In a world where daily drinks with dinner are considered mainstream behavior, it can be hard to find someone to share your time with who isn’t interested in a cocktail. In 2010, 17 percent of people polled reported sometimes drinking too much, and that figure jumped to 22 percent a year later.[i]Across the nation, 66 percent of all adults have ever drunk alcohol. Drug abuse may not be quite as prevalent, with around nine percent of the population aged 12 and older abusing drugs, but it has no place in the life of someone who is trying to prevent relapse into the world of substance abuse.[ii]
While everyone who drinks alcohol isn’t an alcoholic, a reported 17 million are.[iii] Furthermore, engaging in illicit drug use generally isn’t a game of if you will become dependent but when. There are certainly risk factors for relapse, and likewise, there are protective factors, too. One of the most important protective factors against relapsing involves with whom you spend your time.
What Constitutes the Right Partner?
How do you know if you’re with the right partner during recovery? Will they see you through this process, or will they further complicate it? When the right person is by your side, the struggle to recover from drug or alcohol abuse is somewhat easier. They should be encouraging, acting as your soft place to fall, and their love and support isn’t conditional.
Sometimes, the best path to the right partner is found while avoiding the wrong ones. The following are some tips on how to avoid bad relationships:
- Don’t seek out connections at bars, clubs or parties.
- Veer away from friends of friends who still engage in substance abuse.
- Leave old flames in the past.
- Don’t pursue sex too fast.
- Never get involved with your peers who are also in treatment.
We know around 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.[iv] Altogether, 85 percent of relationships end in breakups.[v] Though little research exists on the topic, it’s likely that the results are even grimmer among those who are engaged in or recovering from substance abuse. Bounding back from an addiction is a lengthy journey and one that you will need support on and a hand to hold along the way. Generally, a partner who has too many of his or her own issues that he or she needs help with isn’t going to be the best match for a recovering addict.
A catch-22 of sorts, addicts often end up with others like themselves, whether because they’ve used drugs or drunk together prior to treatment, or they don’t feel like non-addicts understand them. It can be easy to see yourself in another addict and feel inclined to help one another, but that doesn’t mean you can.Codependency often runs deep in the life of an addict, and two recovering addicts together can often be a recipe for disaster. If one party has success with sobriety and the other does not, being around someone who is using again will only make that fate more likely for the sober person, too. Likewise, jealousy can often develop in these circumstances and make the relapsing addict feel inferior, sometimes triggering them to actually want to see you fail, too.
More often than not, relationships between a recovering addict and a person who is still using aren’t beneficial because the risk of relapse is too high. In the time following treatment, 40 to 60 percent of recovering addicts relapse.[vi] In such a relationship where only one person is trying to say clean, their success can be seriously hindered by their partner’s continual drug or alcohol abuse.
Many recovering addicts find it difficult to walk away from a substance-abusing partner, citing a sense of obligation to help see them through it and repay the favor. However,it takes a lot time and a lot of experience battling addiction to get to a place where you can be helpful to someone else. This is the very reason sponsors from organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous must have completed the 12-Step program and be recovered themselves. Someone who is not yet strong in recovery is in no position to lead anyone else on how to be.
The same kind of mutual bond that often unites one addict with another lurks in the relationships of two mentally ill individuals, too. While mental illness is very treatable, making a relationship between two parties quite possible, the risks are greater when the situation is comorbid with substance abuse. Addicted individuals who suffer from serious mental health disorders are even more likely to fall off the wagon in the event of a failed relationship. This co-occurring diagnosis is present in 53 percent of drug addicts and 37 percent of alcoholics.[vii]
Jumping Into Uncharted Waters
You’ve completed treatment, and you’ve spent time thinking about your future and what you want. Longing for a relationship is not a sign of weakness or a red flag that you’re just seeking someone to depend on; it is basic human nature. However, the general rule of not getting involved in any new intimate relationships during the first year of recovery still holds true. The primary focus of your time and energy should be on rebuilding a relationship with yourself during this time period.
Some addicts are already in an unhealthy relationship, and many learn during treatment that the best thing for them is to sever this tie. Understandably, it is difficult to think about ending a relationship with someone who has been your partner and source of emotional support, even if they aren’t supportive of you getting clean. An addict cannot leave treatment and expect to continue socializing with the same friends who engage in substance abuse and not relapse. This just isn’t realistic. Intimate partners are no exception. What your peers do has a great deal of influence over you, whether you want to believe it or not.
Getting Help Together
Of course, you may have entered treatment with a trusted, solid relationship waiting for you at home. In these cases, the best approach is seeing that the bond that exists before treatment is only strengthened through it. Suggest that your partner join a support group for family members and loved ones of addicts, such as Al-Anon. Invite your significant other to therapy, and rewrite the rules to your relationship, if necessary. Start treating your partner like you want to keep him or her—something you may have failed to do when still using drugs or alcohol.
Those who need help may benefit from behavioral couples therapy (BCT). One study shows half of the men who participated in BCT remained abstinent while only 30 percent of those who received individual treatment did.[viii]
Those who need help deciding whether or not to continue on with a prior relationship often find help in their peers during support group meetings or with individual counseling. During treatment, you will learn why it is so risky to your sobriety to hang around others who are still using. You will also learn how to cope with situations in which being around such activity can’t be avoided or happening upon it unexpectedly.
At this time in your life, a relationship might actually not be what you need. The road to recovery is layered with struggles that you’ll need self-reliance to get through. For most recovering addicts, it is this fortitude that helps them to stay clean over time, not seeking to lean on a partner for comfort. Please call us at our 24 hour, toll-free helpline to learn more. We want to help you in your recovery journey.