It's Valentine's Day–a day when people rejoice in their relationships by celebrating their love with long dinners, chocolates, and roses. But what if you're still looking for love? So...is it ok to date someone in recovery?
This brings up strong reaction in treatment programs and in 12-step recovery meetings. A popular response is to avoid dating for a year after achieving abstinence. This is based on newcomers to recovery who get sidetracked by dating and relapse, often with the person whom they are dating.
Dangers of Dating Too Early
Dating in recovery can be an interesting experience. Some will relapse into new using patterns. It is not unheard of for those who date a person with different drug and drinking behaviors to adopt their significant other's preferences. This happens. It is certainly not necessary. There are many, many recovering addicts in active recovery with long-term relationships that were forged in the meetings and social events surrounding recovery. Some meet in treatment and develop relationships that are long term and long-lasting without relapse. If one or the other partner relapses, it is possible to remain abstinent and make personal decisions about that situation as it unfolds.
As a counselor and therapist, it is seldom my recommendation for someone to go out and find a dating partner in early recovery. However, since every individual has their own path to walk, it is never stated (by me) that they should avoid it either. Human nature is human nature. The drive to meet and connect with others is one of the strongest human instincts we possess. For that reason, let's talk about what to do when dating (anyone) becomes a possibility or reality.
The first important factor in is that addicts usually drink or use to feel at ease with others, to reduce the stress of social interactions including family and friends. Drugs and alcohol are great social lubricants. Even those who do not drink or use addictively are prone to do so in the early stages of a relationship with a partner because it reduces their discomfort and social awkwardness. If an addict began using in their teen years, chances are good that they have not yet developed secure social instincts and emotions. This is a relapse trigger. It is good to recognize these emotions in order to avoid the trap of using to feel comfortable with others, especially when in an intimate connection.
As they develop appropriate boundaries in relationships with others, addicts in recovery can begin to expand their social circle to include dating. To believe they know how to interact socially can be a deadly assumption. If is substance abuse in their past, their relationships are not what they will be without substance use. Therefore, recovering addicts need to practice new behaviors and ideas in relationships formed in recovery. Everyone does.
When Your Loved One Doesn't Have a Problem–But You Did
Dating outside the recovery world is equally difficult to navigate. This brings alcohol and drug use, even casual and normal use, into the picture. Few newly recovering addicts are comfortable in this setting. Having your partner understand the nature of addiction and where you are coming from–in other words, keeping lines of communication open–is key. Those who are married may have a tough time adapting at home and sometimes separate to secure abstinence before they are able to comfortably embrace the spouse's use. The truth is, if a recovering addict is devoted to recovery and makes that their first priority, navigating the social world without substance use is not only possible, but necessary. There will always be relationships to develop, those at work, school, in the community, with others in recovery, family and many more. When recovery is primary and number one, a lot of beautiful (and challenging) relationships will be restored and formed. The recovering addict can and will learn to move through them all.
Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions' counselor.