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What to Expect When Dating an Addict in Recovery

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What to Expect When Dating an Addict in Recovery

The relationship between a recovering addict and a non-addict can be a healthy one. However, there are unique challenges that come with dating an addict in recovery, which are important to be aware of. 

Even if you feel like you know the person very well, it’s best to educate yourself about addiction recovery, and what the other person goes through on a daily basis. 

Challenges of Dating an Addict in Recovery

Dating an addict in recovery can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding just like any other relationship. Here are a few things to be prepared for, before dating an addict in recovery. 

young couple

    1. Be aware of their past: Addiction often stems from underlying trauma or mental health issues. Be prepared that these underlying issues are bound to come up, even if they have been sober for a long time.
    2. Be aware of the risk of relapse: While there’s no guarantee that someone will relapse, it is a very real possibility, and something that is very common in addiction recovery. For that reason, it’s important to be prepared for the possibility and be able to recognize the signs of relapse, should it occur.
    3. Be prepared to support them in their recovery – When you date someone in recovery, you may become their main source of support. Although you shouldn’t be their only source of support, you will likely be the person that they confide in the most, and look to to help them work through their struggles.
    4. Be prepared to practice lots of patience and communication – When communicating with a recovering addict, it’s important to be compassionate, understanding, and non-judgmental. Don’t make them feel guilty about their past, avoid making assumptions, and respect their boundaries.

Things to Consider Before Dating an Addict in Recovery

Before dating someone in recovery, ask yourself the following questions. 

  • How long have they been sober? The earlier someone is in their recovery journey, the more intense and challenging their experience may be. 
  • What are their triggers? If you’re going to date someone in recovery, it’s important that you are aware of their triggers so that you can do your part to help limit them.
  • What do you know about addiction? Overcoming addiction is not about a matter of willpower, because addiction actually changes the brain. The better you understand how addiction changes the brain, how triggers work, and how addiction is most effectively treated, the better you will be able to determine whether or not you and someone in recovery are a good fit. 
  • Are you comfortable with their past? The last thing a recovering addict needs is to feel judged or shamed. Before getting involved with a recovering addict, you should make sure that you can accept the things they have done in the past.

How to Avoid Codependency

Codependency is when one person’s self-esteem and emotional needs become fully dependent on the other person. Codependency can be a risk when dating someone in recovery from addiction, but there are steps you can take to avoid it.

Maintain independence: It’s important to maintain a strong sense of self and independence, and not to let the relationship define you.

Focus on self-care: Prioritize self-care and make time for personal growth and well-being.

Set boundaries: Establish healthy boundaries and communicate your needs clearly to your partner.

Don’t try to fix the other person: It is not your job to keep your partner clean or sober. All you can do is offer your love and support, while remembering that recovery is a life-long journey. 

Be mindful of patterns: Be mindful of any patterns of codependency in your past relationships, and work to change them.


How to Support Your Partner in Their Recovery

Although your partner is no longer active in their addiction, they will still need ongoing support from you and from other people in their life. 

Although it’s important to remember that ultimately your loved one’s recovery is their responsibility, there are things you can do to support your relationship and their recovery. 

1. Educate Yourself About Addiction

Addiction is a complex disease, and the better you understand it, the better you will be able to understand what your partner is going through, and respond to their needs in a compassionate, supportive way. 

2. Establish Healthy Boundaries

Establishing healthy boundaries is important in any relationship, but it is especially vital in a relationship with a recovering addict. 

Healthy boundaries include feeling safe to express feelings in a calm, assertive manner, and maintaining who you are and your personal values within the relationship. A lack of boundaries could result in codependency, or enabling.  

3. Help Them Put Their Recovery First

Remember that recovery is a lifelong process, and it’s something that your partner will always have to make a priority. Encourage your partner to continue attending 12-step meetings or other support groups, and to do things that bring them a sense of joy and purpose. 

couples counseling

4. Understand Their Triggers

Although your partner may be clean from substances, it doesn’t mean that they never experience triggers that bring up cravings for a substance. Learning what triggers your partner has can help you avoid certain places or situations that may be difficult for them, and to be extra supportive when these situations arise.   

5. Seek Support for Yourself

Supporting a loved one through addiction recovery can also be challenging for you. Consider seeking support for yourself through therapy, support groups, or talking to a trusted friend or family member.

It’s also important to be diligent with self-care, and remember that your needs are just as important as your partner’s needs. 

6. Attend Couples Counseling

Couples counseling is not only for those who are having relationship struggles – it’s a way that you can be proactive and learn how to better communicate with one another. A counselor can help you understand the other person’s boundaries, and how you can best support each other. 

Why Recovering Addicts Should Wait to Date

If you are new to recovery, you may be excited to start dating. However, recovering addicts may benefit from waiting to date for several reasons:

Prioritizing sobriety: A new relationship can be distracting, and can take priority over your recovery. It’s also possible that you may be using feelings of love or infatuation to replace the high you got from your addiction.

Emotional instability: Addiction recovery can be an emotional rollercoaster, and those in early recovery may experience mood swings or emotional instability. It’s important to address these challenges before involving someone else in a relationship, so that you are able to also support your partner emotionally.

Triggers: Dating can bring up past trauma, stress, or other triggers that could harm the recovery process. It’s a good idea to wait until you have a better handle on your triggers, and have worked through the underlying issues involved in your addiction, before you start dating. 

Treatment for Addiction

If your loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, or needs support in their recovery, it’s important to seek help. 

There are numerous addiction treatment options available, including inpatient care, outpatient care, and more. Speak with our addiction specialists at The PAC Program if you’re unsure of where to begin when looking for treatment options, and we will help get you started on the right path.