Being in a romantic relationship with a person in recovery can be complicated. It’s important to understand the nature of addiction, so you can best manage the relationship and your own well-being.
How Can Dating Someone Recovering From Substance Abuse Impact the Relationship?
While it’s important not to generalize when talking about people recovering from substance use disorders, a history of problematic drug use is likely to have an impact on any romantic relationship.
If you’re dating someone in early recovery, there is a very chance that they may experience a relapse while you’re dating. Even if they are much later/stable in their recovery and don’t relapse, their relationship with substances might be very different than yours. They may need to avoid being around you or others who are participating in substance use.
For example, consider a party that will have alcohol available. For someone who has struggled with alcohol in the past, attending such an event might be triggering for them. If you haven’t struggled with substance misuse yourself, this can be difficult to fully understand.
Ask your partner openly and honestly about their substance use history, if they feel comfortable sharing, and how best you can support them in their recovery.
If you yourself also have a history of substance misuse, having a partner who is struggling can be a trigger for you to return to use as well. In contrast, if both of you are stable in your recovery, you can be a real support to each other in maintaining abstinence.
How Prepare for a Relationship With Someone in Recovery
There are several things to consider when entering a relationship with someone in recovery. Not every person in recovery is necessarily ready for an intimate relationship. People who haven’t reached a certain level of recovery may still struggle with being reliable or can even be a danger, depending on their behavior.
There is no one way to prepare for a relationship with someone in recovery because each person’s needs (both theirs and yours) are different. If you are starting a new relationship with someone in recovery, ask them if they feel comfortable talking about their substance use history with you, if they feel comfortable being around you or others using substances, and what you can do to be supportive of them and their unique needs while you are together.
Tips for Dating a Recovering Addict & Keeping a Healthy Relationship
Here are some tips that can help you if you’re in a relationship with a recovering addict:
Set Healthy Boundaries
It’s important to set clear boundaries in any relationship, but especially one where a person may struggle with addiction. Think in terms of “soft” boundaries and “hard” boundaries.
Soft boundaries are more like preferences and don’t necessarily need to have established consequences. For example, you may want your partner to call you if they’ll be late, which is reasonable, especially for someone who has struggled with drugs in the past. But if they fail to do this, you probably won’t be so hurt that it’s a major issue. Instead, you may just remind them how that makes you feel.
Hard boundaries are stricter and arguably much more important rules that you set, hopefully with clear consequence if they are violated. For example, “if you use drugs or drink while watching my children, you will not be permitted to be around my children or enter my home in the future”.
These are rules that, if broken, would result in very serious consequences, which you should outline when setting your boundaries.
Research the Nature of Addiction
If you are dating someone in recovery or still actively struggling with addiction, you should research enough about that addiction that you can engage with them and help them as needed. You should know what the drugs they struggle with do and how things like drug withdrawal may make them feel. You should also research addiction recovery, which will help you be more supportive to your partner as they recover.
Take Their Recovery Seriously
This may seem obvious but it’s important to reiterate. A drug addiction has the potential to destroy someone’s life either emotionally, socially, or physically in the event of an overdose. As a partner, you have a key opportunity to either help or harm them in their recovery. Make sure you are doing your part to be supportive – your support could be the thing that saves their life!
Support Resources That Can Help
If you are dating a recovering addict, especially if they’ve had relapses or other drug-related struggles while you were dating, there are many avenues of support out there.
Relationship counseling can be helpful in so many relationships, even without those complicated by someone in recovery. You can talk about the issues with the guidance of a mental health professional who can keep the conversation productive.
You may also want to consider individual therapy, not only for your partner but also for you. Even if your partner is loving and supportive, addiction recovery is hard on all parties. Talking to a therapist can help you work through how, if at all, the relationship is impacting you. Remember, you can’t take care of a partner recovering from a substance use disorder unless you are first and foremost taking care of yourself.
It can be easy to sacrifice your own well-being, as you prioritize the needs of your partner who is struggling. But it’s important to continue to take care of yourself. Make self-care part of your regular schedule.
Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH
Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where ... Read More
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- How Social Relationships Influence Substance Use Disorder Recovery: A Collaborative Narrative Study. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6410387/. March 2019. Accessed November 2022.
- How to Set Healthy Boundaries & Build Positive Relationships. PositivePsychology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/great-self-care-setting-healthy-boundaries/. January 2018. Accessed November 2022.