Dating in Early Recovery: Is it smart? Recovery is a lifelong process, but it requires the most work in the early stages because you must rebuild your entire life while ridding yourself of the old habits and addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. It is also during this recovery phase that you find time to get to know yourself, take care of your health, and achieve a sense of peace that you may have lost.
During this time, it is also important that you start building new, healthy relationships, as well as repairing old ones. It is crucial to cut out toxic people and enablers of your drug habit, especially if they are not committed to sobriety like you are. However, what about romantic relationships? Is dating OK in the early stages of recovery, or even a good idea at all? We discuss in this article.
Is Dating In Early Recovery a Good Idea?
Perhaps you have heard about the common rule of avoiding being in a relationship during the first year of recovery, but since we crave this special kind of human connection, this rule is often neglected by a lot of recovering addicts. After all, relationships play an important role in our lives. But for many recovering addicts or people with unresolved mental health issues in general, getting into a relationship when one hasn’t done enough self-reflection and internal improvement can be dangerous for one’s own progression in life. Despite being told that you cannot have a relationship while in recovery, many ignore this when they believe they’ve found “the one. While some relationships are healthy and do work out, getting into one should be approached with caution. If you want to pursue a relationship while you’re in recovery, it is crucial that you understand the risks that come along with it. Doing so can help save yourself and your relationship.
The Problems with Dating in Early Recovery
The main issues around romantic relationships during early recovery are typically centered around the distractions they create. When a person first quits drugs and alcohol, they must stay focused on their sobriety, and to do this, distractions from personal growth must be minimized. While the other person in the relationship may be great with doing things to help you maintain your sobriety, it is possible that you could be the one to lose sight of yourself in the relationship. This can happen much more easily when you are in the early stages of recovery and still trying to figure out your own identity. Adding another person into the mix in such an intimate way could stagnate any progress you are trying to make in rebuilding your sense of self.
The reliance on instant gratification is one of the many problems that you might encounter during this recovery phase. Keep in mind that recovery takes time and a recovering addict’s brain must take its time as well to regain control over their emotions. Not only that, they must also control the cognition that is retained by their brain and this can be done through neurobiological adaptation. Every brain cell is working to make these neurobiological adaptations. The only problem is that this process does not happen overnight, and takes a longer while to come to completion, and dating and sex during this stage of recovery can disrupt this process. This could lead to either emotional disturbances when the instant gratification wears off when the relationship doesn’t work out as expected. Cases like this do happen often, which is why many experts advise recovering addicts to avoid dating during premature stage of recovery.
Another reason why it’s not a good idea to start a relationship during the early stages of recovery is what many addiction specialists refer to as the transfer of addiction. This is essentially when a person replaces one addiction with another. It is totally possible to become addicted to another human being, or addicted to the attention and love they offer. This, of course, is not a healthy dynamic to have in a relationship because it leads to codependency. If the person in recovery simply swaps one addiction (i.e. the one to drugs and/or alcohol) with another that is based in the relationship they are in, it prevents them from fully resolving the issues that lead to the addictive behavior in the first place.
Unfortunately, addiction affects the way your brain works, and it takes a lot of time and effort on your part to rewire it. Dependence on drugs and alcohol leads to poor decision-making skills, impulsivity, heightened aggression, and more that will affect the way you behave in relationships, even after you’ve detoxed. This means that choosing a partner who is actually healthy for you will be unlikely to happen during this time, as you may not yet be able to discern what you want and need out of a romantic relationship just yet. You may even end up being the one to hurt your partner.
You are also going to be at a much higher risk of relapsing in the event that the relationship doesn’t work out. Going through a breakup is emotionally taxing enough on its own, but combined with the trials and tribulations of maintaining sobriety in the early stages of recovery, it can be a deadly combo. Keep in mind that as a former substance addict, you are still developing your healthy coping skills. These skills might not be stable enough to deal with a broken relationship in a healthy way. Therefore, it may not be wise to not start a relationship while you are still in recovery.
Your Action Plan
Sometimes, we cannot avoid meeting people and developing relationships as we are all humans who are capable of feeling. We also have needs that we should take care of but if you are in recovery, you should stay focused on your well-being first before anything else. If you happen to meet someone and want to explore your romantic connection with them, make sure that you make it clear right off the bat that your recovery needs to come first. You need to establish boundaries and healthy communication with the other person right away. It would also be beneficial to make a list of goals for your own self improvement, as well as expectations that you must meet for yourself. If you find that you are not meeting your goals, you should assess whether or not this may be due to the new relationship you are in.
The main focus of your recovery should be yourself, and learning new ways of thinking, relating to people, and finding new ways to cope with the stresses in life. It is your job to learn how to love yourself all over again. Facing your past mistakes and making amends for your old behaviors should be your main goal.
Your sobriety and healthy recovery should be at the top of your list. Of course, the sound of having a relationship sounds “mature” while you’re in recovery but it doesn’t really help much. In fact, being in a relationship while recovering can become your downfall. So take this time to focus on you and yourself alone. The right person will come at the right time, don’t rush it. Focus on your recovery so you can also have wonderful, meaningful relationships in the future.
Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.