If you are recovering from substance abuse issues, you know that successful rehabilitation usually involves completely re-examining every aspect of your life and making the necessary accommodations to support your sobriety. Rebuilding your lifestyle around sobriety requires making a variety of changes, particularly when it comes to personal relationships. Everyone craves affection and intimacy, and these needs can become even more intense during recovery. However, newly recovered substance abusers face serious risks when they attempt to navigate the world of romance.
Learning how to engage in healthy relationship practices often forms one of the most common challenges people face in recovery. Unfortunately, becoming involved in the wrong relationship can form a significant obstacle to staying sober. Consider the information below to discover why dating in early recovery can be so detrimental to your sobriety, especially when dating another recovering substance abuser.
Dating in Early Recovery
Because relapse is most likely to occur during the first year of sobriety, the vast majority of drug dependency treatment programs discourage patients from pursuing any kind of sexual or romantic relationships within one year of completing treatment. Substance abuse fundamentally changes your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in a wide range of ways, meaning you become a different person after you recover. Because those substances acted as a coping mechanism during challenging times, sobriety entails learning new ways of responding to these challenges without using that former crutch.
Substance abuse undoubtedly affects not only how others view you, but also how you view yourself. After spending years behaving in a certain way while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, sobriety can seem to strip recovering substance abusers of their previous identity. Becoming sober can leave you feeling unable to rebuild a new identity without the aid of that substance. When you feel as if you lack a durable sense of identity, it may become difficult for you to develop healthy, stable, and lasting relationships with others.
Therapy and other forms of support can assist in rebuilding an identity and honing the skills necessary to recognize, understand, and appropriately respond to your emotions, and those of others. However, achieving that kind of insight requires considerable introspection, practice, and time. While it is impossible to predict with certainty how long you should wait before dating again, the potential consequences of entering a relationship too soon can prove devastating to your recovery.
Hazards of Mixing Relationships and Early Recovery
Attempting to find a partner while navigating recovery typically results in additional difficulties beyond the initial stress experienced by most new to dating. Alcohol, in particular, holds a pervasive influence over many facets of the American dating scene. In fact, our culture seems to consider alcohol vital to alleviate the pressure of dating. Even if dating is successful and a relationship develops, further risk exists with the potential for heartbreak. Relationships in early recovery tend to be unstable and short-lived, and their collapse can result in relapse.
Dating in early recovery also significantly increases the risk of entering a toxic relationship. While in recovery, you are in a state of heightened emotional vulnerability, making you more likely to attract abusive partnerships. Worse, rushing into a relationship too quickly while you are still vulnerable breeds codependence, which can be just as emotionally destructive as the drug dependency itself. By substituting the high of drugs or alcohol with the euphoria of a new relationship, you can easily become dependent on the other person for happiness without realizing it. Distracting yourself with a relationship rather than sufficiently managing your mental health needs seriously hinders recovery and may derail the entire process.
Recovering substance abusers may also more likely to date other substance abusers, a dangerous combination that can rapidly cross the line between support and codependence. When experiencing difficult circumstances, we often subconsciously seek out others who understand what we are going through. However, while gaining wisdom and encouragement from others undergoing the same struggle can be helpful, the risks can outweigh the rewards. The potential for relapse increases exponentially when you mix the separate emotional struggles and dependencies of two people charged with maintaining sobriety.
12 Things to Do in Early Recovery Instead of Dating
Rather than putting your energy into dating in early recovery, focus on improving your physical health and emotional well-being to build a solid foundation for continuing recovery.
Instead of re-entering the dating scene, consider some of these options:
- Build a strong support system with other sober people.
- Participate in a 12-step program or other form of recovery support and regularly attend recovery meetings.
- Continue to receive professional counseling, whether individual, group, family, or a combination that works for you.
- Develop a consistent daily routine and stick with it.
- Commit to living a healthy lifestyle, including eating nutritious foods and following an exercise program.
- Consider trying meditation and other relaxation practices to develop mindfulness.
- Experiment with new hobbies, creative arts, and other sober activities.
- Cultivate self-awareness to recognize your emotions and self-management to effectively control them.
- Make steps toward repairing damaged relationships with loved ones.
- Focus on your future by advancing your career or selecting a new path.
- Participate in educational or vocational training requirements to make career growth possible.
- Regularly review the goals in your recovery plan to track your progress and remind yourself why you made a commitment to recovery.
Tips for Romance During Recovery
Although drug dependency specialists advise against dating in early recovery, they recognize the benefits of human contact, as well. In fact, eventually developing a healthy relationship can be incredibly valuable in reaffirming and helping to sustain your sobriety.
After enough time has passed and you feel ready to begin dating again, follow these tips to ensure you do not leave yourself vulnerable to relapse:
- Take it slow. Whether you are mending your relationship with a previous partner or initiating a relationship with someone new, you must give the relationship enough time to develop in a healthy manner. During recovery, anyone you date should be a supportive partner that respects your sobriety and is willing to proceed carefully rather than expressing frustration or pressuring you to give in to temptation. Communication, empathy, and patience are paramount when combining relationships and early recovery. Taking it slow may mean going on several dates with no physical contact or delaying intimacy until both are ready to establish a clear commitment.
- Establish boundaries. Setting boundaries while dating in early recovery requires compromise and sacrifice to find the proper balance. However, clarifying any limits or expectations you have will ensure you develop the relationship on a solid foundation of trust and honesty. Be proactive in discussing your plans for different situations so your partner does not feel constrained, and you do not feel pressured. For example, if you are both invited to an event that features alcohol, your partner could attend the event alone or with a friend. This allows them the freedom to enjoy a drink while preventing you from being in an environment that could trigger a relapse.
- Keep recovery your top priority. Recovery lasts a lifetime, meaning you must commit to keeping recovery your top priority in every decision you make. Situations will arise in which your recovery goals and your relationship desires oppose one another, and you must be prepared to respond in the right way. No matter that the circumstance, always consider sobriety your number one priority over anything else, including your relationship. Immediately address anything threatens to thwart your recovery progress, even if that means ending the relationship.
How Recovery Can Make You a Better Partner
While entering a relationship prematurely can negatively affect your sobriety, your recovery journey can make you a better partner in the long run. As part of the recovery process, you devote considerable time and effort to understanding yourself and determining how to improve yourself. You have made a firm commitment to living according to a certain set of values, including honesty and integrity.
As a result, your decisions will seek to achieve the values already inherent to a positive relationship. You know the importance of taking care of your physical and mental health and recognize that fulfillment comes from setting and achieving healthy goals rather than pursuing short-term pleasures. Through counseling, you have learned how to recognize and correctly process your emotions, allowing you to effectively communicate with a partner and resolve conflicts.
The Best Films to Watch During Recovery
The 2000 film “28 Days” supports the idea that recovering substance abusers should wait at least a year before dating and even includes a useful method for determining whether the right time has arrived. Sandra Bullock plays a newspaper columnist forced to enter treatment for alcohol abuse after ruining her sister’s wedding. The film depicts her struggles as she re-evaluates her life and works to overcome her substance abuse problem. At one point during treatment, a counselor offers the following advice on dating in early recovery: “The first step is to get a plant. If you can manage to keep the plant alive, your next step is to adopt a dog. If you can keep both the plant and the dog alive and healthy for a year, you are ready for a relationship.”
For other honest, respectful depictions of drug dependency in cinema, check out the following films:
- Drugstore Cowboy (1989). Gus Van Sant’s indie film adapted from James Fogle’s memoir portrays a group of young adults who travel around the Pacific Northwest. Along the way, the group robs drugstores of valuable pharmaceuticals so they can support their drug dependencies. Led by Bob (Matt Dillon), the crew’s struggle shows how substance users often structure their entire lives around their habits, presenting a realistic picture without serving as a strict cautionary tale or over-moralizing.
- The Basketball Diaries (1995). Based on an autobiographical novel by Jim Carroll, The Basketball Diaries stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Carroll, following his descent from a popular high school basketball star and aspiring writer to a struggling heroin user. This film provides a personal look at how a drug dependency can develop even in promising young people. Most importantly, Carroll illustrates how substance abuse can significantly affect the course of your life.
- Trainspotting (1996) – This graphic, controversial film was adapted from a novel by Irvine Welsh and illustrates the exploits of a group of heroin users living in Edinburgh. Each individual is shown to have unique perspectives and motivations. We follow Ewan McGregor’s Renton from the heights of ecstasy to the depths of misery, including a nightmarishly disturbing bathroom scene that represents a portrait of his life during drug dependency.
- Flight (2012) – Inspired by true events, this film stars Denzel Washington as a commercial pilot who is astonishingly able to crash land his plane under the influence of alcohol and cocaine and following a severe mechanical failure. The film shows how the investigation of the incident affects the pilot as he struggles to tell the truth, knowing it will end his status as a hero and destroy the future of his career.
Are You Struggling with Recovery? Contact Illuminate Recovery for Help
If you have found yourself struggling with handling relationships and early recovery, Illuminate Recovery can help you. Our expert team of licensed medical professionals is dedicated to helping Arizona residents overcome drug dependency with personalized, compassionate care.
We offer treatment at every level of recovery, including detox, inpatient care, medication-assisted treatment, individual and group therapy, outpatient services, sober housing, and relapse prevention. Our comprehensive treatment programs focus on evaluating the full range of issues that lead to substance abuse. For many, this involves diagnosing underlying mental health issues and helping develop a personalized treatment plan to address your unique needs. We aim to provide the education and skills you need to get your life back.
To learn more about our services, call us today. Our team of treatment advisors can answer any questions you may have and help you determine the best plan for your recovery.
Having been on both sides of active addition, both the person using, and the person affected by a loved one using drugs and alcohol, Lucas has been involved in recovery since 2009. He has been working in the treatment industry since 2013. Using his personal experience and wealth of knowledge learned from professional development and immersion in the recovery field, he has spoken with thousands of families and helped hundreds of people attain long-term sobriety. In 2020, the opportunity presented to join in and start Illuminate Recovery. Understanding the importance of personalized treatment plans and the complex nature between substance abuse and co-occurring disorders, has helped Illuminate Recovery build a strong curriculum and a phenomenal staff. Illuminate Recovery now has a medical doctor who is board certified in addiction medicine and a psychiatric medical doctor who works side by side with independently licensed therapists to provide compassionate and effective treatment.