One of the most common pieces of advice for addicts in early recovery is to wait before beginning new romantic relationships. It’s often said that a person should wait at least a year, but this advice is usually not accompanied by much explanation about why romance may be a bad idea in early recovery.1
So what are the specific benefits of having that time to oneself?
Early Recovery Is About Self-Discovery
The life of an addict is an inherently self-involved one. Addicts often give up many other aspects of their lives — careers, relationships, goals — in the pursuit of alcohol or drugs. While reaching out to make connections with others after rehab may seem natural, people who have completed addiction treatment and are returning home are strongly encouraged to focus on themselves and their recovery process.
The life of an addict is very different from that of a sober person. When free of addiction, one is able to pursue many different types of relationships and activities. But in the early stages of recovery, individuals are building an entirely new life.2 To safeguard newfound sobriety, an individual needs a period of time to create new routines and find a new direction for his or her life. This is a period of profound self-discovery. It would be challenging during this time to fit in a romantic relationship that commands much of a person’s energy and focus.
No matter how strong a couple’s relationship might be, there are always trying times. The couple may not agree an important issue, or maybe one has made a mistake that angers or hurts the other. When these instances occur, emotions are bound to run high, and each person will want to seek some type of consolation for the pain. Since abstinence is a lifestyle choice that takes time and practice, a person in early recovery may still feel the compulsion to alleviate physical or emotional discomfort or stress with substance use. His ability to remain sober depends on how well he can implement the skills and strategies acquired while in treatment. Experiencing romantic hardships can lead to an unnecessarily high level of risk for relapse.
A New Kind of Dependency
There have been numerous studies conducted on the effects of romance on the brain. According to some of the most recent, the experience a person has in a romantic relationship activates the same parts of the brain that are targeted by substance use.3 In fact, there’s not much psychological difference between drug addiction and sex or romance addiction. Because of the similarities, romantic relationships in early recovery put individuals at risk of substituting alcohol or drug use with the thrill of romance and feelings of intimacy. Although alcohol and drugs are much more physically dangerous than romance, this type of dependence greatly increases the risk of drug relapse, should things go wrong with the relationship.
“Addiction recovery is an ongoing journey. Sustaining sobriety and remaining abstinent require a certain amount of continued effort. It’s difficult to give one’s recovery the necessary level of attention while also pursuing a romantic relationship in early recovery.”
After completing addiction treatment, an individual must actively pursue recovery. This may involve attending 12-Step group meetings, joining an alumni program through the alcohol or drug rehab facility and having weekly sessions with an addiction counselor or psychotherapist. There are many options available for continuing one’s recovery efforts. The most important thing is to put in the time and keep learning new ways to safeguard your newly found sobriety.
Romantic relationships in early recovery place a person’s focus on the relationship rather than on recovery. This can put the individual at risk of slipping back into old habits and behaviors. But once a recovering addict has accumulated more sober time and feels confident in his or her new lifestyle of sobriety, there’s much less risk of neglecting one’s recovery needs. Although it may seem difficult in the beginning, sobriety will begin to feel second nature, at which time a person will have much more to offer to a potential romantic partner.
Finding Help for Drug and Alcohol Abuse
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, we are here for you. Call our toll-free helpline 24 hours a day to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options. You are not alone. Call us now.
Written by Dane O’Leary
1 Linder, Daniel. “No Intimate Relationships During the First Year of Sobriety.” Relationship Vision. 31 January 2017. Web. Accessed 1 June 2017.
3 Fisher, Helen. “In the Brain, Romantic Love is Basically an Addiction.” Discover Magazine. 13 February 2015. Web. Accessed 1 June 2017.