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Dating in Early Recovery

This entry was posted in Addiction News, Addiction Recovery, Mental Health and tagged addiction recovery, dating in early recovery on January 07, 2022 by Justin Baksh, MS, LMHC, MCAP, Chief Clinical Officer.

The term “recovery” has come to describe how individuals regain their sense of self after addiction. So, when does devotion to recovery permit romance? When should we consider including someone else in our recovery process? For the most part, dating in early recovery is a matter of perspective. Instead of an immutable law, we are looking at a guideline.

The Fragile First Year

The first year of early recovery is full of, well, firsts. The first month, the first Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall, the first birthday and the first holidays with family members or friends.

All the while, this new recovery of yours is starting to take root in your life. Over time, those roots grow stronger and deeper… and harder to yank up.

While there are no hard-and-fast dates you must adhere to, you are most at risk of relapsing during that first year of sobriety. According to most experts, a new romantic relationship or a significant life change should be avoided during this time.

The first year of recovery may include some emotionally charged ups and downs that leave you feeling increasingly vulnerable. You may date the wrong type of person, say or do irrational things, or freeze and run away.

It’s easy to lose sight of your recovery goals if you experience a substantial shift in your life. Deciding to get sober can be a complex process, but adding a relationship to the mix can be like throwing more fuel on the fire.

Beware of Replacing Addiction with a Person when Dating in Early Recovery

When you fall deeply in love with someone, your need to spend time with them can become physically and psychologically addictive.

Couple sitting on a blanket on the beach staring into each others eyes with the sunset in the background, dating in early recovery

The formation of romantic relationships unleashes a cascade of brain activity. The initial attraction activates the ventral tegmental area of the brain, releasing dopamine, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. The nucleus accumbens also gets in on the act, upping its production of dopamine. At the same time, the amygdala, which controls how we perceive fear, sadness and anger is deactivated, which can cause you to overlook red flags. Physical contact cause the release of neuropeptide oxytocin, the love hormone. It strengthens the bond you have with the person you are dating.

As a result, you may find yourself addicted to this new romantic life in the same way you were addicted to your old, substance-addicted one. Sobriety can be jeopardized if a new romantic relationship becomes more significant than your recovery.

It is possible for an addict to feel as if they have lost their entire self-identity when drugs and alcohol are no longer a part of their daily lives. People who have been dependent on these substances for a long time need to learn how to live without them and discover who they are. They may become too reliant on a dating person if they begin dating in the early stages of recovery. Their new identity could be eroded, and they might only recognize themselves in terms of their relationship.

Break-Ups Can Lead to Relapse

Early recovery from anything is a critical time. If you just had surgery on your foot, would you try to run on it? No, because you would do more damage and risk having to have surgery again.

Dating in early recovery is no different. There is a chance you will add to the stress with a breakup, and even relapse. You likely formed strong, brain-chemistry-supported bonds with that person you were dating – and it can be very painful to have them suddenly snap.

That’s why, when a new relationship you were excited about ends, you may feel the need to self-medicate the pain, depression, or betrayal away.

Optimal Health Equals Optimal Outcome

In those moments where attraction sparks, you may be telling yourself that, hey, there is always a chance that a romantic relationship could be excellent, even if it comes with risk. It is easy to see why: Humans are social beings, and forming close relationships binds us together.

Dating can also be heavily laden with rejection and frustration, however. On top of that, it’s important to remember that no relationship is perfect. As a result, it’s a good idea to slow down and practice mindfulness before entering into something that may throw you off the right path.

As we gain self-assurance and a sense of purpose in our recovery over time, we also develop more robust, positive coping strategies and emotional resiliency to deal with a complex relationship with another human.


Your new self-image should include a strong sense of physiological, sentimental, and spiritual well-being. When you are in a place of optimal health on all fronts an unhealthy relationship is easier to spot. If you do not take care of your recovery and your mental health, you are at greater risk of getting into a bad relationship with someone.

Who You Date Can be as Important as When

Rebuilding your soul with recovery at its core is an exhilarating experience. As long as your recovery is the top priority, you can achieve long-term success. Dating an addict while you are in early recovery could challenge that.

Someone from your past or another person in early recovery can also be especially tricky when it comes to dating. Situations that could reawaken old addictive behaviors and lead to relapse are more likely in any of these scenarios.

Again, the longer you wait, the better your choices will be.

Honesty is the Best Policy when Dating in Early Recovery

When you do start dating again, remember to be up front about your addiction status. Due to the importance of maintaining our sobriety, we must be open and honest with anyone we date about our history of substance abuse. Otherwise, we risk encountering stressful or upsetting places and circumstances detrimental to our health.

Sharing your dating status with your counselor, community group, close friends, or a sponsor may be helpful, as may expressing any emotions you’re experiencing. By doing so, you’ll be able to spot any emotional pitfalls more quickly.

What You Should be Focusing on (instead of Dating in Early Recovery)

Learn who you are without addiction, implement healthy habits, and establish a robust sober support network in your first year of recovery. The best course of action is to wait as long as possible and avoid doing anything that increases your chances of relapsing in the early stages of sobriety.

You may be able to tell if you’re ready to date based on how well you’ve been taking care of yourself. Talk to your loved one and assess the progress you’ve made in your recovery by being open and honest with yourself. Everyone is unique, but we can’t love again until we love ourselves first.

RELATED: 13 ways to overcome challenges in early recovery
Going back to work after rehab: 5 steps to successfully re-entering the world of work
11 tips on working while in recovery

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