Sex, love, and dating are already complicated enough. Of course, things only get more complicated when addiction is added to the mix.
Active addiction will destroy a romantic relationship every time. But a healthy, loving relationship with a recovering addict is possible. And if you’re a recovering addict yourself, don’t despair. By following the right precautions, you can successfully navigate the world of dating and find a thriving, supportive relationship.
In this article, we’ll discuss tips for single people in recovery who are ready to date, the significant others of recovering addicts, and the spouses of recovering addicts. If addiction has impacted your life or the life of your significant other, this guide is for you.
Plus, how does addiction affect relationships? How soon is too soon to date after recovery? And should two recovering addicts date? We’ll answer all of your questions about how to have healthy relationships after addiction.
How does addiction affect relationships?
Addiction impacts every area of life, including relationships. Over time, it destroys the very foundation of romantic relationships: qualities like trust, stability, intimacy, and communication.
Let’s start by taking a look at the destructive effects of addiction on romantic relationships.
Lies and Secrecy
Addicts often feel ashamed, guilty, or afraid of being judged. To hide the extent of their drug use, addicts become secretive. They lie to cover up the amount of money they’re spending on substances, the places they’re spending their time, and so on.
When these lies are questioned, addicts may become defensive and verbally attack their partners. They may point out their significant other’s perceived flaws to distract from their own.
Anger and Abuse
In addition, some substances cause people to act irrationally or even cruelly toward those around them. Common effects of substance abuse include:
- Mood swings
- Social isolation
- Risky behavior
- Increased need for privacy
Of course, none of these effects contribute to a healthy relationship. The addict’s partner is likely to become frustrated or angry and push back against these behaviors, causing the addict to grow more defensive. In some relationships that involve addiction, these behaviors escalate to verbal or physical abuse.
Loss of Interest in the Relationship
For an addict, nothing is more important than the substance. This includes relationships. The addict is driven by cravings for drugs or alcohol, and fulfilling that craving becomes the most important part of his or her life.
Relationships that were once so important become neglected. The addict’s actions and choices are based on securing more of the substance, and he or she begins to show little concern for loved ones.
For someone who is not addicted to substances, these changes are impossible to understand. Those in relationships with addicts find themselves constantly saying, “Why are you doing this? If you really loved me, you would just stop using.” For the addict, unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.
Despite their best intentions, people who are in relationships with addicts often enable them. Enabling behaviors can include lending money, calling in sick for the addict, and lying to others.
When addicts are overprotected by their loved ones, they can’t experience the natural consequences of their actions. And when there are no consequences, there’s no real motivation to seek help.
If, for instance, a child asks why Mom couldn’t make it to the soccer game, it’s important for the addict’s husband to avoid the impulse to lie. A better response is, “I’m not sure. You’ll have to ask her.”
Healthy boundaries are vital in any relationship. If you love an addict, you must make it clear that you won’t continue to participate in the destructive cycle of addiction. This doesn’t mean your loved one will seek help. However, it does mean that you’re making healthy choices and refusing to be responsible for others.
The bottom line is this: Active addiction and romantic relationships do not mix. If the addict receives treatment and commits to recovery, however, a healthy and happy relationship is possible.
Now, we’ll discuss tips for single recovering addicts, as well as the significant others and spouses of addicts in recovery.
I. I’m in Recovery and Want to Date Again
If you’re in recovery and ready to get back into dating, it’s very important to continue prioritizing your recovery, even over your budding relationship. You’ll need to be cautious, honest with yourself, and careful not to lose sight of your sobriety.
By following these guidelines, you can find the balance between recovery and romance.
How soon is too soon to date after addiction?
Experts say that unattached addicts and alcoholics shouldn’t start a new relationship for at least a year. This may seem like a long time, but there are several important reasons for this general rule.
Why Recovering Addicts Should Wait to Date
Yes, waiting a full 365 days to date can be difficult. Addiction may have shattered important relationships in your life, and recovery may mean that you had to leave behind all your old friends. This can leave you feeling lonely and wanting to connect with others, which makes dating seem appealing.
Before you make a decision, consider the reasons experts say you should wait.
First, some people turn to the high of infatuation as a replacement addiction. The flood of chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine can be an intoxicating substitute for the high of drugs or alcohol.
For some, love and sex can emerge as new addictions. And simply replacing the previous addiction makes it difficult to do the important work of addressing underlying issues.
These issues are often linked to negative core beliefs. While you’re in the honeymoon phase of a new and exciting relationship, these beliefs are difficult to uncover. Using relationships as a crutch can prevent real, meaningful recovery from addiction.
Distraction and Risk of Relapse
Relationships can also be a distraction from recovery. During the first year of sobriety, your time and energy should be focused on recovery and rediscovering yourself.
Both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous emphasize spiritual principles and encourage recovering addicts to turn to a higher power. Recovering addicts run the risk of seeing a new partner as a sort of higher power.
The problem is that relationships fail. Arguments, infidelity, or the collapse of a new relationship can easily trigger a relapse in early recovery. These issues can stir up feelings of abandonment, insecurity, or unworthiness that contribute to addiction.
Challenging Social Situations
Dating and other social situations can be difficult for recovering addicts. Will you feel comfortable if the person you’re dating has a drink or two at dinner? What if they want to take you to a bar or a party with lots of drinking? Even kissing someone with the taste of alcohol on their lips can trigger a recovering alcoholic.
It’s best to spend one year working on yourself and building your recovery before dating again. However, many recovering addicts choose not to listen to this advice.
How to Date While Recovering from Addiction
We agree with the other experts: You should stay sober for a full year before dating. Develop a support network, engage in healthy activities to occupy your time, and find a sober accountability partner who is also committed to refraining from dating.
But if you do start dating before the year is up–or even if you start dating more than a year into recovery– follow the tips below to maintain sobriety while dating.
Move slowly with anyone you want to date. Take time to get to know the person and make sure they are an appropriate choice before investing fully in the relationship.
To maintain your sobriety, you should date someone who:
- Does not have a substance abuse issue
- Is supportive of your recovery
- Wants to develop a long-term relationship
- You are comfortable introducing to your friends and family
- Shares some of your interests and values
Do not date someone only for sex, and be on the lookout for signs of a destructive or dysfunctional relationship. Don’t make the relationship the sole focus of your life. Continue working your program, pursuing independent hobbies and interests, and nurturing other important friendships and relationships.
Tell your new partner about your recovery. If it’s still within the first year, make it clear that your sobriety has to be a priority. The right person will understand, and it’s important for them to be aware of potential triggers and healthy boundaries.
In addition to being honest with your partner, be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if you’re using the relationship as a crutch or as a distraction. Do you truly like this person? Can you safely pursue this relationship without threatening your hard-won sobriety? Is this person kind, supportive, honest, and dependable enough to be a worthy boyfriend or girlfriend?
Is your new partner respectful of your boundaries? Do you find yourself making compromises that don’t feel good? Do you find yourself doing things merely to please your significant other? If so, this may be the wrong person or the wrong time. Don’t be afraid to take a step back and protect your sobriety above all else.
Rely on Your Support System
Don’t hide your relationship from your sponsor, sober friends, or therapists. Secrets and lies are a hallmark of addiction that you’re trying to leave in the past.
Discuss your new relationship and even relationship issues openly. Your therapist can help you achieve a healthy relationship with appropriate boundaries and can recognize potential red flags that you may overlook. He or she can also provide advice on your readiness for a relationship and how to manage dating effectively.
Although you may be wary of disapproval from others, don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Retreating from your support system can be disastrous for your recovery.
So, wait to date until you’ve rebuilt your self-esteem and feel confident in your sobriety. Keep up with therapy, 12-step meetings, and anything else that’s part of your recovery plan. Share openly about the relationship with others and ask for advice when needed.
Take it slow and listen to your gut instinct. And remember: No relationship is worth risking your sobriety. If it seems like you need to choose between sobriety and a relationship for the time being, always choose your sobriety.
II. I’m in a Relationship with a Recovering Addict
What if you find yourself on the other side of the equation, and you’re dating someone in recovery? Here’s how to have a healthy relationship with a recovering addict.
1. Take It Slow
Find out how long the person you want to date has been in recovery. If it’s still early, pursuing a relationship at this time may not work out. During early recovery, the recovering addict is still adjusting physically, mentally, and emotionally to live without substances. This is a process that can’t be rushed, even for love.
You should also see if your love interest is still “working their plan” by attending meetings, remaining in contact with a sponsor, and so on. Before dating someone in recovery, you want to know that they are serious about their sobriety.
Finally, be aware that addiction can cause lasting consequences. Someone in recovery may have a major financial debt or poor credit, a criminal history, and/or difficulty finding work. These may or may not be deal breakers for you, but it’s something to consider before beginning a serious relationship.
2. Put Their Recovery First
If you want this relationship to last, you must be supportive of your partner’s sobriety and willing to put their recovery first.
Never make your new boyfriend or girlfriend feel guilty about having to spend time attending meetings, visiting a counselor, or keeping other recovery-related appointments. This may mean less time for you, but it’s an investment in the continued health of your significant other and your relationship.
Be considerate of your partner when planning dates. Especially if it’s still early in their sobriety, it’s wise to avoid places where alcohol is being served. Instead of taking your date to a party, club, or bar, plan a beach trip or go see a movie.
It’s also helpful to ask your partner about his or her triggers. What causes drug/alcohol cravings: The sight of these substances? Feelings of loneliness? Too much stress? It’s not your job to protect your significant other or solve every problem, but you can offer empathy and be proactive about managing some of these triggers.
3. Learn About Addiction
Visit your local library or use online resources like the National Institute on Drug Abuse or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to develop a better understanding of addiction. You can read through the articles on our blog for more personal insight and advice.
There are also support groups for the friends and family of recovering addicts. Through these meetings, you can learn even more about recovery and gain advice and support from people in a similar situation.
4. Addiction and Codependency
It’s also worth taking some time to evaluate your attraction to your new boyfriend or girlfriend. Do you find yourself always wanting to rescue those in need? Are you attracted to people who heavily rely on you?
If so, you could be suffering from codependency. Codependency occurs when one partner is excessively dependent on the other. You may have an extreme need for approval and feel overly responsible for the actions of others. Being alone or abandoned may be among your greatest fears.
Codependency is also called “relationship addiction” and often goes hand-in-hand with substance abuse. If you believe you might be codependent, a relationship with a recovering addict is not advisable. You can seek counseling to work through the root causes of your relationship issues.
5. Practice Self-Care
It’s easy to become wrapped up in the needs of your significant other. Don’t forget to attend to your own needs too. Exercise, eat a balanced diet and practice healthy sleep habits. Take time for yourself and turn to your own support system as needed.
Ultimately, all relationships have their challenges. If you follow the above advice and you’re both committed to navigating obstacles together, there’s no reason you can’t have a healthy relationship with an individual in recovery.
Should two recovering addicts date?
During early recovery, it’s extremely risky for two recovering addicts to date. In addition, you should not date someone from any of your support or recovery groups, as this can lead to complications that negatively impact your sobriety.
If, however, you have both been sober for a significant length of time and are equally committed to sobriety, the relationship is possible.
There are both pros and cons to dating someone else in recovery, and you should carefully consider them before making a decision.
- A joint commitment to sobriety and sober dates
- Providing accountability and support
- Having someone who understands, empathizes with, and fully forgives your past
- Building a deeper connection based on this understanding
- If your partner relapses, it could put you at risk.
- Your significant other may be overly reliant on your support through recovery, but you need to focus on your recovery as well.
- If you decide to break up, you may worry about/feel guilty about triggering a relapse.
If you find yourself falling for another recovering addict, talk to your counselor or your support group. Ask for advice. Follow the tips listed above for dating during recovery. Carefully weigh the pros and cons and decide if the relationship is worth it for you. Get to know the person and make sure that they are fully committed to sobriety.
III. I’m Married to an Addict
A third and more complicated scenario is being married to an addict. You’ve made a long-term commitment and perhaps have children together, but your husband or wife has become someone you no longer recognize.
What’s next? If your spouse does seek treatment, how can you repair the relationship? The advice below can apply to husbands, wives, or long-term significant others of addicts.
Is divorce inevitable if you’re married to an addict?
It’s clear that addiction is incredibly damaging to relationships. Does this mean that divorce is inevitable if you’re married to an addict?
Not necessarily. When one or both partners are active addicts, a healthy relationship is virtually impossible. If the addiction is treated, however, it’s possible to rebuild trust and intimacy.
Understand that repairing the relationship will be a long and difficult road. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to save the relationship.
There are steps you can take to help your loved one. These include not enabling your partner, setting healthy boundaries, and encouraging them to seek help. Consider enlisting the support of other people in the addict’s life to stage an intervention. Look into available options for drug rehab and alcohol detox/rehabilitation.
Keep in mind that no matter what you do, the addict may refuse support. If your spouse is not ready to get clean, you may have to make the difficult decision to leave. If, however, your spouse agrees to seek treatment, there is hope. Recovery from addiction is possible, and so is relationship repair after recovery.
How can you repair a relationship after addiction?
Addiction is one of the most difficult challenges a couple can experience. There will be lingering worries, sadness, anger, and resentment. But if both of you are willing to do the work, you can build a new, healthier version of your relationship.
Love Yourself First
Going through a relationship with an addict is stressful and hurtful. It’s also emotionally draining. You likely spent so much time worrying about and supporting your husband or wife that you neglected to care for yourself.
If your emotional supply is depleted, repairing the relationship after recovery will be even more difficult. Make sure you have a support system of your own. Seek the support of friends and family members, join a support group like Al-Anon, or find professional help.
It’s also important to spend time on tasks that you find enjoyable and rewarding. Go for walks, read books, journal, paint, practice yoga, or do anything else that helps you feel restored.
Practice healthy habits like eating well, exercising, and getting plenty of rest. When you feel better physically, you also tend to feel better mentally and emotionally.
By loving yourself first, you will find it easier to forgive and fall back in love with your spouse. You will also be able to set boundaries and avoid anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. And you will understand that even if repairing the relationship is not successful, you will be okay.
After addiction, it’s helpful to think of your relationship as new. Start over. After all, you and your spouse or partner have changed. The relationship won’t be exactly as it was before, so take the time to date and build a new dynamic that you both enjoy.
Take it slow and be patient with one another. Gradually work on your communication, intimacy, and trust. Get to know one another again by going out to dinner or participating in fun activities together.
Don’t put too much pressure on the relationship at first. Talk and enjoy one another’s company. If you focus on connecting in the present, you may be able to rekindle romantic feelings.
Patience will be key to rebuilding your relationship after addiction. Your spouse will need to focus on sobriety and may not always be able to prioritize the relationship. Since you’ve already had to take a backseat to addiction, this can be difficult to understand. However, the relationship will not thrive if recovery is not a top priority.
Your husband or wife must also work through complex feelings of guilt and shame. He or she may feel like an inadequate or unworthy partner.
Meanwhile, you will need time to rebuild trust. This can be an especially difficult part of the process. With trust comes intimacy, so repairing the sexual aspect of the relationship may take time as well.
For both parties, compassion, empathy, and patience will be necessary.
Seek Couples Counseling
Both you and your spouse will likely be traumatized by the experience of addiction. Effectively working through trauma requires professional help. Couples counseling can help you voice your feelings with the help of a mediator, learn better communication skills, and address any underlying issues in your relationship.
As part of recovery, your spouse probably attends meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. If this is the case, it’s helpful to tag along when possible. Not only does this show support, but it also gives you an opportunity to learn more about addiction and about how to have a healthy marriage with a recovering addict.
Honesty is the Best Policy
The broken trust will be perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome after addiction. Both partners must be honest with one another. If lies continue to be part of the relationship, neither trust nor a healthy marriage can be rebuilt.
It can be helpful to decide on a system that will help regain trust. For example, your husband or wife might promise to always call or text if he or she will be home late. If you decide on a system like this, it’s crucial to honor it.
Write It Out
Communicating about your feelings is healthy, but constantly rehashing old arguments and wounds can be damaging. Keeping a journal can help you process your feelings without dumping them on your spouse or causing unnecessary arguments. This is a great way to vent and work through your pain.
As you and your spouse relearn healthy communication, writing letters to each other is also a helpful tool. This is a way to discuss tough subjects without interrupting or arguing. Gradually, this process may help improve your verbal communication too.
The Possibility of Relapse
It’s important to understand that relapse is a possibility. This information is not to scare you, but to prepare you.
Addiction is a chronic disease. Relapse rates for addiction are similar to relapse rates for other chronic illnesses. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 40-60 percent of addicts in recovery relapse. 90 percent of alcoholics are likely to relapse at least once in the four years after treatment, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
NIDA further explains that relapse does not mean treatment has failed. Instead, it means that treatment may need to be reinstated or modified. When a recovering addict relapses, they should speak to a sponsor and consider what steps to take next.
They should also look at their triggers: What internal or external triggers may have led to the relapse? How can these triggers be avoided or managed in the future?
If you’re married to a recovering addict, consider what you will do in the case of a relapse. This doesn’t mean you have to be constantly vigilant. But having a plan can help you remain calm and avoid reacting impulsively if the situation does occur. This is especially important if children are involved.
Best Advice When Dating an Addict
Relationships after addiction are complicated. All relationships are. Both parties will need to move slowly, practice self-care, and rely on their support systems. Trust and communication will be key.
If you’re in recovery, it’s vital to continue attending meetings and prioritizing your sobriety. It’s also wise to follow the one-year rule, committing the first year of sobriety to yourself and your recovery. By doing so, you’ll be able to give your best and healthiest self to a new relationship. And with a firm hold on your sobriety, dating is less likely to threaten your recovery.
It’s easy to feel hopeless after addiction. It may seem like you’ll never be able to go on a “normal” date or develop a positive relationship again. If you’re married to an addict, it may seem like the love you once had is gone forever.
This is not true. Plenty of recovering addicts has gone on to experience loving, fulfilling romantic relationships. Supportive partners have been found, marriages have been mended, and some stories have had happy endings after all.
Do you have any related questions we haven’t covered? Tips for romantic relationships after addiction that have worked for you? Let us know in the comments!