Blog | Alcohol Addiction

Drug and Alcohol Addiction Recovery is Bad for Relationships

Being able to connect or reconnect with others is one of the greatest benefits of recovery. It can also create some of the biggest stumbling blocks. Relationships can hurt your drug and alcohol addiction recovery. You get too involved in the relationship. You stop focusing on what you need to do to get better. Your priorities change. You may let someone else’s priorities change you. Things go wrong, and you end up relapsing. Relationships challenge recovery. However this is not a one-way street. Recovery also challenges relationships.

New Relationships and Drug Addiction Treatment

Group of friends hugging

Treatment offers opportunities for meeting like-minded people. Some of these early connections can grow into more serious relationships. You find yourself talking with someone in meetings and sessions and then outside of them. You meet for coffee and then dinner. Soon you are spending most of your time together. This can be the beginning of a long and healthy friendship or romantic relationship. It can also create emotional stress at a time when you need to focus on yourself and your health. New friendships are great. However remember your priorities in treatment. There are many positive, productive ways to spend your time, thoughts and emotions. A new relationship may not be one of these. Focus on building your recovery. Don’t risk tearing it down.

Old Relationships and Drug Addiction Treatment

You may enter treatment while still in an old relationship. He or she may have helped push you toward treatment. He or she may have used with you in the past. No matter the positive or negative effect a partner has had on your drug use, you need to recover for yourself and by yourself. Even if you experience pressure to go to treatment, you ultimately make this decision on your own. Recovery raises emotions and new and old hurts. These can stress already stressed relationships to the breaking point.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration[1] explains, “Often a family remains stuck in unhealthy patterns even after the family member with the behavioral health disorder moves into recovery. Even in the best circumstances, families can find it hard to adjust to the person in their midst who is recovering, who is behaving differently than before, and who needs support.”

When it comes to ending addiction, change is good. When it comes to making sure relationships are healthy and supportive, change is good. Change creates instability, but this instability, this self-exploration and examination, allows you to heal. You may be tempted to leave treatment and abandon recovery to save an old relationship. This often seems like the safest or at least most comfortable path. However active addiction will ultimately break apart any relationship anyway. Treatment gives you the opportunity to save relationships worth saving and move forward from ones that are not.

Change, Recovery and Relationships

Woman in recovery group

In treatment you learn more about who you are and what you want. You learn how to create healthy relationships and put an end to unsupportive ones. These are practices and skills you may have lost during addiction or never had the chance to develop in the first place. Addictive Behaviors[2] explains that patients, “who were undergoing treatment for alcoholism, heroin addiction, amphetamine/cocaine addiction or cannabis abuse reported higher levels of insecure attachment and fear of intimacy, and lower levels of secure attachment and differentiation of self. Insecure attachment, high fear of intimacy and low self-differentiation appear to characterize clients enrolled in addiction treatment programs. Such characteristics may reflect a predisposition to substance problems, an effect of chronic substance problems, or conceivably both.” You don’t have to know if your unhealthy relationship habits came before or as a result of substance use. Just know that, in early recovery, you may not be able to build as healthy of relationships as you will after treatment. You are still learning who you are. New and old relationships may just offer another opportunity to avoid self-differentiation. You need time and space to develop a sense of identity. You need time and space to learn what a healthy relationship looks like and how you can build one.

Your Lover is Not Your Doctor

Or your sponsor. Or your shrink. Or your priest. Or your parent. It’s hard to find the line of appropriate emotional sharing, especially when both drug treatment and a new relationship present you with such raw unfamiliar emotions. Do you just not tell your partner when you feel like drinking or getting high? What if you go to the same 12 step meetings? Know the same people? Will your partner’s response trigger resentment in you? Or something worse, like feelings of inadequacy?

What do you think? Do new relationships have a shot during drug and alcohol addiction treatment and recovery? Can old relationships survive the transition?


[1] https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA13-4784/SMA13-4784.pdf. “Family Therapy Can Help.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2013. Web. 14 Mar 2017.

[2] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306460305001553. “Attachment, fear of intimacy and differentiation of self among clients in substance disorder treatment facilities.” Addictive Behaviors. April 2006. Web. 14 Mar 2017.