dating during recovery

Is Dating During Recovery a Good Idea?

Recovery is a process, a long one in many cases. It’s a relinquishing of an addiction to drugs and alcohol and a rebuilding of a new life. In recovery, addicts can find good health, self-awareness, and peace. 

It can be tempting to jump into a new relationship during this time of discovery, but is dating during recovery a good idea? We’ll explore the issue in this article and look at why it might be a good idea to delay dating for a while.

What Is Recovery?

Recovery can mean different things, but generally, it involves more than just abstaining from drugs and alcohol. Yes, part of the recovery process will involve detoxing from those substances, but long-term change requires more than simply not using.

In fact, the term “dry drunk” refers to an addict who is not drinking but is still plagued with emotional and psychological issues. He quit drinking but hasn’t yet tackled the underlying problems that may have contributed to his addiction.

Addiction is a disease that often fuels a dangerous and destructive lifestyle. Lasting change occurs when the addict faces his deepest issues, issues that either drove his need to seek comfort in substances or that developed as a result of his addiction.

In recovery, the addict learns to rebuild her emotional stability. She may enter rehab and recovery overwhelmed with feelings of regret, low self-esteem, sadness, and guilt. Recovery is a chance to start over, to dig out all those painful emotions and face them. It’s an opportunity to build a new foundation with the tools learned during the recovery process.

A big part of a successful recovery is learning to regain control over your life and your choices. You’re not that dry drunk, hanging on by your fingernails and fighting the urge to use again. That kind of addictive, compulsive behavior prevents you from making good choices that come from deep within you. When an area of your life is out of control, it’s next to impossible to live a sober, happy life.

That’s why many addiction specialists encourage people in recovery to wait a year before they begin dating.

Dating During Recovery

When an addict begins the recovery process, she’s finding out who she is and what she believes in.  It sounds simple, but those concepts have often been buried beneath years of drug abuse, trauma, and emotional damage. 

Recovery often means working a 12 step program through organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. The 12 step process addresses every aspect of addiction- physical, spiritual, mental and emotional.

Most recovering addicts have a history of dysfunctional and destructive relationships.  They were either using throughout the relationship, or their use of drugs and alcohol caused them to engage with people they wouldn’t have chosen in sobriety.

Addicts in recovery learn about healthy relationships, often for the first time in their lives. They discover ways to overcome their feelings of anger, isolation, and fear. They gradually begin to trust themselves to share their hopes, fears, and dreams with others.

It is an extremely vulnerable and often uncomfortable place for a newly-sober addict. She has to break the habit of hiding from uncomfortable feelings by using drugs and alcohol. In some cases, the sober alcoholic might try to soothe herself instead with a new relationship.

Addiction Transfer

Addiction specialists often refer to this as a transfer of addictions. If the alcoholic can’t escape in a bottle, she may try to do so in a relationship. 12 step programs refer to spiritual guidance as a “higher power”. The danger of dating during recovery is that the new love interest can become the addict’s higher power.

In fact, the same brain chemical that makes an addict feel good when she uses drugs gives her the same high in response to sexual stimulation.

Addicts in recovery eventually learn they can’t use the same thinking in sobriety than they used in their drug abuse. But early in the process, an addict might still be using distorted or defensive thinking patterns, poor planning skills, reduced memory, and impaired cognitive functions. Her choice of a dating partner won’t likely be a good one.

Another problem that can occur is the danger of relapse if the relationship doesn’t work out. The addict is still developing healthy coping skills but may not be secure enough in them to deal with a broken relationship in healthy ways. 

What to Do Instead

The focus of recovery is, and should be, on helping the addict learn new ways of thinking, new ways of relating to people and new ways of coping with life’s stresses. The addict learns to like herself again, by facing her past and making amends for her old behaviors.

Exercise, good nutrition, and mindfulness all play a role in developing a healthy, happy lifestyle. Recovery is a wonderful time for newly-sober addicts to discover hobbies and activities to replace the time they used to spend in bars and hanging out with other addicts. 

12 step programs also play an important role. In recovery, the addict can focus on working the steps and attending meetings, rather than on finding a new boyfriend or girlfriend. She begins to rebuild her self-esteem through the development of new life skills, new friendships, and meaningful work.

Her sobriety and recovery are the priority and must come first. We all tend to choose dating relationships with people who are at roughly the same maturity level as we are. It stands to reason then, as the addict progresses through recovery, she will begin to seek out different people than she might have chosen in her early days of sobriety.

Final Thoughts

Dating during recovery can also pose a problem if two addicts begin dating, in or out of rehab. Everyone progresses through recovery at a different speed, and it can be problematic if one person isn’t taking his recovery as seriously as his new relationship is.

Most addiction specialists recommend people in recovery wait a year before they start dating again, so they can focus on their health and their future.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, we can help. Please reach out to us at any time.  

Article Reviewed by Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPA

Dr. Keerthy Sunder, MD, DFAPADr. Keerthy Sunder, MD is an accomplished and internationally recognized expert in the field of addiction. He has earned diplomates from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, the American Board of Addiction Medicine, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.