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The Dangers Of Two People In Recovery Starting A Relationship

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

Medically reviewed by

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

April 8, 2019

While it may be tempting to start a relationship early on in the recovery process, it can pose several risks to an individual’s sobriety. It is important to be prepared and have a plan before starting a relationship during recovery.

It’s natural to want to share your recovery with someone else. You’re making positive strides, you’re experiencing a life outside of your addiction for the first time in months or years. It feels like a time to celebrate, but there are many threats to sobriety when two people in recovery begin a relationship. Knowing the pitfalls can help you stay the course with your treatment plan, so that you may enjoy a future with someone free from addiction, co-dependency, and deceit.

Replacing One Addiction With Another

While close family and friends are critical to a positive recovery outcome, getting involved in a sexual relationship is often counter-productive. Why? Because that feeling of falling in love or infatuation that can accompany a new relationship is dangerously close to the highs of someone’s drug of choice. The same chemical reactions in the brain that we enjoy when using are part of the same brain reward response engaged during sex. And while tempting, replacing one addiction with another, is not true recovery. Without developing solid skills in recovery, relapse is far more likely to occur.

During recovery, a person will discover solid coping strategies to help them assess their feelings and make decisions toward a positive outcome. Prior to the development of these coping skills, a relationship can spell disaster for someone who “falls hard” and then must endure an unanticipated break-up.

Love Or Infatuation?

Someone who has not yet developed successful coping skills can easily mistake infatuation for love. Similar to drug use, someone who is experiencing infatuation may chase the high of those feelings, resulting in risk-taking behaviors that mirror their behaviors while using. Like drug abuse, these high-risk behaviors can have life-altering consequences.

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What’s the difference between love and infatuation? Someone who is in love shares a deep appreciation and adoration for their partner. Unlike love, someone experiencing infatuation often pays closer attention to the actual feelings of euphoria associated with the relationship, rather than the partner. In essence, they become addicted to the highs of infatuation.

It’s one thing to feel excited when you receive a call or text from your partner, but if you find yourself obsessively checking your phone, or feeling down or immediately suspicious if they do not respond right away, it may not be a good time to begin a meaningful relationship.

Another common temptation when someone is beginning their recovery process is to reconnect with former lovers. While this sounds good on the surface, connecting with someone from your past can lead to old thinking, old behaviors, and significant drug triggers. Unless both people have undergone significant changes and are in a healthy place mentally and emotionally, it may be best to avoid rekindling an old flame.

Bad Relationships Are Unhealthy In Recovery

Take the time to empower yourself in recovery. People often become addicted to drugs and alcohol from a place of lower self-esteem. Battling addiction and hitting rock bottom can reinforce those insecurities. One aspect of recovery is learning to separate yourself from the addiction, treating underlying conditions, and regaining confidence. If you begin a relationship during that period with someone who is also in recovery, they may lack the confidence to move forward in a relationship free from dysfunction. Someone in this state can be critical, shaming, demeaning, and hurtful. This can reinforce old thinking and derail an individual from a successful recovery.

Distractions Of Relationships In Recovery

Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship knows they take work. This work can be a huge distraction from the important work of sticking to your recovery plan. Working on your recovery plan doesn’t imply you can never have a relationship with someone you admire during your recovery, but it does mean taking time for your recovery can be a huge benefit to romantic relationships in the future. Instead, early recovery is a constructive opportunity to develop a relationship with one’s self.

Dangers of Two People in Recovery Starting a Relationship Include:

  • Replacing addiction with infatuation
  • Returning to old thinking and co-dependent coping mechanisms
  • An unhealthy relationship that damages self-esteem
  • Consequences of a break-up
  • Distraction from recovery

When Is It Safe To Begin A Relationship In Recovery?

Recovery takes time. Those first few months can be pretty rocky. Not only are you coping with drug cravings and the emotional ups and downs associated with getting clean, your brain is literally rewiring itself, repairing damage done by months or years worth of drugs and alcohol abuse. Someone in early recovery is still regaining physical strength as well. This is a very unstable time and not a good foundation for a lasting relationship.

Just as you wouldn’t match someone you don’t know with someone else you don’t know, building a relationship with someone else takes knowing who you are and what you want outside of your addiction. The first year in recovery allows you to consider what you would appreciate in a partner. Someone who becomes involved with another person immediately while in the early stages of recovery has not yet had this opportunity to know who they are, and may connect with someone more appealing to the addicted brain, rather than the healing heart.

Instead of focusing outwardly on romantic relationships with others, let this be a time of getting to know yourself and falling in love with the person you are in recovery. Often we use drugs and alcohol to bury feelings. This is a time to explore those feelings along with ways to cope. Most experts agree this process of reinvention can take upwards of a year.

Discover A Life In recovery

People think of treatment as treating just the substance abuse, but this process of recovering from drug or alcohol addiction means rediscovering who you are outside of the confines of addiction. Treatment offers an avenue toward better coping strategies, empowerment, and can help you develop a positive support network toward long-term sobriety. can get you started on a rewarding path in recovery with online resources, professional support, and treatment options centered around your individual needs and preferences. Contact us to speak with someone today; discover a new and better life in recovery.

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