Content reviewed by Gillian Bieler, LCSW, CSAT, Clinical Director at ARC
Recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction can be a long and complicated journey. The process often involves rediscovering one’s identity and developing a deep sense of self-worth, confidence and peace in yourself no matter where you are in your transformation. Supportive and caring relationships are essential for staying motivated so you can achieve your goals with patience and persistence. However, romantic relationships during early recovery can be detrimental. This article will discuss how intimate partnerships can complicate addiction recovery.
Refrain from dating for one year in early recovery.
If you have just received treatment for a drug or alcohol use disorder, staying single during your first year of recovery is recommended. Early recovery has many obstacles that individuals can learn to cope with in aftercare and alumni programs. Shifting your focus to a romantic relationship can zap the energy you need to focus on healing. Relationships also require work to figure each other out and clear up any misunderstandings. Highs and lows are bound to occur. A person in recovery may not be able to handle the stress and emotional vulnerability that naturally accompanies intimacy.
Additionally, being in love can make it easy to view another person as perfect despite their admitted flaws. This illusion can distract you from working on deep-seated insecurities and trauma that led you to use substances in the first place. If you don’t develop a strong sense of self and learn your boundaries, healthy relationships can be difficult to maintain. Toxic partnerships could develop and put you at risk of relapsing.
With the aid of fellowship and spirituality, many people join 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous to stay sober. A significant other may start to replace or take priority over your God or Higher Power, compromising the entire foundation of your work with the Twelve Steps. If you are in a 12-Step group, be aware of this. Your entire support system can destabilize when relationship troubles arise.
Be careful and avoid becoming addicted to love in recovery.
There are many risks to dating in early recovery, and adopting a significant other as a new addiction is one of them. Love addiction is characterized by unhealthy behaviors towards a love interest like excessive people-pleasing, clinginess, obsessing and idolization. A person can even experience cravings and withdrawals when away from their partner and feelings of euphoria when they are around. Experiencing rejection, trauma, emotional neglect and abuse during childhood is thought to contribute to the development of love addiction.
As with substance addiction, an addiction to love can cause a person in an abusive relationship, for instance, to stay, despite knowing the negative consequences. This paper explains that the early stage of romantic love has many similarities to that of drug addiction. Neuroimaging has indicated that “romantic love and drug addiction both display the functional enhancement in reward and emotion regulation network.” Dopamine, a key neurotransmitter involved in addiction, has been found to work in similar ways in both addictions.
Researchers are not yet in agreement as to what the diagnostic criteria are or where love addiction falls of the spectrum of disorders. Some believe that it could fall along the obsessive-compulsive spectrum, while others think that it could be an impulse-control or mood disorder. A combination of impulsivity, reward-seeking behavior and particular attachment styles may also play a role. Either way, you may be able to avoid the complications of a love addiction by avoiding romantic relationships during early recovery.
If you begin dating too soon, codependency may develop.
Another risk of dating while in early recovery is the development of codependency. Codependency is a relationship in which one partner, the “codependent,” is “overly concerned with the problems of another to the detriment of attending to one’s own wants and needs.” Codependency can occur in romantic, familial and other relationship types where addiction is present.
Because early recovery is a physically and emotionally vulnerable period, you may depend on your significant other too much to meet your needs. In working overtime to care for you, they may abandon their hobbies, life goals or relationships with friends and family. Neglecting their own needs can result in physical and mental health consequences. Codependents are also at risk of developing their own substance or behavioral addictions.
This type of relationship can be dangerous for the person in recovery too. Although the codependent’s behavior seems caring and supportive, it can actually serve to enable their loved one’s addiction. For example, a partner might give the other money or a place to stay. They may influence them to not attend support groups and therapy. Another problem can be that the codependent may subconsciously fear that the individual won’t need them after they’ve recovered. This puts the recovering person at risk of relapse when returning to the relationship after treatment.
Starting new romantic relationships or sticking to old ones while in early recovery can jeopardize your sobriety. At Authentic Recovery Center, we understand how hard it can be to stay single, especially during this vulnerable time. The good news is that you’re not alone. Because recovery does not end when you leave the safety net of treatment, our aftercare program at ARC will map out an individualized plan to keep you supported and connected to the recovery community through support groups, 12-step meetings and alumni events. Your authentic recovery starts here. Call us today at (866) 786-1376.