Sobriety can leave a lot of space in your life that was formerly filled by drugs and alcohol. It’s tempting to fill that space with the excitement of a new relationship, but early sobriety and relationships don’t often mix well. Recovery can be fulfilling and gratifying, but it’s also hard work, and adding dating into recovery can make that work harder. Right now your time is better spent focusing on yourself, gaining back your sense of self and learning healthy coping skills.
What Is Early Recovery?
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for what’s considered early recovery, but the general consensus is that the first 90 days of sobriety are especially critical. The risk of relapse can be high during this vulnerable time.
Many people believe that, in general, the first year of recovery is toughest. It’s normal to struggle with the transition back into everyday life without drugs or alcohol, and it takes a while to hit your stride in recovery, knowing what you need to stay healthy and prevent relapse.
Why Not Date in Early Recovery?
One of the most common early sobriety tips is to hold off on relationships after rehab. There’s good reason for that.
Dating too soon after getting sober can:
1. Replace Your Addiction
As you probably learned in addiction treatment, your drug and alcohol abuse were symptoms of something else. You may have misused substances as a way to self-soothe mental health issues, trauma, or unhealthy relationships. Hopefully, you’ve begun to work through those underlying issues and you’re learning healthier ways to cope with emotional pain.
Human nature is to seek out good experiences and feelings and avoid negative ones. A new relationship can feel good. It can activate the same reward chemicals in the brain that substances do. Studies show intense romantic love can mimic symptoms of substance abuse and other addictions, including:
- Physical and emotional dependence
Devoting all your time and energy to another person can serve the same unhealthy purpose(s) that drugs and alcohol did, if you’re not careful. It can evolve into a love or sex addiction. Your best bet is to stay single and sober until you get a stronger foothold in recovery.
2. Distract from Recovery Work
Navigating everyday life and the triggers it brings is especially challenging in the first year of recovery. Outpatient treatment, support groups, and therapy are all critical as you transition back into real-life situations.
Stocking your recovery toolbox with healthy coping skills is also an important focus. During the new days of a relationship, your attention naturally goes to the other person. You’re busy getting to know their likes and dislikes, their background and hopes for the future. It’s easy to become consumed by this, putting them in the spotlight and your recovery work backstage.
3. Mirror Past Relationships
For many people who struggle with addiction, unhealthy relationships and attachment styles have been the norm from an early age. Even though you may know the qualities of a healthy relationship on paper, putting that into practice in life is a whole new challenge.
Early sobriety and relationships is a combination that can plummet you back into old patterns. Dating in recovery can be a wonderful experience, but there’s no reason to rush it. Wait until you’re secure in yourself, more confident in your recovery, and have a clear picture of what you want in a partner and what healthy connections look like before you open that door. Building healthy friendships and learning how to hold boundaries with loved ones and others is a good way to practice relationship skills before you try out dating in recovery.
4. Bring Out Your Mask
It’s natural to want to put on your “best face” when you’re attracted to someone. But that may mean putting on a “mask” and hiding your true self to show that person who you think they want to see. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make a good impression, but in early recovery, there’s a fine line between bringing out your best and being inauthentic. A big part of recovery is rediscovering your true self and accepting and loving that person. Any situation that sends a message that you’re not good enough just as you are can thwart that process.
5. Put You at Risk for Relapse
In early recovery, you need to be diligent about avoiding triggers until you have the support system and healthy coping skills to be around them. This can take months—even years. Recovery and relationships can be triggering for many. Dating, intimacy, and romantic relationships can bring up trauma, emotional pain, or fears of abandonment, which may be some of the issues linked to your substance abuse.
Even if dating in recovery doesn’t trigger you, a break-up very well could. There’s no guarantee a relationship will last. It can be all too easy to justify a heartbreak as a reason to use drugs and alcohol to temporarily ease the emotional pain you’re feeling.
If You Do Decide to Date in Early Recovery…
If you decide to give sober dating a try in early recovery, proceed with caution, and follow this advice:
- Pay attention to your sense of self – If it’s getting lost, get out of the relationship and rediscover your sense of self.
- Lean on your peers in recovery – Twelve-step meetings, SMART Recovery, or other recovery groups are so important in recovery. Don’t skip them.
- Work closely with a therapist, and be honest with them – If you find yourself hiding details about your dating life from your counselor or friends, it’s a big red flag.
- Look out for old patterns – If a date reminds you of a previous partner or relationship when you were abusing substances, the relationship may not be a healthy one.
- Don’t date someone who’s abusing drugs or alcohol – It’s too much weight for your new sobriety to bear. Just say no.
Find more sober dating advice here.
You Will Date Again—When You’re Ready
Just because you’re taking a break from dating doesn’t mean you’re sentenced to a life of being single and sober. Waiting a little while before dating in recovery means when you do return to romance, you’ll be more secure in yourself and know what you’re looking for in a partner. When you date from a place of authenticity and conviction in your sobriety, needs, and wants, you can save yourself a lot of wading through mismatches and ultimately enjoy relationships that are fulfilling, respectful, and enjoyable.