Ending a relationship during addiction recovery can be an overwhelming trigger that leads to a relapse. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can help keep these bad feelings at bay.

When single people go through addiction treatment, the temptation to form romantic attachrments can be strong. After all, you may be feeling confident and optimistic about beginning a new drug-free life, and a new life partner may seem like a reasonable part of that. However, counselors, doctors, friends, and fellow members of support groups will often recommend against jumping into new romantic relationships in rehab.

Addiction recovery is a difficult process and most people need to devote themselves to it fully. This typically makes new romantic relationships unwise. Temptation can be strong, particularly in programs where you meet people who understand what addiction involves.

That way of thinking, however, does not take into account the realities of addiction. Romances formed in rehab often end in heartbreak for everyone involved, and heartbreak can precipitate a relapse and jeopardize your recovery.

Breakups, Substances and Control

Breakups often include feelings of being out of control, even if you initiated the split. Many people with addictions first begin using alcohol or other substances because of the feelings of control the substances (temporarily) provide. So it is not much of a stretch to envision a breakup causing a relapse of addictive behavior.

Avoiding a relapse after a breakup requires that you recognize risks and take steps that reduce them. While you cannot control many aspects of a breakup, there are many things you can control without compromising all the hard work you have put into addiction recovery.

Recognize the Difficulty of the Situation

The loss of a relationship is one of life’s major stressors, regardless of how physically and mentally healthy a person is. Do not try to minimize the potential impact of a breakup and understand how that upheaval puts you at higher risk for relapse. Give yourself permission to grieve, and be kind to yourself in ways other than those involving addictive behavior.

Be sure to take any necessary steps to ensure your own physical safety if the potential for violence exists, and recognize possible triggers that could cause feelings of despair. Limiting or avoiding social media for a while may be wise. It can also be helpful to have friends shop for groceries with you so you feel less temptation around the wine and beer aisle.

Now Is the Time You Should Reach Out

This is when it is appropriate to lean on your support network. If you are in a 12-step program, speak to your sponsor and plan to attend meetings often as you navigate the first difficult days after a breakup. Lean on friends and family members who understand that you are in recovery and who will provide the kind of support that will help you keep going without raising your risk for relapse. If you are financially able, you may consider making an appointment with a qualified individual counselor. If there is ever a time to reach out for help, this is it.

Tips for Day-to-Day Coping

It is okay to feel sad when you are grieving the end of a relationship, so let yourself feel your feelings. Cry if you feel like it. It is also okay to pamper yourself in appropriate ways. For some people, that may mean watching a marathon of their favorite television shows or movies. For others, a luxurious soak in a bubble bath can help time pass more pleasantly.

If you have a pet, spend time with it. Few things are as unconditional as the nonjudgmental love your pet has for you. You could even volunteer your time at a local shelter. They are almost always happy to have assistance with feeding, walking or caring for their animals. Other volunteer opportunities can be helpful as well, giving you a shift in perspective and  allowing yourself to get out of your head temporarily.

Do you have a hobby you love or would love to start? You can fill up some hours by focusing on those endeavors. Exercise, even an easy hike in a local park, is an excellent way to spend time in a healthy environment. In other words, focus on yourself and be kind to yourself. This type of control can help you avoid looking to addictive substances for the illusory feeling of control they give.

Romantic breakups  are challenging in many ways. However, always keep in mind the hard work you have put into your addiction recovery. Bad situations are made worse when you add substance abuse to the equation. If you are able to remain clean and sober, you maximize your opportunities to build new, healthy relationships when you’re ready.

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.