Love, Sex and Relationships while in Recovery from Addiction

“It wasn’t so much about breaking free of him, as it was about breaking free of me.”

Grace W. Wroldson

You’ve probably heard it time and time again. Addiction experts recommend that recovering addicts shouldn’t get into a new relationship at least one year into recovery. This is because a recovering addict may not have the mental capacity needed to deal with the stresses that come with a new relationship.

New relationships come with a lot of turbulence and stress. On top of that, about 85% of all romantic relationships won’t work out. So, the chances that you’re going to have a happily ever after isn’t high.

If you’re going through recovery, you may not be able to handle the stress that comes with being in a relationship. Being in a relationship might cause you to relapse. You’re also in a vulnerable state, so you might become addicted to the relationship itself. This can lead to a toxic and unhealthy situation.

Here’s what you need to know before jumping into anything romantic.

What Do AA and NA Say About Relationships?

When in recovery, you’re likely attending some type of mutual support group. If you aren’t, then you should be. The most common support groups are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Both of these programs are 12-step programs. They are faith-based and teach members the same twelve principles and steps.

AA and NA have always been very vocal about starting a new relationship while in recovery. The mutual consensus is that it’s a bad idea and that you should wait at least a year before pursuing anything romantic. AA and NA philosophies support what most therapists think.

AA and NA believe that getting into a relationship too soon can result in codependency. This can also be described as an unhealthy attachment to other people. This causes some people to be in toxic and unhealthy relationships.

Challenges of Getting Into a Relationship while in Recovery

Being in a relationship while in recovery can be challenging. The same can be said for those who are starting a new relationship. There are certain challenges that you should be aware of. They include:

  • Increased social anxiety. If you’re working on your recovery, you may not be ready to meet new people. Social anxiety may cause you to turn to alcohol or drugs. You may also not be ready to talk about your recovery. Hiding it from someone you’re dating can be difficult. It may also cause you to be placed in uncomfortable situations.
  • Increased exposure to alcohol or drugs due to cultural norms. It’s considered normal to meet up for a drink for your first date. Also, many date ideas may involve an alcoholic beverage or two. If you like partying, you might even be exposed to drugs. An increase in exposure to triggers may cause you to easily relapse. You might start to miss how drugs or alcohol made you feel.
  • Difficulties in managing your mental health, thoughts, and feelings. Being in a relationship will influence your brain chemistry levels. It can also change the way you think and feel. You might be more likely to feel stressed or anxious. It’s easy to get distracted from the healthy routines and habits you’ve been trying to build.

Getting into a relationship while in recovery may cause you to take several steps backward. You might find yourself straying from important habits or not being able to keep up with certain routines.

Those who get into a relationship while in recovery may not be able to differentiate between a healthy relationship and a dysfunctional, toxic one. This may result in bad decisions and poor choices.

While you will face some challenges if you get into a relationship while in recovery, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get into a relationship. If you’ve found the right person and are headstrong about dating him or her, there are some ways that you can overcome the challenges that you face. They include:

  • Being in therapy and going for more therapy sessions. Your therapist can help you work through your emotions and better understand your own mental health. He or she can also determine whether you are in the relationship for the right reasons. During therapy, you’ll learn the skills needed to have a healthy relationship.
  • Being honest with not only yourself but also your partner. You need to let your partner know about your history with addiction. In order for the relationship to work, your partner must be 100% supportive of your recovery. Opening up to a date or a romantic interest can be difficult, but it’s better to bring up the topic sooner rather than later.
  • Getting the support that you need. This includes going to AA or NA meetings. Going to these meetings will help you stay focused on your recovery, so your attention is not only on your romantic life.
  • Avoid dating anyone you meet in places that you frequent. While you may develop a good relationship with people in your mutual support groups or at a new job, it’s best to stay away from people whom you’ll run into often. If you decide to date someone who is in the same AA group as you, you may not feel comfortable going to meetings if you and that person break up.

If there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s possible to still start a new relationship while in recovery.

The Issues of Dating Another Recovering Addict

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 recovering addicts. 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 a good idea. After all, both of you can help one another work towards recovery. You can be each other’s rock.

However, the truth is often much more difficult than that. Many experts recommend against dating someone in recovery. This is because if one partner relapses, it can be very difficult to maintain the relationship. With that said, it can also be difficult for the sober partner to leave. You might feel responsible for the relapse or you might be more likely to relapse.

Even if you know that the relationship is toxic for you, you might also have a difficult time leaving. After all, you know exactly what your partner is going through. You might feel obligated to at least help them detox or find an addiction treatment program. Dealing with someone who has relapsed may be a huge strain on your mental and physical health.

With that said, whether or not you should date a recovering addict will entirely depend on how secure you feel with your own recovery. It will also depend on how seriously your partner takes his or her own recovery.

Dependence on Drugs and Alcohol Can Transform into Dependence on a Relationship

An important factor to consider before getting into a relationship is that dependence on drugs and alcohol can transfer into dependence on a relationship. Being in a relationship causes the release of neurotransmitters that make you feel good. This “feel good” feeling can substitute the “feel good” feeling that addicts get from abusing drugs or relationships.

When in a romantic relationship, the brain releases dopamine and oxytocin. The influx of these two neurotransmitters is also very common with alcohol and drug abuse. Dopamine is responsible for the euphoric feeling that you get from relationships and from drinking or using drugs. A release of oxytocin will make you feel loved. It can also result in feelings of attachment.

Many other areas of your brain with light up when engaging with a romantic partner. As being in a relationship floods your brain with neurotransmitters, your brain chemistry levels will change. Someone who is recovering from drugs or alcohol may become dependent on these neurotransmitters.

Instead of getting a boost of euphoria from drinking or doing drugs, they get a boost of euphoria from being in a relationship. This is a bad thing, as it can cause the addict to simply switch from one addiction to another. The addict hasn’t learned how to manage addictive behaviors. Instead, he or she has simply found a substitute.

Other Chemical Changes that Happen in the Brain While in a Relationship

Being in a relationship doesn’t only increase dopamine and oxytocin levels. Many other chemical changes may also occur. Men, in particular, saw an increase in a chemical known as vasopressin. This chemical has been linked with territorial behavior. It can cause men to become more possessive, loyal and protective over their partners. It also results in a stronger attachment.

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.

Similarly, sex results in the release of various powerful neurochemicals that make you feel great. It’s possible to develop a sex addiction as well. It’s not unusual for a drug addict or alcoholic to substitute substance abuse for sex instead. This may result in some risky and dangerous behaviors. Some people may even stay in dysfunctional relationships for this reason.

Signs that You Might Be Ready for a Relationship

So, how do you know whether or not you’re ready for a relationship? Well, there are no concrete rules. Just because you’ve met the one year mark of recovery, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re ready for a relationship. On the contrary, just because you haven’t met the one year mark yet, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pursue a romantic relationship with someone if you feel like they’re the right one.

There are some signs that might show that you’re ready to take the next step and get into a relationship. These signs include:

  • Being active in a mutual support group for some time and having the right support system in place. This can be anything from going to AA meetings or NA meetings to having a sponsor or a recovery partner.
  • Becoming more aware of your feelings and knowing when to get help. Having a healthy mental state is crucial to addiction recovery. Recovering addicts must not only become more self-aware of their feelings but also know when they’re not dealing with a situation well. They need to know when to ask for help and reach out to others.
  • Working on a co-occurring disorder. Many recovering addicts struggle with co-occurring mental disorders and may need dual diagnosis treatment. You need to have your mental issues under control before pursuing a relationship.
  • Having evaluated the relationship and determined that it is not out of need or desperation. Only get into a relationship once you’ve become comfortable with living alone. The relationship should add value to your life.
  • Being able to open up to others around you. This may be anything from talking about your addiction to getting screened for STDs.

Make sure that you are mentally and physically healthy before pursuing a relationship. Consider talking to a therapist.

Golden Rules for Jumping into a Relationship During Early Recovery

You’re ready to take the first step and you’ve just started dating someone while in early recovery. What can you do to ensure that you stay on track to sobriety and have a healthy relationship at the same time? Consider some of these golden rules for dating while in early recovery:

  1. Take it slow. You never know who your romantic interest may really be. You need time to really get to understand a person and see them for who they are. Due to this reason, take the relationship slowly, so you can vet your dates and see who has the potential to make it in the long run. Learn more about how your romantic interests see addiction, and how their personality meshes with yours.
  2. Be honest about who you are and be ready to build trust. Lying to your partner is always a bad idea. Be honest about who you are and the things that you’ve done. Work hard to prove to your partner that you’re a different person.
  3. Don’t live in the past. It’s easy to feel guilty or embarrassed about the decisions you’ve made in your past. The important thing is to let all of that go. It’s time to move forward with your life. Put your bad decisions behind you and vow to become a better person.
  4. Understand the situation that you’ve put your partner in. Be empathetic to your partner’s needs and feelings. They might have a difficult time while you’re in recovery.
  5. Be the person you’d like to be with. Constantly assess your behaviors and actions. Make sure that you’re the type of person that you want to be with.

Make sure that you let your therapist know that you’re in a new relationship. You may need to go for more sessions.

What If You Were Already in a Relationship?

But, what if you were already in a relationship before seeking addiction treatment services? What if you were already dating someone or were already married? You wouldn’t believe how many addicts are spouses. The addiction may have happened prior to getting into a relationship or getting married.

In these situations, you’ll need to figure out whether your partner is willing to work with you in your recovery. You’ll need extra support from a therapist to make sure that you’re not abusing your relationship or that you’re not substituting it for your drug of choice or alcohol.

If you were already married and have a strained relationship, most therapists recommend staying in the relationship for another year to see whether the relationship can work itself out or not. Of course, this will also depend on the willingness of your spouse to support you during this time.

If you are married to an addict, just know that the person that you are dealing with now is not a reflection of who he or she really is. The drugs and alcohol may change his or her personality and who he or she is.

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. It’s a good idea to let your date know that you don’t drink ahead of time. If you feel comfortable with him or her, you might even want to consider revealing the fact that you’re in recovery. The right person will work with you to plan dates that don’t involve alcohol (or drugs).

#1. Cook a Romantic Dinner at Home

Show off your cooking skills by making a romantic dinner at home. This can really reduce any temptations that you may have to drink. Many recovering alcoholics think that they’ll be fine with a glass of wine, but that’s how many people relapse.

At home, you have a lot more control over your environment. You can also dictate what the menu is and what type of drinks you and your date might have with the meal. Pick out some of your favorite recipes, set the table and light some candles for a romantic evening that is comparable to dining out.

#2. Go On an Outdoor Adventure

Spending time outdoors with nature can really boost your addiction recovery progress. There are plenty of different activities to do no matter where you are. You can go on a hike with your date or take some time to smell the roses at a botanical garden. Outdoor activities can give you plenty of opportunities to bond. It can also:

  • Boost your immune system by making sure that you get more vitamin D. More vitamin D will also strengthen your muscles, hones, cardiac system and more.
  • Improve your mood and mental health by ensuring that you get enough clear air and sunlight. Many people struggling with addiction will also struggle with depression.
  • Reduces stress. Studies show that just being around nature can help reduce stress.

The best part is that there’s always something to do, and you can have a great time with your date without drinking or using drugs. You can also use this time to get to know your date better.

#3. Watch a Movie (At Home or at a Movie Theater)

Invite your date to watch a movie at home or at a movie theater. This classic date idea is great for anyone going through recovery. A movie can be romantic. It’s also a great way for you and your date to get some quiet time while still getting entertained.

Or, you can always Netflix and chill. Netflix has a huge selection of different movies, documentaries and TV shows. Finding one that interests both you and your date shouldn’t be easy. If you’re going to watch

Try to avoid movies that glorify doing drugs or drinking. These movies can trigger a relapse.

#4. Take a Class Together

Learning a new skill can be a lot of fun. It might even help you pick up a hobby that can keep your mind off of alcohol or drugs. Immersing yourself in a hobby is an important part of a solid relapse prevention plan. Trying to learn a new skill or pick up a new hobby is always more fun if you’re doing it with someone you like. You can consider taking a class that teaches you how to cook, paint, make ceramics, and more.   

#5. Go to a Comedy Show

You and your date will have a lot of laughs at a comedy show together. Some comedy shows are alcohol-free or have an alcohol-free section. Consider purchasing tickets to these shows if you want to stay as far away from liquor as possible.

There are also comedy shows dedicated to addiction recovery. These shows may talk about NA, AA and other issues related to substance abuse. If you can laugh about your situation and find humor in how far you’ve come and what you’ve gone through, you’ll be better adapted to get through your recovery.

#6. Go to a Food Festival

Are you or your date a foodie? Then, you can’t go wrong with a food festival. Most of these festivals offer many stalls that sell delicious food. You can use this as an excuse to pig out, and you can also try some delicious foods from all over the world.

America has many wonderful festivals. There are barbeque festivals, cheese festivals and more. Check out 21 of the best food festivals in North America. Do a little research to see what chefs will be at which festivals, whether you need to purchase tickets ahead of time and what to expect from each festival.

#7. Go Out for Coffee

Swap a date night for a date during the afternoon. This way, you can easily swap out alcohol for coffee, lattes, teas, and other beverages. These dates are more suitable for those who are just getting to know a new romantic interest. There is nothing too committal with grabbing a coffee. Also, a coffee shop is a great place to talk and to get to know someone. It’s comfortable and not too loud.

You can always go to a franchise like Starbucks. If you’re more of a connoisseur for coffee, you can try an artisanal coffee shop. Try different coffee beans, like Blue Mountain or Kopi Luwak, to add an extra splash of excitement to the date.

#8. Go to an Amusement Park

The adrenaline rush from going on roller coasters and other rides at an amusement park can spice up your date. Studies show that the adrenaline rush that you get from doing risky activities feels like “butterflies” when meeting someone you like. Going to an amusement park with a date can make you more attracted to your date and vise versa.

Those who go to an amusement park with their significant other may feel more attracted to them. It can boost your relationship.

#9. Visit a Museum

Regardless of whether you and your date are interested in historical monuments, scientific facts or art, there’s a museum out there that will suit your needs. Get to know what your date’s interests are and look for a museum that will be interesting for him or her. You can also check to see whether there are any special exhibits in your city.

This date idea is great because it keeps you on your toes. You’ll enjoy a completely different experience without being near any substances.

#10. Watch a Sports Game

Do you like hockey, soccer, football, UFC or any other sport? Watching a sports game can be a lot of fun with the right person. Make sure that your date is equally as excited about going to the game for a fun experience. If your date doesn’t know anything about sports, you should consider explaining parts of the game, like the rules, ahead of time.

A sports game can create a casual and fun environment for a date. It can help you and your date loosen up and get to know one another.

Getting Into a Relationship with a Recovering Addict

Did you know that over 50% of Americans have a family member or friend who is an addict? Let those numbers slowly sink in.

The truth is that many people in America struggle with a substance use disorder (SUD). Even if you’re not an addict, the chances of you running into an addict are quite high. So, what happens if the person that you’re interested in dating is a recovering addict? Do you jump into a relationship with him or her? Or, should you hold back?

Dating a recovering addict is not easy. It takes a lot of patience, commitment, and understanding. Most addiction experts at drug and alcohol rehab centers recommend giving the addict at least one year to go through recovery first. This gives them time to become more grounded in their beliefs and in their new lifestyle. After that, you can consider whether getting into a relationship with the individual would be worth it.

If you’re determined to date a recovering addict, you must be self-aware of your own actions and behaviors. Take a look at some of the things that you should do and some of the things that you shouldn’t do in order to support your partner.

If both you and a recovering drug or alcohol abuser feel ready to jump into a relationship, you need to be prepared to be supportive of his or her journey. There might be a lot of ups and downs. Here are some things that you can do to show your support:

  • Become more educated on addiction and what it entails. Understanding what it means to struggle with an addiction is critical. You should also learn about the type of substances that your romantic interest may be addicted to. This will give you a better idea of what you can expect. For example, if your romantic interest is addicted to opioids, learn more about the type of side effects or withdrawal symptoms to expect.
  • Set clear boundaries and limitations. Stick to the boundaries that you’ve made up. Don’t let your date or romantic interest walk all over you or push your buttons. You should also set clear consequences for violating the boundaries, and also know when to walk away.
  • Learn how to become more supportive, but still care for your own mental health. You need to learn how to protect your own mental health. Also, you should learn how to offer support the right way. This might include the type of language to use. If your date is addicted to alcohol, you may want to consider going go to Al-Anon once a week. If he or she is addicted to drugs, consider going to Nar Anon once a week.

There are plenty more things that you should do to protect yourself and be supportive of the recovering addict. Being in a relationship with someone who is in recovery is not easy. You must be aware of this before you jump into a relationship.

If you’ve decided to date an addict, you’re taking on a lot of responsibility. You need to be considerate of the fact that the person that you’re dating is going through recovery. There are some things that you should avoid doing at all costs. They include:

  • DO NOT enable your partner. It’s 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 consequences. Some partners may even try to cover up or ignore behaviors that suggest a substance abuse problem. While this is coming from a place of love, it’s actually detrimental to your partner. They must face consequences for their actions in order to want to get help.
  • DO NOT ignore signs of an addiction or relapse. Some people may be tempted to ignore the signs of an addiction or relapse. They may want to believe that everything is okay and fine. Be proactive. If you notice signs of abuse, talk to your partner immediately. The sooner he or she gets help, the easier it will be to get sober.
  • DO NOT judge your partner or make rude comments to him or her. Admitting that you have a problem is difficult. It takes a lot of humility and self-awareness for an addict to admit his or her faults and get help. No one is perfect. Show your partner that you support his or her recovery. Give him or her your support.

Dating or being in a relationship with an addict is not easy. It takes a lot of patience and understanding. You need to be aware of your own actions in order to make sure that you are as supportive as possible.

Real Dating Stories

Before you make a decision, you might want to hear what other people have thought about dating a recovering addict or getting into a relationship while in recovery. Fortunately, you’ll find a lot of dating stories out there. Of course, there are just as many success stories as there are failures. What other people have experienced may not necessarily apply to you. Each situation and relationship is unique and different.

With that said, seeing what other people have gone through may help you get a better idea of what to expect. You can take notes from the successes to see what you can do to ensure that your relationship goes smoothly. Similarly, you can also take notes from the heartbreaks and the disasters to see what you can avoid doing to ruin a good thing.

See a New Relationship from the Perspective of a Recovering Addict

Living and dating in sobriety aren’t easy. Maintaining a healthy relationship isn’t easy. Add on the struggles of staying sober and you have a lot more on your plate to handle. Dating while in recovery can be a lot of work.

Many recovering addicts often find themselves drawn to the same train wrecks as before. Others have found that they may even sabotage their own relationships for seemingly no reason at all. Check out these stories for a better idea on the difficulties involved with dating while still in recovery.

Some people claim that sobriety made dating easier 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 than being under the influence.

Get a Better Idea of What It’s Like to Date a Recovering Addict

Getting into a relationship with someone who’s sober when you’re not can be different. It may not necessarily be difficult, but you’ll need to make some changes in your life and what you want to do. After all, you need to be a lot more sensitive about the needs of your partner. You should avoid drinking too much, if at all, or being in an environment where there are drugs.

Belinda Cai gives a very detailed and positive account of what it’s like to date a recovering addict. While she had to make some changes to the things that she would otherwise do on a date, she claims that dating a recovering addict has been refreshing. She was able to build a stronger bond with her partner and look for date ideas that didn’t involve any liquor or drugs with ease.

But it’s not all rainbow and gold. Check out these stories to learn about some of the ups and downs that some people go through while dating a recovering addict. If you’re dating a recovering addict, be prepared to become his or her cheerleader. You’ll also need to invest some time and effort into understanding what it means to struggle with addiction and what type of recovery tools are out there.

You can also check out this Reddit thread to see what other people have gone through.

Get the Help and Support that You Need

If you’ve decided to get into a relationship while in recovery, just know that it’s going to be an uphill battle. You’re not starting the relationship on solid footing, so you’re going to have a lot of issues to work through. Due to this reason, many experts recommend waiting. It may take you some time before you’re ready to pursue anything romantic.

If you feel like you’ve found the right person and can’t wait any longer, consider getting more therapy or additional support. A relationship can cause additional strain on your recovery.

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.

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