Around 20 million adults battle a drug use disorder. With numbers like that, it’s not too crazy that you’d wind up meeting a person who’s battled drug addiction. Perhaps you’d even date one.
As any person who’s formerly struggled with an addiction knows, you’re never a “former” drug addict, just a recovering addict. You can go through productive time at a rehabilitation center and live a sober life for years, but you’re never truly free from those old desires.
This is both a blessing and a curse for people suffering from addiction. On one hand, it hurts to have the same feelings after years. On the other hand, it keeps you vigilant about your health and safety.
But how are those dating a recovering addict supposed to handle this? It’s not a good idea to date someone who’s currently in the throes of addiction and using, but how do you navigate dating someone who’s currently clean?
This article will all you through everything you need to know about dating someone who’s recovering and teach you a bit about addiction along the way.
Avoid Dating in Early Recovery
Before we cover the “do’s”, we’re going to have to look at some things to avoid”. The first of which is to avoid dating in early recovery.
Early recovery isn’t a scientific term. It’s simply used to describe the first part of recovery when someone’s still adapting to a sober life. Generally, it refers to the first six-twelve months of recovery; however, it can go on longer.
Someone going through early recovery might seem like a completely changed person — and indeed they are. They’re living their life more healthily.
However, these new lifestyle choices are still fresh. They haven’t sunk in yet.
New love usually comes with intense feelings. This can wind up feeling euphoric and uncontrolled, just like a drug. Without even realizing it, you might get this recovering addict addicted to you.
While you’re not going to hurt them the way that a drug will, problems can arise. They may expect too much of you. They may want you to provide the experience a drug formerly provided.
In the stage of early recovery, addicts need to learn to live without the easy stimulation they had before. If they replace it with a new stimulation right away, they’re not truly growing, just deflecting the problem.
Again, you’re not going to do them as much damage as a drug. But what if you two break up or what if you simply go away for a weekend? There’s a good chance that this recovering addict simply won’t have the tool to face life without you, and slide back into addiction.
Find Out if Their Past Relationships Fuel Addiction
Different people have different triggers to their addictions. If the stress that sometimes comes with being in a relationship caused your partner to lapse into addiction, this person should perhaps avoid dating for a while.
You should also find out if any of their exes also suffered from addiction. While it’s unlikely that your partner would expect you to behave in a similar way, they may subconsciously just think that’s how relationships go. They may not be accustomed to relationships that aren’t codependent and focused on addiction.
However, take care to not make them feel ashamed about their past. If they’re in recovery, there’s a good chance they made some decisions they’re not proud of.
At the end of the day, it’s always best to ask questions to try to learn more about your partner’s life.
If you’re someone who engages in drug use, it’s probably not best to date someone who’s in recovery.
Recovery is a test of will. However, it’s best for an addict to put themselves as far away from temptation as possible. Willpower isn’t just saying no, it’s staying away from people and places that will make you say yes.
This can become especially difficult if you’re dealing with a partner who’s battled alcoholism. Alcohol is an important and widely excepted part of almost every culture. Your casual after-work beer or during-dinner glass of wine might seem innocent to you, but it can cause vast internal conflicts with your partner.
Sacrifice is a key part of relationships. Especially when two people live together, they both have to give up parts of their daily routines in return for what the other partner can offer them. It’s a give-and-take.
However, if you’re dating a recovering addict, you might just have to give more than you take — at least for a while. Understand that recovering addicts might need more sacrifices, more alone time, and more patience in order to make sure they don’t slip back into addiction.
If you’re not in recovery yourself, you might find it tough to understand exactly the kind of life an addict faces. To you, your priority could be your relationship. But to your partner, there’s only so far they can go before they worry about slipping back into addiction.
If you’re not ready to deal with this, you should stay away from dating a recovering addict.
However, there’s only so far you can go.
It might hurt to imagine your partner this way, but consider that your partner may manipulate you if things go wrong. If you’re a gullible person who has a tough time telling when you’re manipulated, you might find it best to stay out of this relationship.
Your partner can be an angel right now. They may act that way for years, However, if they relapse — and relapse is part of the process — they may become very difficult. They may well relapse to who they were before they met you.
Make sure that you understand the signs of relapse, so you can know when this is happening.
Set boundaries for yourself. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll leave the relationship if a relapse starts. It can mean having talks, only tolerating certain types of behavior, and setting rules with your partner.
If the relapse is minor, and the relationship has gone on a while, you can very well work through it. However, if it’s earlier in the relationship, or the relapse is more severe, you should strongly consider leaving the relationship. You don’t want to get sucked down into the hole of addiction.
Don’t Do Too Much
It’s easy to wind up with a savior complex when you’re dating someone who’s recovering from an addiction.
This isn’t your fault. You’re dating someone who’s a little more vulnerable. It may feel as though you need to take extra care of them.
However, while you will need to give a certain amount of sensitivity, you shouldn’t act as a spiritual advisor, therapist, or doctor to your partner. Your partner has other people who will perform these tasks for them.
Likely, your partner entered a relationship with you because of what you naturally provide as a person. If you’re a reader/writer, you probably recommend great books. If you’re a cook, you probably make great meals.
These things are enough for your partner. Don’t feel as though you need to be more than what you are.
If your partner starts to treat you as some sort of expert, you may have an issue.
Again, this is likely not your fault. It’s likely not even the fault of your partner. Their addiction status means that they’re going to seek as much help as they can get.
It’s easy for your partner to fall into a codependent relationship with whoever they end up with. Try your best to work to help them become their own individual, without letting them constantly relying on you.
The balance is tough to strike. You don’t want to give them so much independence that they feel all alone. Ultimately, the only thing that will teach you how to walk this line is time.
Understand the Link Between Mental Health and Addiction
Often, addiction problems and mental health problems are linked closely together. You have to understand that when your partner suffers from a mental health issue, they’re in extra danger of relapsing. That relapse would certainly lead to their mental health plunging once again.
Addiction has many causes. Certain people use drugs because they have a family history. Other people develop addictions as a way to cope with mental illness.
To treat addiction properly, these people need to have their underlying mental health problems dealt with. In fact, most people who develop addiction most likely have some sort of mental health problem without knowing it.
Because of this, we highly recommend you only date someone who’s receiving mental health treatment along with their addiction problem. If your partner isn’t receiving this sort of treatment in addition to their support groups, they may not have the tools to deal with things when life gets hard. They may also not understand and have a tough time coping with the more difficult parts of relationships.
There are many different types of therapies that your partner can explore. They should strongly consider dialectical behavioral therapy.
Dialectical behavioral therapy lets two ideas exist in the brain at once. Rather than sorting out which idea is better intellectually, you let the ideas take their own shape, and follow the path that comes out dialectically.
Do Some Soul Searching
Trust and forgiveness are key parts of a relationship. The initial shock of love and lust can make you underestimate some of the problems that you might face down the line.
You might think that you’re comfortable with some of the things your partner has done in the past. They could hurt and cause you to doubt, but your love might steamroll that feeling.
However, after the initial positive shock of falling into a new relationship wears down, you might find yourself bothered by those ghosts from your partner’s past. At that point, it’d be tough to back out of the relationship since you’re already invested. It also wouldn’t be fair to your partner, who would’ve assumed you were okay with their past by then.
Do some soul searching at the beginning of your relationship before all of those intense feelings find their way in. Ask your partner questions in a respectful way, and let them know exactly what problems and concerns you have with their past.
They may be someone who lives with “no regrets”. They may also want to leave the past behind. However, history repeats itself — you’re very responsible for wanting to ensure that these things don’t happen again.
Stay cautious. As stated before, your partner is going through a good time right now. They may slip back into old ways in the future.
Do some soul searching yourself to ask yourself some tough questions: are you willing to put up with your partner’s past? can you forgive them for some of the things they’ve done? what are the chances they will do them again? could you put up with it if they do these things again? do they understand exactly what they’ve done wrong?
No one can answer these questions but you.
Stay in Contact With Rehab
You may find it tough to think about because things are going well right now. But things may well get bad again. Stay in contact with a great Addiction recovery program to get your partner the help they need when things go wrong.
Stay honest with your partner about this. They’ll likely be pleased that you care about them and that they have such a strong and sure support group.
Dating a Recovering Addict is Tricky — But Not Impossible
As you can see, there are a lot of complicated problems you may run into when dating a recovering addict. These situations need to be treated case-by-case; every addict has their own experiences, and they meet people at different points in their lives.
Consider how long they’ve been sober, how their old relationships went, what their triggers are, what your own boundaries are, and what you’re willing to forgive, and you’re far more likely to keep yourself safe and happy.
For more information, check out our “get help” page.