Dating is tricky business, no matter who you are or whom you date.
It’s not always readily apparent that someone isn’t a good match for you when you first start seeing each other, so taking note of any red flags early on can really help you to cut out some of the more traumatic possibilities that can come of embarking on a new romance.
But a past history of drug and alcohol addiction isn’t necessarily one of those red flags. Someone who has overcome a substance abuse problem and established themselves in recovery would have done some serious work on themselves and could be a great partner. But how do you know if that’s the person you are considering dating, or if you are potentially entering into a heartbreaking situation fraught with drama and relapse? The fact is that you can’t know the answer to that question in advance. Ultimately, whether or not a relationship with a former addict is a good risk for you will depend upon you, your hopes for the future, and the stability of the specific person you have in mind.
Five Questions to Ask Yourself
Here are five questions to ask yourself to determine whether or not you and your potential partner are prepared to take on a relationship in recovery.
1. Are you a hopeless romantic?
First things first: while love is romantic, addiction is not. There is nothing interesting or exciting about it, and it doesn’t make a relationship interesting or exciting, either. If you believe that love can conquer all, you should know that love cannot conquer addiction. If your partner ends up relapsing and/or returning to active addiction, your relationship will no longer be a priority. Drugs and alcohol always come first to an addict, and the people who get hurt most are those who love the addicted person.
Red flags for potential relapse include any level of drinking or drug use, other compulsive behaviors (e.g., spending, gambling, eating, etc.), a lack of engagement with their sobriety (e.g., attending 12-step meetings, having sober friends, going to therapy, etc.), or being in the first year of recovery.
2. What do you know about addiction?
Addiction is not a willpower issue, and it is not a curable condition. It is a disease that affects the brain, the body, and the emotions. It is chronic in nature and defined by relapse. Depending upon the drug of choice, the type of treatment your potential partner chose, the number of years spent in addiction, and the number of years spent in sobriety, your potential partner may be more or less likely to relapse – but relapse is an ever-present threat and just as deadly after a period of sobriety, if not more so. The better you understand how chronic drug use changes the brain, how triggers work, and how addiction is most effectively treated, the more capable you will be of identifying whether or not you and someone in recovery are a good fit.
3. Are you prepared to support someone else in dealing with a chronic, relapsing disorder?
Recovery isn’t always easy. Some months, it may seem like there is little focus at all on your partner’s addiction history or urges to drink or get high. Other months, it may be all she can deal with.
Similarly, certain situations will not be acceptable to someone in recovery. Attending parties at clubs or even toasting a celebration may not be an option for your potential partner, which means that in order to be supportive, you may need to bow out early or bow out completely as well. Are you prepared to do that?
4. Are you comfortable with your potential partner’s past?
Addiction can be the impetus for people doing some pretty horrible things – things that they likely would not have done otherwise. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to undo any of those things, and your potential partner will have to learn how to live with his or her past choices – and so will you. If you can’t, then this isn’t the right partner for you.
5. How well do you know yourself?
In order to be in a relationship with anyone, you will always be more successful if you know yourself well, respect yourself, and are willing to prioritize your health and emotional wellness about all else. This is especially important when you are considering taking on a relationship with a former addict or alcoholic. There is a tendency for people in recovery to create codependent relationships, which can be damaging for both people. This can manifest in neither one feeling comfortable doing anything without the other, both people giving up friendships and goals if the other doesn’t approve or can’t be involved, and both going down a tough road if one begins making dangerous choices. When one person is in recovery, too much dependency on another person can be a trigger for relapse, especially if the relationship hits a snag or there is any threat to the relationship’s survival.
However, if you are independent and have boundaries that you can and will maintain – and your potential partner is equally strong – then this could be a functional as well as a happy relationship.
Choosing to get involved with someone who has an addiction history is a big decision. You don’t want to waste either person’s time if you have reservations or if it’s clear that the person isn’t stable enough to give you the kind of relationship that you are looking for. The best advice is to keep your eyes open, be as honest with yourself and your potential partner as possible, and take your time. Rushing in will only complicate things further, and you’ll both be a lot safer if you move at a slow pace and step back if either of you feel that it may not be the right choice.