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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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