Dating someone who is recovering from addiction will require a high degree of sacrificial love, but what a committed, sober person can bring to a relationship is utterly invaluable. The act of recovering from addiction requires an exceptional level of self-awareness and acceptance.
People in recovery can be highly spiritual and compassionate and less judgmental than a typical person. Through the chasm of addiction, they have led imperfect lives. In turn, they can be more understanding and accepting of your flaws.
Someone who is firmly dedicated to their recovery can bring a magnitude of awareness, understanding, and compassion that makes them an excellent candidate for a relationship.
As this Psychology Today article points out, due to the nature of recovery where self-discovery and improvement are required, “[people in recovery] can be some of the healthiest, most put-together individuals you’ll meet.”
There is also the reality of what it means to date someone in recovery. They must grapple with a chronic brain disease where relapse is an ever-present reality. They must use coping mechanisms and strategies to deal with cravings. They must learn how to modulate their environments to avoid potential triggers.
Dating someone in recovery means understanding that your partner engages in a lifelong battle with dependence daily. Yet, with that knowledge, you must remain supportive and sensitive to the person’s needs, even at the expense of the relationship.
Their addiction, however, cannot consume you either. You should feel empowered to set clear boundaries that protect your interests and sense of well-being, especially if they exhibit dangerous signs of relapse and addiction.
If you are considering dating someone with a history of addiction, you may want to examine your beliefs, opinions, and prejudices.
Relationships are difficult and awkward on their own. This is profoundly true when one or two of the people involved have a substance use disorder. Thus, it is important to know all that is involved in dating and supporting a recovering addict.
The Reality of Addiction
Someone who has spent a significant portion of their life with a drug or alcohol addiction will have an altered sense of who they are. They will likely possess an exaggerated, outsized, and/or unrealistic perception of themselves. For example, a guy may have built his identity around alcohol to such a degree that he thinks of himself as cool and charismatic, especially with a drink in hand.
A newly recovered person is adjusting to the reality of being sober in an unsober world, particularly if their vice of choice was liquor. Because alcohol is so intertwined with American culture, from parties and happy hours to bar mitzvahs and weddings, a person in recovery can be made to feel like they cannot live without it.
Because addictions are essentially disorders of the brain, relapse is a necessary part of the recovery process. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that between 40 percent to 60 percent of people with addiction relapse.
People in recovery have to navigate a society where they are judged more harshly than those that grapple with mental illness. They may re-enter environments that are rife with temptation and potential triggers that can send them hurtling back toward relapse and re-addiction.
When they enter recovery, they are undergoing detoxification of the mind, body, and spirit. Their natural brain and body chemistry are being restored along with their authentic selves—who they were before the addiction.
That sense of who they were before becomes clearer the longer someone is in recovery. Absent that realization, dating anyone with less than a year under their belt can make for a dramatic, twister of an experience.
Why 1 Year of Recovery Is Crucial
Before you enter into any relationship with someone in recovery, it is important that they have at least one year of sobriety. Why? Because people in the early stages of sobriety do not have a true sense of who they really are.
What’s more, they will also be tempted to replace one addiction with another. One licensed addiction specialist said this to the U.S. News & World Report for a February 2017 article:
“It will be easy for many to find replacement addictions, such as a love addiction, to replace the high the drug or alcohol provided,” she said.
“Many people enjoy the honeymoon phase of relationships, feeling euphoria from the new love, making it more challenging to address issues that underlie the addiction,” the specialist added. “Typically these underlying issues are related to our negative core beliefs, a difficult thing to uncover when we are viewed as ‘perfect’ by our new partner.”
Anita Gadhia-Smith also tells the U.S. News & World Report that when someone in early recovery has a new love interest, the object of their affection can become a higher power for them.
“That’s dangerous because the person can fail you, and relationships end,” she says. “Most people in early recovery aren’t stable emotionally, and relationships in early recovery are fraught with volatility and emotional instability.”
The result, contends another addiction specialist, is that “the collapse of a new relationship can easily trigger relapse.”
How to Date and Support Someone in Recovery
If you are in a serious relationship with a person in recovery or are thinking about dating someone who is, here are tips that can help you navigate the tricky and thorny waters of dating.
Leave Your Judgment at the Door
Someone who has grappled with addiction may very well bear the scars of that dependency. They may have incurred health conditions, a criminal record, and/or a significant amount of debt or financial trouble. Are you willing and/or tolerant enough to look past your partner’s faults? If not, you should probably look to end the relationship and spare your partner any further pain.
Love Is Not Enough, But Support Can Be
Despite what the Hollywood romantic comedies suggest, love does not conquer all. You cannot love someone past an addiction, especially if the person is not committed to their recovery.
It is imperative to gain a solid sense of that person’s sobriety and whether they are actively using. If a partner is still using, you will want to help them get into treatment and hold off on continuing the relationship.
You will also do what you can to educate yourself about the realities of addiction. That will give you the tools to make informed decisions to best support them.
Even if your partner is firmly committed to their sobriety, the threat of relapse and re-addiction is ever present. So demonstrating support through actions such as not drinking or using drugs in your partner’s presence, is a way to aid in their recovery. If you are going to a social event where alcohol or other triggers are present, you can demonstrate loving action by leaving that function early. You can also choose not to invite them to places where such triggers are present.
Set Those Boundaries
Of course, you are not your partner’s addiction. Should they relapse, it is important to understand that you not the blame.
“When your own boundaries are firmly in place, you protect yourself from being taken down by your loved one’s illness,” says Dr. David Sack in this Psych Central article.
Sack goes on to say that there is a point in the relationship where the person who is dating someone in recovery will ask themselves questions such as, “Why am I attracted to this person?” Or “Is it because of who they are and how they treat me or do I have a history of being attracted to people I can fix?”
Setting boundaries also mean exhibiting a level of self-control where the relationship is not rushed.
A Los Angeles-based writer recounts what she learned after moving to Seattle to live with a boyfriend who succumbed to a methamphetamine addiction: “I wish I had clearer boundaries for myself going in so that I didn’t stay as long as I did and watch the love we had sour,” she writes.
“Setting boundaries earlier on may have prevented my unintentional enabling, which created behaviors in him that I later resented.”
Get the Support You Need
A group like Al-Anon was formed specifically to assist the loved ones of people in recovery from alcohol addiction. Al-Anon, which has chapters and meetings around the world, helps members identify enabling behaviors that may have negatively contributed to their relationships. In these meetings, members discuss strategies to deal with the challenges of a loved one’s addiction.
Nar-Anon is a family group for people with loved ones addicted to drugs. They operate in the same fashion as Al-Anon, with chapters and meetings throughout the world. For more information about an Al-Anon meeting near you, visit this link. You can visit this link to find a Nar-Anon meeting in your area.
Get Help for Your Loved One
If a partner has relapsed or their use has gone beyond the point of no return, then professional addiction treatment is essential to their well-being, even beyond your relationship.