Relationships can be stressful in any circumstance. It is not easy to find someone who shares your values, will be supportive of you and your life goals, and is pursuing the goals you support. Even when everything is sparkly and new in the beginning, there are always a few red flags that pop up that indicate some work will be required in the future.
When someone you are dating announces they are in recovery, it can be jarring, especially if you are unsure what that means or if you have had tough experience in the past with people in recovery.
The good news is that everyone is different. Not everyone is in the same place in their relationship with drugs and alcohol or their ability to handle a serious relationship.
The not-so-great news is that everyone is different. If you are considering a relationship with someone in recovery, you will need to invest a little extra time in getting to know them to truly grasp what it means to be in a relationship with them. If you are already in a relationship with someone who is now entering recovery, it will again require your time and patience as you wait to see how things progress and unfold.
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Should I Date Someone Who Is in Recovery From Addiction?
If you go out on a first date and the person announces that they are in recovery, it means it is an important enough part of their life that they feel you need to know about it right away. The urgency of the announcement is to let you know that it will be a factor in your relationship if one should unfold.
Ask questions. Ask them open-ended questions and let them share what they feel comfortable with. If they don’t seem to know what to say, you can ask questions like:
- How long have you been in recovery?
- What’s it been like for you so far?
- Do you go to 12-step meetings and things like that?
- Are you feeling good about it?
Really listen to their answers and pay attention to their body language. Their responses will tell you everything you need to know about how comfortable they feel with their recovery. You might even get a sense right away about whether or not they are feeling strong and ready for a relationship or if they seem to be struggling with insecurity.
Don’t be too quick to calm their fears, tell them you have no problem with their recovery status, or otherwise be overly solicitous. You need to take space to see how you feel, to see how things unfold between the two of you, and to determine what your comfort level is. You may not know right away, and that’s okay. It’s a good idea to go slow to avoid hurting them unnecessarily or giving them false hope.
If your gut is telling you that this is not the right relationship for you, listen. Emotions can be extreme, especially in early recovery, and you aren’t helping them or you by getting involved if you feel like it may not be the right choice for your life right now. Being with someone who is in recovery requires a lot of emotional and time investment beyond what might be “normal” for most romantic relationships. It is important that you are prepared to take on the unexpected.
Addiction recovery is all about honesty, and it is important that you be honest about how you are feeling. If you are interested in them but want to take your time before committing. If commitment will never be on the table, let them know up front. If you are looking for a serious relationship or have considerations of your own that they need to know, share them as well.
What Should I Know About Addiction if I’m Seeing Someone in Recovery?
This is not to say that every person who has ever struggled with addiction will lie to you or that the person you are dating will lie to you. However, lying is often how people in active addiction manage to keep their use of drugs and alcohol a secret and avoid the consequences of substance abuse. It can also be an automatic response when asked a question if they struggle with insecurity. It can take some time for that to stop being the natural response, so be aware that not everything you hear may be 100 percent true.
Physical addiction is usually addressed in the first few weeks of treatment unless the person is using medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to support their ability to stay sober. Once stabilized medically, the real work begins by addressing psychological issues that may have contributed to the development of addiction.
During active addiction, relationships are dysfunctional. Many people who struggle with addiction find others who are codependent to help them cover up drug use or take care of them while they focus on staying high. In recovery, it takes time to change those behaviors, and it may be natural for someone in recovery and a new relationship to grow intensely attached very quickly, to require a great deal of reassurances in the relationship, and to try to take either a submissive or dominant role rather than strive to be equals.
Just as codependency is a risk, it is also likely that someone in early recovery may feel unsure of what they have to offer in a relationship. Not everyone shows this on the surface, so it can take time to see if this is the case.
It is possible to relapse, or drink or use drugs, and then go back to life in recovery. It is not something to brush off. If someone you are dating has been in recovery for any length of time and they relapse, it is a red flag that they need to reconnect with treatment or recommit to their growth in recovery.
Addiction is a chronic disease; therefore, it will be an issue for the person for their lifetime. They cannot have “just one.” They cannot binge drink on vacation and go back to sobriety when they get home. Any use of substances is a serious issue. Exposure to drugs, alcohol, or people who are under their influence can be significantly problematic, not just in that moment but also in the days and weeks to come.
How Can I Support Someone I’m Dating in Recovery?
Open 12-step meetings allow for supportive friends and family members to show up for support and to take part. Take the time to understand the “rules of engagement” to avoid offending anyone and respect everyone’s privacy when they share personal stories.
Exposure to substances can trigger a relapse. If you keep drugs or alcohol around or are routinely under the influence, it will become a problem for the two of you.
Similarly, even if you are taking prescription drugs for a legitimate medical reason and do not abuse them at all, it can be a temptation to someone in recovery. It’s a good idea to keep them out of sight or locked away. If you have unwanted medications lying around, dispose of them properly.
If your partner is struggling with stress at work, with family, or with friends — or if they are out and having a hard time staying sober — do not wait to show up for them. Speak up, let them know what you are noticing, and express your concern and support.
No one likes to be nagged. Even if your partner has asked you to keep them accountable, your relationship should remain a partnership rather than a coach/student situation.
If you notice changes in your partner’s habits, personality, or demeanor and believe they may be using drugs or alcohol without telling you, take note. You cannot change their choices, but it may be something you need to consider for yourself in terms of whether or not this will remain a viable relationship.
Are There Signs of Relapse I Should Look For?
Absolutely. Depending on the drug of choice, the signs of drug or alcohol use will vary widely. Take some time to learn a little bit more about the signs of intoxication that are specific to the drug they most frequently use. If they are not around you when under the influence but are relapsing when you are not around, you may notice other indications of relapse. These include:
- Keeping different hours like staying out late or sleeping in later
- A sudden drop in communication
- Hearing lots of people in the background that you don’t know when they call
- Hesitation when giving you details about what they are doing or where they are
- Changes in their story about past events or plans
- Odd texts or phone calls in the middle of the night
All of these may appear to be similar to signs that someone you are dating is cheating on you, and many people initially believe that to be the case. Though the two are not mutually exclusive, if your partner is demonstrating these behaviors and is in recovery, it is possible they have relapsed or are in the midst of a relapse.
When Should I Call It Quits Because of Addiction Issues?
There is no set standard with anything in addiction because each individual is unique, and that includes you. Your goals for your life and your relationship come first. If someone is not meeting your needs in the relationship, you have every right to move forward on your own. It is a personal choice and one that you should make while engaging with a therapist on your own behalf, a practice that is highly recommended when you are dating an addict.
If your partner is physically or verbally abusive, whether in relation to use of drugs and alcohol or not, your safety comes first.
As a romantic partner, you have the option to try to help your partner connect with treatment if they relapse. Do you need to reach out on behalf of your partner and find out more about the addiction treatment services available?
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