Many questions and concerns can arise when someone is considering dating a recovering addict. For those who have not had the experience of addiction, lack of knowledge can be the greatest challenge. Addiction recovery is a complex process and it is important to understand what that process entails when entering a relationship with a recovering addict.
The obvious initial concern is; will he/she relapse? This is an understandable worry as the majority of individuals seeking abstinence do not succeed on their first attempt. Relapse though not a feature of every recovering addict’s journey is commonplace enough that a potential dating partner may be concerned.
Communication is Key
It is said that communication is the most important feature of a healthy relationship. That could not be more true when it comes to a relationship when one or both of the partners are in recovery. Addiction is described by the Merriam Webster dictionary as the “compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (such as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal.” This broad definition can not take into account the many individual experiences of addiction and recovery. Therefore, it is essential if you are dating a recovering addict that you understand your partner’s addiction and what elements are key in his/her recovery process. What does your dating partner do to remain sober?
There are many ways to address addiction recovery. Some go to 12 step meetings or other sober support groups. Some go to therapy. Some find support and spiritual renewal in church while others engage in certain self-care practices to maintain an emotional and physical balance that allows them to remain free of addictive behaviors. Knowing what those practices are and understanding them can make dating a recovering addict a far richer, healthier, and fulfilling experience.
Knowing what your partner’s triggers may be is another way in which your understanding of the addiction recovery process can be enhanced. Triggers refer to those situations, places, or emotional issues in response to which a recovering person can feel more vulnerable to using substances. It can be times of the year like holidays or particular emotions like grief. This is another area in which communication is key and often something those in recovery are quite good at. Most people who have battled an addiction have become more introspective in the process and are able to more comfortably communicate about their feelings and needs. Learning from past experiences and mistakes can allow a sober individual to be a healthier partner in future relationships.
Take Care of Number One
It is also essential that the partner take care of his/her own needs. For some, attendance at a support group like Al-Anon can be a helpful way of keeping the focus on themselves and not becoming lost in their partner and the relationship (which is a concern in relationships that do not include a recovering partner as well). Additionally, finding or maintaining personal interests and hobbies as well as remaining connected to friends and family allow for a more balanced life that does not focus completely on the relationship. These are some lessons already learned by many living a sober life as addiction inherently unbalances a person’s life and becoming sober and maintaining recovery requires a balanced lifestyle.
Sharing beloved activities (hiking, biking, traveling, movies) can be a bonding experience for a couple. If you are considering dating someone then having these interests in common is a positive indicator that you may be compatible. Dating sites allow a person to “screen” a potential dating partner and often find these common interests. The benefits are multiplied when dating a recovering addict who uses such activities as their self-care techniques. In this way, you are able to enjoy shared interests while actively supporting your partner’s sobriety and deepening the intimate connection.
There are risks and benefits in any dating relationship. Dating someone in addiction recovery may seem concerning at first but often connecting with someone who has done the work that is necessary to free themselves from active addiction can be highly rewarding. Honesty, good communication skills, and balance are hallmarks of a person living a healthy sober life and are each integral components of a successful interpersonal relationship.
Regina Walker, LCSW, BCD, CASAC is a psychotherapist in NYC.