Love, Sex and Relationships while in Recovery from Addiction


Love, Sex and Relationships while in Recovery from Addiction

Dating in recovery has been compared to playing football without gear, running barefoot over sharp rocks, and having dental work without the benefit of painkillers. It can be the great escape, bounce you back into relapse, or trigger a new addiction.”

~ Mary Faulkner, Easy Does It Dating Guide: For People in Recovery

Why do addiction experts recommend that recovering addicts shouldn’t get into a new relationship until they are at least one year into recovery? After all, aren’t romance, dating, sex, and love part of being “normal” and healthy? If you have worked hard to regain your sobriety, shouldn’t you be rewarded with the benefits of your efforts?

Of course, you should. The whole point of recovery is to be healthy and happy, and that includes in your personal relationships with other people.

But relationships can be tricky, even when you are at your best. There is stress and anxiety and pressure and the desire for everything to be perfect, and those are present even when the relationship is going well. And since every relationship has problems, there will also be arguments and anger and jealousy. There’s even the possibility of pain and heartache and loneliness and depression if it doesn’t work out.

During early recovery, you are emotionally fragile, because you are still learning how to use the strengths and tools that keep you sober and balanced. The lessons and exercises and positive coping strategies you have been taught are not yet second nature or habit.

In other words, your hold on your sobriety may not be as sure as you would like.

If you are not strong and stable emotionally and in your recovery, the wrong relationship at the wrong time can sabotage your efforts and jeopardize everything you have worked so hard to achieve.

So here are some things to keep in mind about love, sex, and dating during recovery from addiction.

What Do AA and NA Say About Relationships?

“…defective relations with other human beings have nearly always been the immediate cause of our woes, including our (addiction)…”

~ Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 80

While in recovery, you’re likely attending some type of mutual support/fellowship group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. (And if you aren’t, then you should be.)

AA and NA have always been very vocal about the potential dangers of starting a new relationship while in recovery. The literature recommends that you shouldn’t rush into any new romances until you are sure that your compatibility with the other person is real, rather than just “love at first sight”.

One relevant passage reads:

The prospective partners need to be…long enough acquainted to know that their compatibility at spiritual, mental, and emotional levels is a fact, and not wishful thinking. They need to be s sure as possible that no deep-lying emotional handicap in either will be likely to rise up under later pressures to cripple them.”

In other words, acting too hastily or impulsively when it comes to romance in recovery can be a recipe for disaster later on.

dating in recovery

What Do Professionals Say About Relationships during Recovery?

It is commonly recommended in the recovery community to avoid romantic relationships for the first year, because most of us are just beginning to get to know ourselves and to define our values. We have to learn to love ourselves before we can love someone else.”

~ Tanya Desloover, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Most therapists and addiction counselors agree with the recommendations found in AA/NA literature. The general consensus is that a person new to recovery doesn’t yet have the emotional stability or facility with positive coping skills to deal with the highs and lows of a new relationship in a healthy manner.

Lacking those, stress within a relationship makes it far too easy to slip back into dysfunctional ways of thinking, old coping methods like getting drunk or high, and other self-destructive behaviors.

In fact, in 2017, there was a study published in Neuron that concluded that stress actually recalibrates neurons within the brain and makes the person more likely to abuse substances.

Challenges of Starting a Relationship While in Recovery

In relationships, our intentions are to put our best foot forward, and we intend to behave properly – for example, not to lose our temper and have patience. Then something happens and we become angry, less tolerant, and can’t stop ourselves from lashing out. Then we give rise to resentments in our relationships. Then we are controlled by our past negative thoughts of relationships before we came into recovery.”

~ David E. McCauley, Addiction to Recovery: Unlocking Your Potential

Starting and maintaining a new romantic relationship during recovery presents several significant challenges.

  • Increased social anxiety: Dating means meeting new people. If the thought of opening yourself up causes your anxiety, then you might be tempted to use or drink.
  • Disclosure: Your past presents you with a quandary – when do you tell potential dates that you are in recovery?  If you tell them too soon, you may scare them away, but if you delay, you may find yourself in uncomfortable situations.
  • Increased exposure to alcohol or drugs: It’s considered normal to meet up for a drink for your first date. Also, many date ideas – dinner, dancing, parties, etc. – involve drinking or recreational drug use.
  • Neglect of your recovery program: Because you want to spend time with the other person, you may sacrifice some of the time that you devote to your recovery—skipping meetings or therapy sessions, for example.
  • Moving too fast: Active addiction robbed you of “normal” relationships.  In your rush to get that back, you may instead push the other person away.
  • Loneliness: When you are focused completely on your recovery and rebuilding your life, you probably give little thought to romance.  But if your first efforts at dating are not as successful as you would like, you may feel even more alone.
  • Past relationships: Substance abuse wreaks havoc on your personal life.  This means that your past relationships may have been toxic, dysfunctional, codependent, or even violent.  It can be challenging to break that pattern if that is all you have known.

sober and dating

Relationship Addiction

They unconsciously equate being in a relationship with survival – they think they will die of loneliness if they are not involved with someone.  If this feeling is strong enough, this person will do anything to hold on to someone they have become attached to. They will obsess and they will become addicted.”

~ Susan Peabody, Addiction to Love: Overcoming Obsession and Dependency in Relationships

An important factor to consider before getting into a relationship is that your former dependence on drugs and alcohol can transform into dependence on a relationship.  Part of the reason this is possible is because many of the same neurochemical processes activated when you fall in love were involved in your addiction.

In 2010, researchers at Rutgers University conducted a study concluding that falling in love releases the same brain chemicals as drug use – oxytocin, adrenaline, dopamine, and vasopressin.  These chemicals create a sense of euphoria whenever you are around the other person, strengthening the bond you feel. And as with any addiction, the longer you are around that person, the stronger that bond becomes. This is a good thing, part of the normal biological process.

But people with a history of addiction have to be extra careful because substance abuse completely disrupts the brain’s reward system.  In fact, someone who is dependent on alcohol or drugs may be unable to experience joy, motivation, or pleasure unless they are drinking or using.  And even after you regain your sobriety, it can take several months for your brain chemistry to return to normal.

This means that when you meet someone new and exciting who arouses your interest, you will experience the same pleasurable rush that you felt when you were actively addicted. Instead of getting a boost of euphoria from drinking or doing drugs, you get it from being in a relationship.

If you are still new in recovery and have not yet learned how to fully manage your addictive impulses, you may find yourself engaging in the same sort of obsessive behaviors that you did when you were substance-seeking.

And that is a bad thing, it only takes a very small step to go back to using and drinking.  This is especially true if the relationship does not work out.

The Biology of a Breakup

A human is programmed to need human contact, and to be affected when human contact is withdrawn…  They go through the bereavement cycle, typically, shock, denial, grief, anger, blame, self-blame, helplessness, fear of the future, depression, and then acceptance.  If people feel abandoned but don’t feel anger, they become depressed, they lose confidence in their ability to have a relationship in the future. They become anxious, they may relive conversations and the breakup in their minds.  They may not sleep, which makes anxiety and depression worse.”

~ Dr. Susan Quillam, Psychologist, talking to the Daily Mail

The similarities to falling in love and drug addiction do not end there. According to a 2010 study conducted by Stony Brook University, romantic rejection activates cravings that closely resemble those experienced during the drug withdrawal.  The researchers even went so far as to say “romantic love is a specific form of addiction”.

They also concluded that this explains “why feelings and behaviors related to romantic rejection of difficult to control”.

When partners break up, a molecule called corti-cotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) is released. CRF is responsible for creating feelings of depression. This molecule is largely responsible for making couples miss each other, even if the relationship wasn’t that great to begin with.

There are six separate brain systems that may be impacted by a breakup:

  • Bonding: We have a biological need to connect with others.  When the connection is taken away, we look for substitutes, including addictive substances.
  • Reward: When we lose what makes us feel good –a romantic partner, for example – we look for something to take its place.
  • Pain: A breakup causes serious emotional and physical pain.  We may look to alcohol or drugs for relief.
  • Stress: This system reacts immediately after a breakup, and can trigger anxiety and insomnia, both of which can contribute to a relapse.
  • Emotional Regulation: After a breakup, we find it difficult to control our emotions or our impulses.  This makes it difficult to make good choices or to resist cravings.
  • Cognition: Many people experience problems with memory, concentration, and the ability to stay organized following a breakup.

With so many systems affected, a split can trigger negative, self-destructive feelings, thought patterns, and behaviors that can lead directly to relapse.  This is one of the primary reasons why you should perhaps delay dating until you are emotionally strong enough in your recovery to handle a potential breakup.

What About Sex?

Although it is the last major addiction to be identified and researched, many clinicians believe sex addiction is not only a “real” addiction, but the ultimate addiction.  As Sigmund Freud suggested, all others “may be just a substitute”. Modern neuroscience, via brain imaging, reveals that all addictions, including sex addiction, stimulate the same pleasure centers of the brain.”

~ Connie A. Lofgreen, The Storm of Sex Addiction: Rescue and Recovery

Similarly, sex results in the release of various powerful neurochemicals that make you feel great.  Unfortunately, this is why many people who are newly-sober try to satisfy their drug and alcohol cravings with sex.

But sexual addiction is a real disorder.  Just like people who abuse substances, sex addicts can lose control, and their behaviors can have serious consequences in every other area of their life.  Promiscuity, unsafe sex, and other risky behaviors can be just as dangerous as drug addiction or alcoholism.

Look at golf superstar Tiger Woods as an example.  He seemingly had it all – adulation as perhaps the greatest golfer of all time, an incredible fortune, and a supposedly-perfect marriage to a beautiful woman.  But behind his squeaky-clean image, Woods was a serial adulterer who slept with legions of women despite the possible consequences to his family and his fortune.

Woods’ affairs cost him his marriage, his reputation, his endorsements, hundreds of millions of dollars, and very nearly, his entire career.  Between his personal and health problems, Woods did not win another major golf tournament for a decade.

But knowing what we now know about how all addictions are similar, was it really all that surprising when Woods was arrested on DUI charges in 2017?

The Fourth Step of Recovery says that we should ask ourselves the following questions:

  • When, and how, and in just what instances did my selfish pursuit of the sex relation damage other people and me?
  • What people were hurt, and how badly?
  • Did I burn with guilt that nothing could extinguish?
  • How have I reacted to frustration in sexual matters?
  • When denied, did I become vengeful or depressed?
  • Did I take it out on other people?
  • If there was rejection…did I use this as a reason for promiscuity?

If you are honest, your answers will tell you if sex has become a problem.

dating recovering addict

Dating Another Recovering Addict

A.A. has many single alcoholics who wish to marry and are in a position to do so.  Some marry fellow A.A.’s. How do they come out? On the whole, these marriages are very good ones.  Their common suffering as drinkers, their common interest in A.A. and spiritual things, often enhance such unions.”

~ Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 119 to fit

Birds of a feather tend to flock together. If you’re a recovering addict, there’s a good chance that you’re going to meet many other people in the same situation, especially at 12-Step meetings.  Increased exposure to these people may cause you to develop feelings for a special someone.

But, is it a good idea to date another recovering addict? At first glance, it may seem like an ideal match. After all, both of you can help one another work towards recovery.  You each have a good idea of what the other person is going through. You can be each other’s rock.

However, the truth is often much more complicated than that.  In fact, many experts recommend against dating someone in recovery.

Why is this?

Although you need help to recover, it is still a very individual experience.  Your ultimate success largely depends on your willingness to diligently work your program and make the necessary changes to your lifestyle.  Yes, you can draw strength and inspiration from others, but YOU are still the largest factor in your eventual success or failure.

But this also means that you and your potential partner may not be the same place on your own personal sober journeys.  One of you may be farther along than the other, and this is bound to create some difficulties.

And if your partner relapses, it can be very difficult to maintain both your sobriety and the relationship.  You know that if you stay, you are putting your own recovery in jeopardy. But you also know that if you leave the relationship, you may be taking away the last personal support they have.

This kind of emotional dilemma can be the source of considerable stress.  If you are not strong enough in your recovery, this stress can overwhelm you to the point that you relapse as well.

Even though Alcoholics Anonymous says that relationships between recovering addicts can succeed, the literature does qualify that statement.  Both partners should be “solid A.A’s”, meaning that they should be far enough along in their recovery to have achieved both emotional stability and a significant period of sobriety.

Avoiding Codependency

Codependency can be described as being compulsively dependent for love on a dependent person who is in turn unable to love healthily or consistently.”

~Dr. J. Richard Cookerly, Recovering Love: Codependency to Corecovery

If you do date someone else in recovery, you also run the risk of becoming codependent.

In healthy personal relationships, both people can rely on the other person for understanding, help, affection, and support. Each person’s presence adds something positive to the other’s life. Interdependency is a GOOD thing because we all need help from other people from time to time. It gives us confidence and comfort to know that we can trust another to be there for us.

On the other hand, codependency is a major sign of an extremely unhealthy relationship. A codependent person is emotionally off balance because their wants, needs, and what is best for them are secondary to those of the other person. Codependents have a “need to be needed”, so they largely define themselves by their efforts and ability to take care of someone else.

This is particularly true in relationships that are impacted by substance abuse. If your partner relapses or is not emotionally sober, you may be forced into a caretaker role, where you must constantly “go along to get along”. You clean up their messes, put up with their moods swings and abuse, and protect them from the consequences of their actions.

Even if you stay sober, you start to suffer just like the other person. Every other area of your life – personal, professional, and social – is negatively impacted because you sacrifice all of your time, attention, energy, and resources on your partner.

Why do you this?

Because you think you are helping the other person. But what you are actually doing is enabling their unhealthy behaviors to continue. Because you stick around and put up with them, they have no reason to sober up, either physically or emotionally.

In the meantime, you will start to resent them. You become manipulative, controlling, passive-aggressive, anxious, distrustful, depressed, and experience toxic emotions that make you just as sick as the other person.

Worst of all, living this way can undermine your progress and jeopardize your own successful recovery. Not only will you face temptation and cravings when you see them drinking and using, but you can also feel so beaten down emotionally that you will even wonder if there is any point to being sober.

This is why your length in recovery matters. As a marriage therapist, Ms. Desloover says, “Women in recovery often choose abusive men because they seem in control, while the women seem out of control in their own lives. This control is attractive at first but soon becomes controlling or abusive. As women grow more confident and emotionally healthy in recovery, their self-esteem and confidence improve, and they begin to actually like themselves. We teach people how to treat us, so with longer-term recovery, we are going to demand to be treated than when we are new to recovery.”

Overcoming These Challenges

…two halves don’t make a whole when it comes to human relationships…Recovery is about developing our own missing halves – and going into the world feeling whole.”

~ Mary Faulkner, Easy Does It Dating Guide: For People in Recovery

So does this mean that you should definitely not date during recovery?

Although most professionals recommend waiting a minimum of a year, in actuality, it can take several years for the lessons, principles, and habits to take firm hold.  It is simply not realistic to expect someone to wait that long before starting a romantic relationship.

But regardless of whether you wait one year, three years, or just a few months, the point is, you will eventually start dating again.  The question then becomes how you can keep addiction – your past, current, and lifelong condition – from negatively affecting your future relationships.

While there are challenges to dating in recovery, that does not necessarily mean that you cannot find the right relationship with the right person, provided you keep certain things in mind.

dating while sober

Your Sobriety is ALWAYS Your Top Priority

You absolutely cannot be there for someone else if you are not there for YOURSELF first. And if their behavior or attitude jeopardizes your recovery, then it is not the right relationship for you.

As you learned in early recovery, stay away from the people, places, and things that can act as addictive or emotional triggers. This includes unsupportive relationships.

But no matter how the relationship develops, stay focused on your own progress. Keep working your plan and trying to be the best version of YOU possible.

Stay in Treatment

Even as you get emotionally stronger, do not skip counseling sessions. Your therapist can help you work through your emotions and better understand your own mental health. He or she can also help you determine whether you are in the relationship for the right reasons. Best of all,  you will learn the skills needed to enjoy a truly healthy relationship.

The fellowship and support you find at 12-Step meetings will also help keep you on the right track. When the time is right and if they are comfortable, ask your partner if they would like to attend an open meeting with you.

Be Discreetly Honest

Alcohol and drugs are everywhere. “Meeting for drinks” is a typical first date. Even innocent gestures can put your sobriety at risk. For example, if you cook a romantic dinner, your (unaware) date may thoughtfully bring wine. Or, because marijuana is legal in so many places, they may think nothing of lighting up in front of you.

In the beginning, it is enough to say, “I don’t drink/smoke.” But if you move forward in the relationship, more explanation will be necessary. Anyone worthy of a serious relationship does need to know about your relevant medical condition – addiction.

Simply tell them that you are in recovery from addiction. Let them ask questions so they can understand, but you do not have to dwell on the past. Focus on the progress you are making.

Make Your Own Choices and Respect Theirs

You do not have to limit your dating options to only those people who never drink. Their choices are entirely their own. If they don’t abuse alcohol and if they are respectful of your recovery efforts, then they can do what works for them.

They can respect and support your sobriety by:

  • Not pressuring you to drink or use with them
  • Showing consideration on your dates – Going someplace other than a bar, for example
  • Drinking or using in front of you – If you are still newly-sober, re-exposure can trigger cravings and put you at risk of relapse.

Take It Slow

It can be tempting to jump into a relationship too soon or to become infatuated and give it more importance than it actually has. This sets you up for the crushing disappointment that can set off emotional triggers.

The best advice is to let things happen as they will, at their own pace. If casual dating becomes something more meaningful, then congratulations.

But do not try to rush or force it. You need time to really get to understand the other person and see them for who they really are and how their personality meshes with yours.

Work on Yourself

Work on becoming the sort of person that you would like to be with.  Not just sober, but also kind, considerate, dependable, supportive, confident, affectionate, positive, and trustworthy.  Constantly assess your behaviors and actions – the “self-inventory” described in the 12 Steps of Recovery.

Are You Ready for a Relationship?

So, how do you know whether or not you’re ready for a new relationship in recovery?

There are no concrete, hard and fast rules. Just because you’ve met the one-year mark of recovery, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re ready. And just because you haven’t met that mark yet, it doesn’t mean that you should ignore a potentially promising opportunity with someone special if you feel like they’re the right one.

There are some signs that might show that you are emotionally stable and have reached the point in your recovery where you are ready to take the next step:

  • You have achieved a significant period of continuous sobriety.
  • You have a strong personal support system in place.
  • You regularly and actively attend 12-Step meetings.
  • You have completed the 12 Steps at least once.
  • You no longer suffer post-acute withdrawal symptoms.
  • You have received/are receiving treatment for any mental disorders that accompanied your active addiction.
  • You feel emotionally balanced and strong enough to handle the ups and downs of dating.
  • You are comfortable being by yourself, even if you want something more.  You want to have a relationship that is based on a desire to share your life with another person, not one that is based on desperation or need.
  • You have talked to with your therapist, and they say that you are ready to start dating.

sober dating

What If You Were Already in a Relationship?

Like any alcoholic, I found it easy to make promises, but much harder to keep them.  This began my pattern of concealing, screwing up, and then begging forgiveness.”

~ Sue Pruett, Our Marriage: Surviving Addiction and Thriving in Sobriety

Of course, it is just as likely that you are hoping to rebuild the relationship that you had during active addiction, with a long-suffering spouse or significant other.

If this is the case, you will have a lot of work to do.  The good news is that in many cases, it is possible to repair the damage caused by your active addiction.  And while your success depends on the willingness of your spouse/partner to work with you and supports you during recovery, it is well worth the effort to try.

Your job will be to diligently work your recovery program and show them that THIS TIME, you are sincere. Acknowledge your past mistakes and focus on moving forward.

Relationships can and do survive the terrible disease of addiction.  Work on rebuilding trust, making amends, communicating honestly, expressing your emotions in a healthy way, and interacting in a positive manner.

Most of all, remain patient. Your addiction did not develop overnight, and your illness impacted your relationship over a period of time. It will also take time to regain what you have lost.

10 Fun Sober Date Ideas

So, you think you’ve found the right person and that you’re ready to start a new relationship? To get to know your date better, try out these 10 fun sober date ideas.  Once you trust that person enough to share your story of recovery with them, have even more fun by adding to the list with your own ideas.

#1. Cook a Romantic Dinner

Show off your creative cooking skills by making a romantic dinner at home.  Choose a favorite recipe, set the table, lights, and candles, put on some music, and you have created a wonderful environment.

Because you control the menu and the ingredients and even the drinks that you serve, you can remove any temptations that you might have to tempt fate with a glass of wine.

#2. Go on an Outdoor Adventure

Spending time outdoors with nature can slow things down and give you time to get to know and bond with your date. There are plenty of different activities to do, no matter where you live.  For example, you can plan a picnic, go on a nature hike, or visit a botanical garden and take some time to smell the roses.

Best of all, being active and out-of-doors wonderfully supports your continued recovery, by:

  • Boosting your immune system with the Vitamin D you receive from sunshine.  Most chronic alcoholics and addicts suffer from significant nutritional deficiencies.
  • Improving your mood and mental health by exposing you to fresh air and natural light, both of which are excellent remedies to the depression felt by many people in early recovery.
  • Reducing stress. Recent studies show that just looking at nature can help reduce stress.

#3. Watch a Movie

This classic date idea is the perfect way to have some quiet time and ease into being around each other, all while still being entertained.  Even better, it gives you something to talk about later.

And with so many streaming options available today, you can also kick back at home and binge-watch to your heart’s content.

One caveat: Try to avoid movies and television shows that strongly feature drinking or drug use.

#4. Take a Class Together

Learning a new skill or hobby can be a lot of fun, especially if you are sharing the experience with someone you like. It might even help you pick up a hobby that can keep boredom at bay and your mind off of alcohol or drugs. Immersing yourself in a hobby is an important part of a good relapse prevention plan.

#5. Go to a Comedy Show

Nothing brings people together like laughter. Most cities have comedy clubs with relatively inexpensive tickets. Some shows are alcohol-free or have an alcohol-free section well away from the bar.

Laughter really is the best medicine for recovery, because it alleviates stress and eases symptoms of depression. In fact, when a comedian tells jokes about his own experiences with drugs and alcohol, you may be able to find the humor in your own situation.

#6. Go to a Food Festival

Are you or your date a foodie?

Do you live for cooking shows on the Food Network?

If so, you can’t go wrong with a food festival. Most of these festivals offer many stalls that sell delicious specialties and delicacies from around the world. Experiencing new cuisines with a special someone can be a fun way to get to know each other. It might even give you some ideas for dinner at home.

#7. Go Out for Coffee

This is a wonderful alternative to meeting for cocktails. There’s less pressure, it’s easier to relax and talk, and the date can be scheduled at any time of day. You can even have fun together discovering all of the many blends and roasts and styles of coffee.

#8. Go to an Amusement Park

The rush you feel from riding roller coasters and other amusement park attractions can actually spice up your date. Studies show that the shared surge of adrenaline that you get from doing risky activities can you and your date seem more attractive to each other.

#9. Visit a Museum

No matter what you and your date are interested in, there’s a museum out there for your tastes – art, cultural, history, science, pop culture – there’s something for everyone. This is a great idea because you can take it all in at your own pace and really get to know each other. The exhibits even provide built-in topics of conversation.

#10. Watch Sports Together

Do you like baseball, hockey, soccer, football, tennis, boxing, UFC or any other sport?

Watching a sporting event, either live or on TV, can be a lot of fun with the right person. You can root for the same team or enjoy a friendly rivalry. It’s a casual-yet-sometimes-intense environment that allows you and your date to loosen up and have enjoyed the competition.

If your date doesn’t know anything about the particular sport or team and you do, take the time to explain and answer any questions. But if they are already a fan, then it may be one of the best dates you’ve ever had.


For Non-Addicts: What You Need to Know about Dating Someone in Recovery

Did you know that over 50% of Americans have a family member or friend who struggles with substance abuse?  The addict in your life may be a parent, a sibling, a child, a friend, or a co-worker.  You might be surprised that the person you are interested in dating is in recovery from alcoholism or drug abuse.

This doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, but you should be aware that there are challenges.  Dating someone in recovery is not easy. It takes a lot of patience, commitment, and understanding.  But when you make a connection with the right person, it is infinitely worth it.

Think of it this way – if someone puts in the time and effort to overcome an active addiction, imagine the level of commitment and dedication they will bring to your relationship.

Dating a recovering addict means becoming self-aware of your own actions and behaviors. Take a look at some of the things that you SHOULD and SHOULD NOT do when beginning and relationship with someone in recovery.

Things to DO

  • First and foremost, you should understand that THEIR recovery is not YOUR responsibility.  You can be supportive and help them, but you cannot do the work for them.
  • Educate yourself about the disease of addiction.  Please note that it is a disease, not a weakness, a failing, or a personal choice.
  • Specifically, take the time to learn all you can about the specific substances that they abuse.
  • Be considerate, empathetic, and patient. They are a work in progress.
  • Learn to recognize the warning signs of an impending or actual relapse.
  • Set clear boundaries, limitations, and consequences, and stick to them.
  • Attend support meetings yourself.  For example, the Al-Anon fellowship is a wonderful way to learn how other people in your situation cope.

Things NOT to Do

  • NEVER enable them. The worst thing you can do is support their unsafe or self-destructive behaviors. It is far too easy to fall victim to the mindset of wanting to protect them. It’s not unusual for partners to want to prevent the substance abuser from having to face any of the consequences of their actions. For the sake of the person you care about, you may even be tempted to try to cover up or ignore problematic behaviors. While this is no doubt coming from a place of love, it actually hurts the addict. They must face consequences for their actions in order to be motivated enough to change.
  • DO NOT ignore signs of addiction or relapse. Denial is not your friend. If you notice that something may be wrong, be proactive and talk to your partner immediately. The sooner they get help, the easier it will be to get sober again.
  • DO NOT judge your partner or make hurtful comments. Admitting that they have a problem is difficult, perhaps the hardest thing they will ever have to do. It takes a lot of courage, humility, and self-awareness to ask for help. Remember, they suffer from a legitimate illness that takes away their ability to control their drinking and drug use.  No one chooses to become an addict.

Real Dating Stories

If you wonder if you are ready, you might want to hear what other people said about dating while in recovery. And there are a LOT of dating stories available online, both successes and failures. And although your situation is different from the stories you read, you can still learn from the experiences of others.

Seeing what other people have gone through can help you get a better idea of what to expect. You can emulate the successes to ensure that your relationship goes smoothly. You can also learn from others’ mistakes to avoid heartache and disaster.

Get the Help and Support that You Need

If…recovery is learning to love, and if love only exists in relationships, then at the core of recovery is becoming a person increasingly capable of functioning in a healthy relationship.”

~ Earnie Larsen, Stage II Relationships: Love Beyond Addiction

If you’ve decided to get into a relationship while in recovery, just know that it’s going to be an uphill battle. You still have work to do on yourself and your illness, so you’re going to have a lot of issues to work through. But if you start out the right way, with your eyes open, and with realistic expectations, then you may be able to find a rewarding relationship.

Some people claim that sobriety actually makes dating easy for them. They were able to be more in tune with their feelings and emotions. They were also able to develop stronger bonds with their potential partners, as they spent more time trying to get to know them, rather than being under the influence.

In the end, having both your sobriety and a meaningful relationship is far more rewarding than drugs and alcohol ever were.

Have you gotten into a relationship with a recovering addict? Or, are you a recovering addict yourself and are in a relationship? Let us know your experiences and what you think in the comments below.

2020-01-30T16:48:30+00:00June 10th, 2019|4 Comments


  1. Brooke June 29, 2019 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    I was in a relationship with a recovering addict. She was only in her first year and I wish I knew more about addiction then. She left to focus on her recovery and I commend her for that, because I knew she wanted nothing more than to share her life with me. I know we both adored each other and had a very deep connection. Whilst it’s been 4 months since she left, I miss her everyday and hope one day we can reconnect again. I think it’s important to keep an open mind and remember to take care of yourself. Be supportive but avoid consuming yourself in their recovery as it is very much an inside job and can take an emotional toll. Loving a recovering addict has taught me so much and has even helped in my own growth. I still hold space for her and would take her back in a heartbeat if she was ready to try again.

    • Evergreen Staff August 1, 2019 at 5:23 pm - Reply

      Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  2. Erin July 5, 2019 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    My relationship with my boyfriend of 2.5 yrs just ended. He has been in recovery for 7 mths and I didn’t know he had a problem until 2 weeks before he went into a program. Our relationship ended because as he said despite him loving me, he can’t give me or the relationship the time and attention deserved. This has been very difficult to handle because of how I feel about him and the plans we talled about for oir future.

    • Evergreen Staff August 1, 2019 at 5:07 pm - Reply

      As hard as it may be to let him go, it seems like it is for the best for him to focus on getting himself healthy and sober before continuing anything else. That alone is very mature and shows that he is dedicated to getting the help he needed. Additionally, being with someone that long without knowing they had a problem means he was hiding part of himself from you. Do you want to continue to be with someone who cannot be 100% honest and open with you? We wish you both all the best!

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