Last Updated on March 17, 2020 by Dr. Alberto Solà

Dating is wrought with emotions and obstacles no matter what  – and when you add addiction recovery efforts into the mix, those things can multiply tenfold.  Although getting back into the romance game can be tricky for individuals working on their sobriety, it’s not surprising that many are drawn to the call of love and adventure while on the path to a new and healthy life.    There are precautions that need to be considered in all aspects of life for someone recovering from addiction, but if these are recognized, considered, and planned for, then there is no reason that love cannot be sought and found by all while staying on a healthy path.  It’s suggested that individuals in recovery wait a while before getting back into the dating game, but when the right time comes, the pursuit of happiness can empower you and help you feel normal again, and starting and being involved in a fresh relationship can be an important part of your new life.

Why You Should Wait to Date

In the beginning and early stages of recovery, big changes and new ventures are usually not a good idea.  Experts in the field suggest that addicts seeking to recover from their addictions wait at least a full year into their sobriety – or longer – before going after love.  Why?  Well, as we all know from experience, dating can be very difficult.  There are many ups and downs, and it can be stressful.  Although dating and starting a new relationship with someone can lead to the highest drug-free highs, it can also lead to some lows and dark places as well.  If things go wrong, or not just as planned and hoped, an unprepared individual can quickly find themselves on a quick train to relapse if he or she is not careful.  On the other hand, though, finding a supportive partner when the time is right can help you stay sober and discover more about yourself, the new you who has successfully made it through a dark patch in your life and who is excited to move forward from there.

Potential Pitfalls

There are many potential pitfalls to consider when starting to date after becoming drug and alcohol free.  First of all – and you may be thinking about this already – dating without the liquid courage of alcohol or other drugs may seem to be a daunting challenge.   We all know that substances can work as a social lubricant, and without it, how can we approach people?  Although it may seem more difficult now, certainly, with practice you will do just fine.   People have been finding love without indulging in substance abuse since the beginning of time, and with the new confidence that you are building with your recent success, this is just one more step on your journey.  However, drinking on a date or with dinner is engrained in our society as a cultural norm, and that, too, can be challenging.   If you are dating someone who is not also in recovery, it’s somewhat likely that your refusal to order a drink with your meal may be questioned early on in your date.  Be prepared for this possibility; you may at that point feel the desire to mention your recovery status at the very beginning of your very first date or not, but it’s probably wise to have a response prepared in advance either way.

Other challenges you may face when re-entering the dating scene may deal directly with your individualized journey and personality.   Dating may result in increased exposure to certain triggers as your thoughts, feelings, and routines change, so be wary.   One study by researchers at the University of Houston that was recently published in the Addictive Behaviors journal found that people with low self-esteem may often experience jealousy in new relationships, that can lead directly to alcohol abuse.   Their survey of 277 people showed that those whose self-esteem relied heavily on the quality of a relationship were more likely to turn to alcohol when experiencing jealousy.  If this describes you, then pursuing a new relationship too early in your recovery could be a true disaster.

Furthermore, it can be easy for recovering addicts to become addicted to the high they feel from new love, or sex, and if you’re not careful, you may find that you are becoming addicted to the other person.  A 2016 study published in Frontiers in Psychology postulates that almost every human feels addicted to love at some point in his or her life, and that while this “addiction” can be healthy in some ways, it can also cause dramatic swings in mood and happiness depending on how things go.  That may not be good for people working on addiction recovery, obviously, so evaluate yourself and the process frequently as things progress.  Becoming dependent on another person, rather than on a drug or alcohol, can be a very unhealthy coping mechanism, so be aware, and be sure to talk to your support systems and friends if you find yourself confused or overthinking things.

How to Know You’re Ready

It may be hard to know if you’re ready to date, and the point of readiness is different for everyone.   At least one year of sobriety is the standard, recommended guideline, but some people are ready sooner, and some people may need more time.   It’s likely that despite all the support you are getting from therapy and support groups and other sources you may be feeling a bit lonely, but don’t let that sway you.   Unfortunately, when you started on your journey to a new and drug-free life, you probably had to leave some people behind.  Maybe some of your friends were not ready to quit, or perhaps your previous partner was not supportive of the changes you needed to make.  Although you have had the opportunity to make new friends on your recovery journey, you may still be missing the old ones.  With this said though, remember, take your time and don’t rush into anything.  Your sobriety is the most important part of the big picture at this point and so you need to stay focused on that.   Good advice for anyone seeking a relationship or wanting to rejoin the dating scene is to love yourself first, and staying clean and sober is the best way to do that.  Once you are comfortable in your own skin, then it will be easier to move forward with a partner in a healthy way.

Where to Find Someone to Date

Although it may be tempting to date someone from your recovery support group, this may not be wise.  In fact, it might be best to avoid dating people from all places you frequent such as work, the gym, or other places you visit often.  Not to be pessimistic, but if your date or relationship doesn’t work out as planned, it may be better for you to not have to see them again.  If you are seeking someone to date, talk to your sober friends and ask them to set you up or suggest someone.  They probably know you quite well at this point, and may have some great suggestions, and will also be keeping your continued sobriety in mind.

Or, try online dating.  Online dating may seem foreign to some, but you will have the opportunity to mention your status as a recovering addict in your profile, thereby getting that sometimes awkward conversation out of the way before you even meet face-to-face.  Further, there are some online dating sites that cater directly to people in recovery such as and; the whole process will likely be less stressful if you know that the people you’re reaching out to are in the same boat as you from the very beginning.

How to Ensure Your Success

There are a number of things you can do to ensure your success on the road to romance while at the same time staying focused on your path to recovery.  First, you should be sure to stay in therapy and keep attending your support groups; although it may be easy to skip these important things when wanting to spend time with a new love interest, it is vital that these routines stay in place.  Remember, your sobriety comes first no matter what, and if you relapse you will destroy much of the progress you have made so far.  Be upfront about your recovery with your dates and if, after explaining the situation to them, they seem to be encouraging drug or alcohol use in any way, they are clearly not the right person for you.   As in any relationship, take things slow – don’t rush anything, and be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to take breaks, step back, and look at the big picture.   Whether you want to date another person in recovery like you, or someone who still indulges responsibly, is up to you.  There are plusses and minuses to both options, and it really depends on the individual, and where you are at in your recovery process as to what will work best in your personal situation.  With all of these things in mind, plus the right attitude, you may soon find yourself a partner and be deeply in love – good luck!