Rehab 4 Addiction

Why are relationships so challenging for recovering addicts? The main reason is that an intimate relationship has the potential to be all-consuming.

This can be particularly dangerous for someone who is in an extremely vulnerable state after making such an intensive life change as choosing sobriety.

The possibility of replacing a substance addiction with another type of addiction is extremely high. Experts say love in recovery can lead to unhealthy, co-dependent relationships, which can all too often lead to a relapse. This article will look at how and why it’s important to wait until you have reached full recovery before committing to a romantic relationship.

Letting go of the tendency to cling

Addicts have learned to cling to the substances and habits that they relied on during their struggles before they embarked on the journey of recovery.

During this time, they developed many unhealthy coping mechanisms, which can include becoming extremely dependent on those who enabled and supported them throughout this behaviour.

This tendency to ‘cling on’ to people, habits, or behaviours that once made them feel safe leaves recovering addicts with dangerous coping mechanisms and in a vulnerable and unsafe state of mind.

Starting a new relationship while in this state of mind rarely ends well. Those recovering from addiction need to establish and implement their own coping mechanisms, learned through healthy relationships established by their counsellors, therapists, and support groups.

Self-care is not selfish: it’s healthy

The lives of addicts are very different from those of sober people. Once they break free from addiction, they will be capable of different types of activities and relationships. The early stages of recovery are all about an addict learning to build an entirely new and healthy life.

Safeguarding their newfound sobriety should be their number one priority. Pouring all of their energy into developing new routines and finding a new direction in their lives should be the only thing they are focused on.

After years of struggle and self-destruction, recovery now offers those who once struggled with addiction a chance at being kinder to themselves, both physically and mentally.

Starting a relationship in recovery is more challenging

Starting a new romantic relationship in early recovery poses many significant challenges to an addict. Many recovering addicts suffer from severe social anxiety; just meeting new healthy people can prove difficult.

Dating means meeting new people, and the thought of opening up about their past can cause extreme anxiety for people in early recovery and in some cases prompt a desire to relapse.

To completely recover, an addict needs to learn to be completely honest, which can prove quite tricky when meeting someone new. Even more so if they are not ready to tell them that they are in recovery, and reveal aspects of their past that they are only learning to accept and come to peace with. People in early recovery should refrain from putting themselves in uncomfortable situations for which they are not ready.

When it comes to dating, meeting someone for a drink is a social norm. In early recovery, this is not something that they should expose themselves to or even be considering. A new relationship can cause a person to take their focus off the recovery programme.

Meeting someone new can be an exciting time, causing people to sacrifice time that they should devote to themselves. People who do not understand addiction can actively encourage addicts to do things such as skipping therapy sessions and meetings, and destabilise routines and structures that have been implemented for a reason.

Substance abuse has a tendency to wreak havoc on the personal lives of most addicts. If they start a new relationship, and it does not work out as they planned, they could find themselves feeling even more alone.

Addiction and past relationships can often be prone to violent, toxic, or dysfunctional behaviour. This can prove to be a very challenging internal pattern to break. Until they are strong enough, an addict should not trust themselves to make the right decision.

The danger of substituting one addiction for another

The first thing someone in recovery needs to consider before getting into a relationship is that alcohol or drug issues can switch to an unhealthy dependency on a new relationship. A study conducted by Rutgers University shows that our brain releases oxytocin, dopamine, and vasopressin when we are in love – similarly to the chemicals released when taking mood-altering substances.

All these give a sense of euphoria when they are around these people. The brains of recovering addicts have not yet repaired to the stage where it can differentiate these amorous feelings from those that they experienced while abusing their substances.

To put it simply, abstaining from one drug (drugs or alcohol) can sometimes leave an empty void, subconsciously replaced by another drug: love.

Most addicts have forgotten how to form healthy relationships; they tend to rush into things without thinking. Early recovery can be a very lonely time, and addicts are told to avoid certain people, places, and things as they start to rebuild their lives.

Why is waiting so important?

All recovering addicts should avoid dating for the first 365 days of recovery. Most addicts would freely admit that their addiction shattered the healthy relationships they had in their lives, in many cases leaving them bereft of anyone they can call a true friend.

As a consequence, early recovery can be an incredibly lonely time, and people in recovery are left with a sincere desire to connect with others. Thus, dating seems very appealing – but loneliness should never be a valid reason to start dating.

Instead, it is vital that those recovering from an addiction form healthy, platonic and fruitful relationships with people or groups who are committed to supporting them on their road to recovery. Jeopardising emotional growth and self-discovery with dating is not worth the risk.

What do experts say about dating in recovery?

Below we have listed some of the most common truths that addiction recovery experts will maintain about dating and relationships during your path to sobriety:

1. Love is not more important than recovery

It is all too common for sex and love to emerge as new addictions, or ‘obsessions’ rather. This is especially common in early recovery, where an individual ends up replacing their previous addiction with a new matter, often without ever addressing the underlying issues that caused it.

Anything they learned in early recovery can easily be forgotten during the ‘honeymoon phase’ of a new and exciting relationship, with the impulsive and all-consuming feelings associated with romance superseding their commitment to recovery.

2. Recovery is all about you

Any new relationships will just be a distraction from a healthy recovery. During their first year of sobriety, their sole focus should be on rediscovering themselves.

N.A. and A.A. tell people that the focus should be on finding a higher power. A new partner could easily be a substitute for this superior power.

3. Social interaction can be difficult

When dating someone, a recovering addict could easily find themselves in an awkward situation. If the person they are dating is not aware of her recovery, but they could easily decide to have a drink or two in their presence.

They may think inviting them to a party where there are lots of drinks is the right thing to do. Even if they manage to avoid drinking, they could end up kissing someone with alcohol on their lips, this could trigger them to relapse

How to date while recovering from an addiction

It is recommended to wait a full year before dating and ensuring that you have developed a strong support network. A person who is living a healthy lifestyle, has a strong support network, is confident and comfortable enough in their own strength and who engages in many sober activities might be ready to consider dating.

Even after a year of sobriety, it is not always the best idea to start a new relationship without fully thinking it through. If you do decide to date, here are some tips that will help you to maintain sobriety while venturing into the dating world:

  1. Make smart decisions: When they choose to date, they should move slowly, taking their time to get to know the person before entirely investing in a new relationship
  2. Build a foundation of honesty: There is no point in hiding recovery from a new partner. They need to understand that sobriety is the number one priority at the moment. When they choose the right person, they would understand. This person should be ready and willing to set healthy boundaries
  3. Do not forget your support systems: Having a reliable support system in place before infiltrating into any relationship, discussing any decision openly and honestly with them. They will help them to make sure that they are setting appropriate boundaries and recognize any potential issues that may arise. Confiding in someone who successfully built a relationship in recovery is also a good idea

Why should two people in recovery never date?

It is all too common for two recovering addicts to find each other attractive, having so many things in common. But before entering a relationship with someone in recovery, carefully weigh the pros and cons and get some expert advice. Most experts will tell them that this is not a good idea for many reasons.

It is challenging to know how another’s recovery is going, and if a new partner relapses, they are going to put themselves at risk. Recovering addicts can also become overly reliant on each other and unhealthy co-dependency can quickly develop.

The art of dating is in itself complex, with a lot of emotions, feelings, and behaviours being triggered. Sometimes, as with all relationships, a multitude of factors can lead to issues in communication, trust, and love.

Thus, if the relationship does not work one or both parties can easily be a trigger into a relapse due to feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or loss.

Things to consider before dating someone in recovery

Recovery can be an emotionally challenging time, and each individual deserves the best chance at sobriety. Here are a few things to understand before deciding to date a recovering addict:

  • They are no strangers to therapy and have spent much time working on their relationships and themselves
  • They have developed highly tuned and critical relationship skills
  • They now acknowledge and are more than capable of identifying, processing, and communicating their emotions
  • They are also more than capable of setting personal boundaries while respecting others. Recovering addicts will never expect anyone to be perfect, having learned first-hand that this type of person does not exist
  • They are committed to integrity, honesty, and making decisions according to the values of their recovery
  • They could come with some baggage, and they may be capable of doing and saying things that people find quite unusual
  • They also may have a criminal record, some ongoing legal problems, and accrued debts they may have to settle
  • They also made complicated relationships with their families and friends

What is the “13th Step” in recovery groups and why should it be avoided?

The ’13th Step’ is a colloquial term used by people in recovery who are immersed in residential programmes, addiction support groups, or sober living facilities. It is common knowledge that there are 12 Steps to recovery on the Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous programmes – and the informal ’13 Step’ is a no go area.

It refers to someone with more than a year of sobriety dating someone with less than a year of being sober. Early recovery can be quite a confusing time, and developing an emotionally sexual relationship with someone who is still recovering and therefore vulnerable is out-of-bounds.

Learning to tell the difference between the natural tendency of other addicts to want to help, and the advances of someone who has other intentions in mind takes some experience.

The easiest way to avoid the ’13th Step’ is to find a sponsor who is older than you and not of the same sexual persuasion. If you are unsure of someone’s intentions, reach out to another member of the group to ask for their opinion.

Only exchange personal contact information such as their phone number, email, Facebook account details, or their address, with one or two people who you can trust in their group.

Recovery tips that do not involve dating

Below we have listed some useful guidelines to help you make the most out of your recovery journey that does not involve dating or romance. These include:

  • Surround yourself with healthy people: Having a group of sober friends that they can rely on that regularly accompany them to meetings or meet for coffee or lunch cannot reduce the temptation to date
  • Commit platonically to someone else in recovery: Finding themselves a friend can help them stay focused on their recovery program and help them avoid dating within the first year. A sober friend should not be at the same sexual persuasion
  • Make a list of things that you want to achieve: Especially those that they did not do while they were addicted. Choosing a project that they can do on their own without the significant other is probably a good idea
  • Remember secrets can kill in recovery: If they do find themselves in a relationship, do not keep it a secret. Remember that absolute honesty is central to recovery and sobriety. Secrets were important in addiction, they are not healthy in recovery
  • Always ask for help: If you do find themselves having difficulty in recovery, it is nothing to be ashamed of if they do find themselves dating an experienced a painful breakup, the first thing They need to do is share it with the group, their therapists or sponsor

Your role as a partner to someone in recovery

Addiction is often deemed “the family struggle” as it not only impacts the one struggling with substance abuse, but everyone they love and have relationships with. Do not undermine your own mental and emotional health if you are supporting someone in recovery.

It is integral that you not only stay strong for your loved one, but that you are also aware of your own role and feelings during their journey.

Below, we have listed some useful tips to consider when dealing with and supporting your loved one through their recovery:

  • Do take part in any events held by their recovery centre
  • Try to stay focused on the positive either in person or over the phone
  • To be honest and learn everything they can about addiction and recovery
  • Do not become too obsessed with the treatment programme
  • Do remember that recovering addicts will need their space too
  • Do not regularly bring up past mistakes
  • Do not try to be their only source of support, always encourage them to continue to go to meetings in therapy sessions

How to repair a relationship in recovery

Recovery is also about forgiveness and building relationships that were once destroyed by drink or drugs. Sticking with someone you love throughout their journey to recovery is a brave thing to do, and often presents many challenges.

Below, we have listed some tips on how to rebuild relationships after or during recovery with your loved one:

1. Learn to love yourselves first

If you find yourselves emotionally depleted, repairing old relationships can be very difficult on their own. Finding a support system of your own such as joining a group like Alcoholics Anonymous has proven to be very helpful to the families of those in recovery.

Listening to the stories of other families can help you understand the nature of addiction and recovery.

2. Learn to ‘date’ each other again

Do not rush into anything and remember to take it slow, working on trust, communication, and intimacy. Remember the fun activities you used to do together and start implementing these into your schedules again.

3. Consider couples counselling

Addiction can be traumatic for both parties and seeking professional help such as couples counselling can give you a voice. This will provide a healthy outlet and an opportunity to improve communication skills, while addressing many of the underlying issues of your relationship

4. ‘Honesty first’ policy

If you both want this relationship to work, having an honesty first policy is essential. This means both partners practice absolute honesty with each other. Without trust, a healthy relationship can never hope to be rebuilt.

5. Relapse remains a reality

For people in early recovery, relapse is a realistic possibility. If this does occur, it is best to avoid an impulse reaction. A relapse is not the end of the world; it’s a hurdle that will need to be addressed.

A checklist to decide whether someone in recovery is ready for a relationship

Entering into a new relationship for anyone recovering from substance abuse should be done so with caution – not for fear of rejection or other reasons in the sober dating world – but because it could undo all the progress they have achieved.

Below, we have listed some questions you should consider before dating someone who you know is recovering or has recovered from a substance addiction:

  • Do they have at least a year of continuous sobriety?
  • Do they have a reliable support system in place?
  • Do they regularly attend therapy and or 12-step meetings?
  • Have they been free from acute withdrawal symptoms for over a year?
  • Do they feel emotionally ready and strong enough to handle the ups and downs that come with relationships?
  • Have they discussed this with their sponsor and therapist, and what do they advise?

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Boris is our editor-in-chief at Rehab 4 Addiction. Boris is an addiction expert with more than 20 years in the field.  His expertise covers a broad of topics relating to addiction, rehab and recovery. Boris is an addiction therapist and assists in the alcohol detox and rehab process. Boris has been featured on a variety of websites, including the BBC, Verywell Mind and Healthline.