How to Talk About Dating in Early Recovery

By July 5, 2021Recovery
dating in recovery

Clients might ask when it is okay to start dating once they finish their substance addiction treatment. The standard approach to dating after treatment is to wait at least a year. While you understand the dangers involved in entering into a relationship during the early stages of recovery, you may need to consider how you discuss the impact of relationships early in the recovery journey.

Early Recovery

There are several reasons why clients shouldn’t date too soon after they finish their substance addiction treatment. Perhaps you talked with them about the hazards of dating too soon after they leave an in-patient or outpatient treatment program. While some may take your advice or the advice given to them by their IOP counselor, groups, or meetings, some choose to go against advice and start a relationship.

Bringing up the “pink cloud“ experience is a great way to begin a conversation about dating while beginning to work on the issues of self-confidence and life without substances. Many clients feel the euphoria of life without drugs at the start of their recovery. The idea that all is well and they are unstoppable can overshadow the reality of life without drugs. You can help your client recognize the signs and discuss the pink cloud effect.

Relationships that occur while a client is in the early stages of recovery are similar to the pink cloud effect. Clients feel confident in their sobriety and believe they can handle the challenges of a relationship. Not all relationships are bad, but a relationship that occurs soon after substance addiction treatment might be problematic.

One way to discuss the potential of relapse is to talk with your client about why they want to be in a relationship so soon. Are there underlying issues? If so, work with your client to identify the problems and how they can address them without a relationship. Suggest that the client sets up a treatment plan that addresses the relationship and the steps your client can take to wean off it and redirect their energy towards recovery. You can encourage them to attend meetings that focus on relationships. They can also talk to their sponsor or integrate a holistic therapy such as meditation to help them focus on their thoughts and feelings.

Transference Behaviors

Substance addiction creates a change in the chemistry of the brain. The short-and long-term effects on the brain can impact the behavior of a client. However, some clients think they are immune to the impact. The need to feel the same “rush” your client felt after using the substance of their choice can trigger the urge to replace a substance with a relationship.

Clients can leave treatment feeling better about themselves physically and mentally, but they need to work on what they learned while they were in treatment. Clients may make a romantic connection with another client while still in treatment. The proximity to a person and the vulnerability of sharing intimate thoughts or experiences can lead to a perceived closeness to one of their group members. When you are in an individual session, ask why they feel close to the person. Once you analyze the root of their feelings, discuss their relationship patterns.

The safety, comfort, and privacy your client experienced in treatment doesn’t reflect life outside of a substance addiction treatment center. The environment clients return to is often filled with stress, milestones, and sometimes unrealistic expectations. Guide them through the process of re-entering their living environment while teaching them how to navigate obstacles on their own.

Focus on Recovery

An integral part of a client’s recovery is learning about themselves. Perhaps one of the underlying causes of their substance use disorder lies in their relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners. Relationships are peppered with potential misunderstandings. The previous behavior can also determine how a client reacts to obstacles in a relationship. Discussing how unresolved past behaviors will lead to future problems is essential. Dating someone soon after recovery can lead to a relapse.

While a year can seem like a long time, focus on how the client can spend their time. The time between finishing substance addiction therapy and beginning to date again is a formative time. You can set up a treatment plan that emphasizes the paths to take to achieve a goal. Another way to help your clients focus on their sobriety is to encourage them to join sober social groups or find sober events. There are concerts, sports, or other interests that are sober focused. Help your client explore the sober lifestyle.

A discussion of using holistic therapies such as meditation, yoga, art, or exercise to refocus their energy is also essential.  Funneling energy into positive activities can help mitigate the urge to fall into a relationship or relapse. Retraining their thought patterns to recognize the relationship they have with themself is more important than dating.

You can introduce your client to resources that offer support and understanding for those in recovery. Ask your client to find three sober groups they are interested in; once they identify three groups, encourage them to join at least one, hold them accountable if they don’t. How do you keep them accountable? You can reintroduce it into the treatment plan or discuss why they didn’t join a group.

Relationships are great; sobriety is better. While not all early-stage relationships will fail, the importance of spending time discovering life without substances is essential to continued recovery.

As an addiction treatment professional, you understand that post-treatment self-care is an essential part of recovery. Entering into an intimate relationship too soon can place a client’s recovery in peril. Whether started while in treatment or after, a new romantic relationship can distract a client from focusing on their needs during a critical time. Their newfound sense of health, vitality, and confidence can mask underlying issues that continue to need attention. While the urge to find love is understandable, post-treatment care emphasizes practicing the coping techniques learned in treatment. Honest discussion combined with introducing healthy options to dating, holistic therapies, and sober groups can aid the client in focusing on what is essential to maintain their sobriety; learning to understand themselves. As a premier substance abuse treatment center nestled in the Hollywood Hills, Alta Centers provides the resources needed to support long-term healthy recovery. For more information about Alta Centers, call (888) 202-2583.

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