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The Pitfalls of Dating in Early Recovery

Feb 28, 2022

While most people assume a person’s job is the first thing to suffer from an addiction, in reality, drug and alcohol abuse first manifests in dysfunctional relationships. The typical person suffering from an addiction has a pattern of unhealthy relationships. In the early stages of sobriety, relationships can divert the newly sober from focusing on their recovery, leading to relapse if they are not careful.

Creating new relationships during recovery is a common experience. Many relationships with peers can enhance a person’s life in recovery and help them stay on the path to sober living. Romantic relationships, however, may not offer the same value to someone with a substance use disorder. Today, let’s talk about some of the risks of dating while in recovery.

Dating in early recovery can seem appealing. While a romantic relationship can eventually be a life goal, rushing into one during the first year of recovery may present some challenges to a person creating a new, sober life. Romantic partners may distract you from the goal of defining your sober self. Dating too soon can be a way of replacing past addictive behavior with a person you put all your focus on.

It’s helpful to keep the focus on yourself and your sobriety goals at the beginning of recovery—before exploring the dating world again. Many experts recommend those in early recovery wait at least one year before pursuing a romantic relationship.

Five Reasons to Hold Off Dating in Early Recovery

1: Dating distracts you from your main goal of discovering and defining your sober self.

The beginning of a recovery process is all about learning a new way to live. This work involves learning new skills, practicing the disciplines needed for a new way of life, repairing relationships, seeking support from others in recovery, and more. You’re creating a healthy new version of yourself, your sober self.

Romantic relationships can be demanding. They require a great deal of time and energy. Dating while getting your recovery started prematurely shifts your focus to another person when you still need time to care for yourself properly.

2: Dating can contribute to a risk of relapse in early sobriety.

Even harmonious relationships have a level of stress that can distract someone from the work of recovery. New relationships bring with them a sense of uncertainty at the beginning that can cause stress, too. These stressors in any relationship must be managed, and a person early in recovery may not yet have the tools to manage them.

Other factors besides stress can cause relapse. It may come from an inability to focus on developing positive character traits or establishing healthy boundaries. The person you’re involved with may not be in a healthy place in their life as dating began. A major life change could occur for one or both of you.

As you still need to focus on your sober goals, such as learning to be selfless and service-focused, volatile circumstances can lead you back to drinking or drug use to cope.

3: Dating can be a way to repurpose addictive behaviors by becoming consumed with a new person instead of a drug.

Addictive behavior isn’t limited to substance use. It may show up in a preoccupation with something or someone. Focusing on a new relationship and the good qualities of new love can become an obsession for some people early in recovery.

The result of being consumed by a new partner can vary. Your constant desire to spend time with them might push them away. The quick, intense start of the relationship could burn out quickly with too much time spent together. They may see you as overly needy in the relationship, too.

4: Dating comes with rejection, which can bring on intense feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

While dating can boost a person’s self-esteem, a breakup can seriously affect their physical and mental well-being. Rejection by a romantic partner can feel devastating. Someone who’s already experiencing mental health issues may find their symptoms intensify.

Even a couple ready for a healthy relationship can find they are not aligned with each other’s wants, needs, and goals. For a person in recovery, the choice to date anyone who seems interested makes that lack of alignment more likely. Attracting the right partner becomes more difficult because you’re still unsure of who you are and who you are becoming.

5: Dating someone who knew you before treatment can keep you tied to past behaviors and substance use.

There is comfort in reconnecting with someone from your past. They’re familiar to you, and you can skip right past the awkwardness of a new relationship. It seems like a logical direction to move in. Unfortunately, dating someone from your past life can present some risks to your well-being.

A romantic partner who knows you from your drug or alcohol use period may be more accepting of how you respond to situations in unhealthy ways. They may excuse your self-destructive behaviors and write them off as “just a way to cope” with your feelings.

In addition, they may often remind you of moments in your past that don’t serve you to reflect on anymore. These may be embarrassing incidents, legal consequences of your substance use, or traumatic events that will interfere with your work to shape the new sober version of yourself.

When Is It Safe to Date During Early Recovery?

During your first year of sobriety, you have the chance to work on developing your sense of identity and building your self-esteem. Once you reach the point when you can love yourself, you can then be open to loving another person in a healthy way.

Your first year of sobriety will also permit you to develop and practice good positive coping mechanisms and understand how to maintain your emotional stability. Those who do pursue a relationship in early recovery need to prioritize honesty, particularly if the relationship encounters serious hardships and roadblocks.

Advice for Safe Dating During Early Recovery

If you are determined to engage in a dating relationship in your early recovery, you should follow some steps to give yourself the best chance of preserving your safety and sobriety:

  • Set boundaries and make yourself the priority
  • Continue working in the program
  • Practice the 12-Steps
  • Maintain communication with your sponsor
  • Develop new and healthy coping skills and patterns of behavior

We Prioritize Your Sobriety and Well-Being

Hanley Center is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path toward a life of healing and restoration.

We offer renowned clinical care and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting recov0ery.

For information on our programs, call us today: 561-841-1033.

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