Going through rehab and moving into recovery is a big step for most of us. It’s one of the most important decisions of your life. And is it a crucial step to getting your life back. Unfortunately, your decision to go alcohol-free won’t change the fact that 80% of the United States population drinks at least occasionally and more than 60% drinks regularly. So if you’re already dating people outside recovery or starting to do so, chances are, your partner will drink.
As a recently sober person, dating a non-sober person will bring unique challenges, and you should carefully consider them before continuing with or moving into the relationship.
Most therapists and people in recovery will recommend that you don’t start dating too soon, because the first months or even year of your recovery should be about you, your development, and your recovery.
They Will Drink as Part of their Social Life
There’s nothing wrong with this of course. It’s just that you will always be left out of it. You can go along, participate, and even be the designated driver. But there will be times you will feel left out. You’ll also likely face cravings, especially in the early days of recovery. Watching someone else drink might trigger you into relapse if you aren’t getting help at the same time. While you shouldn’t avoid alcohol, it’s important to ensure you have a framework in place to prevent you from slipping up when you are exposed. This means you shouldn’t go on a date to a bar or out with your date’s friends to a bar unless you have a sober buddy you can call, understand how to say no and how to react if people try to pressure you into drinking, and what to do if you start to experience cravings.
They Won’t Understand Recovery
Most people consider recovery to be a sort of commitment to not drinking anymore. The truth is, it’s much more than that. If your partner can listen to you and understand that your recovery is about your mental, physical, and spiritual health, you can move past this challenge. Otherwise, they will never fully understand a large part of your life.
They Might Expect You to Drink
Wine and candles? Think again. Drinking is a normal part of socializing in most of the United States. If your loved one isn’t sober, or worse, has a problematic relationship with alcohol, they will occasionally pressure you into drinking. Facing peer pressure alongside cravings can be devastating, especially if you do slip up. It’s important to understand how someone feels about you not drinking before you allow yourself to be around someone who isn’t sober in a romantic setting. The good news is that if your partner is open and receptive to communication, you can have romantic and enjoyable social outings without alcohol. You can also commit to being okay to them drinking providing they don’t pressure you into it.
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You have to Set Boundaries
Boundaries are crucial to making any relationship work, but doubly so when one partner does something the other can’t or does something that requires more work. For example, if a neurotypical individual were to date someone with autism, they would have to set boundaries relating to communication, touch, time spent together, etc., simply because an autistic person functions in different ways then they might expect. You have to approach any relationship in the same way, setting boundaries around how and when you feel comfortable, what is expected and wanted from each side, and compromising to meet each other’s needs. What might that look like in a healthy relationship?
- You can drink but not offer me any or pressure me into drinking. I respect your right to drink and can control myself around alcohol.
- I can’t control myself around alcohol and I would appreciate if you could abstain while around me. Otherwise, I cannot see you.
- I experience discomfort and cravings around alcohol, I would appreciate if we could mostly have sober dates, with some exceptions if I feel okay.
Setting boundaries goes both ways. Your date gets to set them as well. Try to have an open and ongoing dialogue regarding those boundaries and mention when they change.
Your Partner Will Likely Require Education
Not everyone is willing to put in the effort to learn about addiction and its aftermath. If you find someone who truly cares about you, it’s important that they do. Your loved one will have to understand what addiction is and how it affects you and your brain long-term. Taking your partner to 12-step meetings like AA or NA that are open to friends and family is a good idea. Your loved one may also want to attend Al-Anon, a program with meetings that specifically function to support the friends and family of alcoholics and recovering addicts. Reading and learning about how addiction works will also help.
Your Life is Likely Very Structured
Most people in recovery adopt a very structured and planned lifestyle. Recovery typically includes proper nutrition, regular exercise, and managing your activity and energy. Not doing so could result in nutritional deficiency, health problems, and mental crashes that lead to relapse. You also likely have to plan outings and vacations, look at menus, determine how much you can do without alcohol, and plan to have fun before you go. Going to a party isn’t just about putting on a nice outfit, it’s about planning how to enjoy it without drinking.
Adapting to this very structured lifestyle can be very difficult for a non-sober person, especially as people who drink tend to value spontaneity. You might have difficulty aligning your lifestyle and life with someone who values last-minute decisions, spontaneous trips, or spontaneous visits to bars or restaurants. This does mean that you will have to align on lifestyle before starting to date someone. However, there are plenty of people who drink who are completely fine with planning, taking things slowly, and avoiding rushing into events or vacations. Not everyone can work with this, but enough people can that you can freely date so long as you openly communicate your needs upfront.
Dating while in recovery is difficult. Always keep in mind that as mentioned earlier it’s best that you don’t start dating too soon, usually until after the first months or even year of your recovery. And afterwards, many of the people you meet will drink alcohol, even if only occasionally. Dating outside sober circles means adding challenges and risks to your personal life, because, without proper management, a non-sober person could lead you to relapse.
No matter what you choose to do, it’s important to ensure you continue to reach out, continue to ask advice from peers and hopefully a therapist, and ask for help when you need it. If you set boundaries, communicate well, and maintain your lifestyle, there’s no reason why you can’t date a non-sober person. But your recovery must always be your first priority.
If you or your loved-one is seeking help for opioid use or another addiction, call us at (714) 443-8218 and look into our recovery programs. Our Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center in Huntington Beach helps clients by providing them with addiction intervention services, detox, and residential addiction treatment.
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