the emotional labor and time spent trying to make the relationship work. It can feel like an internal failure, or that by leaving you are giving up on something you've invested in.

Will a toxic relationship ever get better? ›

Yes, toxic relationships can change. But that comes with a very big if. A toxic relationship can change if and only if both partners are equally committed to overcoming it with lots of open communication, honesty, self-reflection, and possibly professional help, individually and together.

What trauma causes obsession? ›

People with OCD experience obsessions (unwanted, upsetting, intrusive thoughts and images) and compulsions (repetitive behaviors that aim to neutralize or get rid of the obsessions). Although the causes of OCD have not been established, traumatic experiences — including childhood trauma — might trigger OCD.

What does constant trauma do to a person? ›

The long-term effects of trauma

Trauma can make you more vulnerable to developing mental health problems. It can also directly cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some people misuse alcohol, drugs, or self-harm to cope with difficult memories and emotions.

What childhood trauma looks like in adults? ›

It can lead to persistent feelings of sadness, lack of interest in activities, and difficulty experiencing pleasure. Adults who experienced traumatic events as children may have recurring nightmares, and flashbacks, or may feel a like they're in a constant state of danger.

How do toxic relationships affect the brain? ›

Toxic relationships create mental strain and stress, and even all out health problems. Our emotions and nervous systems can only handle so much. This study found that toxic relationships increased anxiety and stress disorders, while health relationships decreased anxiety and stress disorders.

What are the long term effects of toxic relationships? ›

Unhealthy relationships may contribute to a toxic social environment that can lead to stress, depression, anxiety, and even suicide. It is important to recognize the warning signs and find ways to reduce or avoid relational toxicity. This is especially true for people recovering from a history of substance abuse.

What does PTSD from a relationship look like? ›

Flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive memories are all examples of re-experiencing symptoms. Avoidance symptoms: Avoidance causes people to avoid situations, places, or people that remind them of their traumatic experience. Hyperarousal symptoms: These symptoms can make a person feel like they're always in danger.


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4. 8 Side Effects of A Toxic Relationship
5. 3 Hidden Signs You're In A Toxic Relationship
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6. 8 Signs You Are Dealing with Narcissistic Abuse


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