Today, an estimated 80% of the U.S. population drinks at least occasionally and a further 60% drink regularly. While there’s nothing wrong with casual and moderate use of alcohol, it can turn into problems for anyone who’s recently sober. Even if you’ve been sober for over a year, suddenly introducing someone who drinks into your life can be a shock. In addition, not being able to fit around their lifestyle can cause friction and difficulty.
While it’s not always true that dating someone who isn’t sober will be a bad call, it will definitely present new challenges. Those can impact your sobriety, your habits, and your self-care. Here, it’s important to be aware of those challenges so you can make the right decisions about dating someone who isn’t sober.
If your partner drinks, then they usually will drink with friends and family. That will mean you’ll either have to expose yourself to alcohol to spend time with those people or you’ll have to miss out. If you’re still avoiding exposure to alcohol, that can mean cutting yourself out of a significant portion of your partner’s life.
For example, while your partner may have no problems avoiding drinking while at your house or when you are at theirs, they will probably feel differently when they’re out with friends who are all drinking. That can mean tasting and smelling alcohol when you kiss, it can mean being around people drinking all night, and it can mean simply isolating yourself from part of that person’s life. None of these potential scenarios are ideal.
Of course, this challenge is not insurmountable. If you can trust yourself to say no, if you aren’t triggered by the smell or taste of alcohol, or if you don’t mind sitting out a lot of events, you may be able to make it work.
However, if they do expect you to drink, that can be another story. Many people associate drinking with romanticism and may be upset that you won’t share champagne, wine, or other drinks with them. However, if they do expect you to drink or feel like you should be fitting in with them better – it’s a good sign the relationship won’t work.
If you’re dating someone who isn’t sober, you’ll have to explicitly discuss and set boundaries on what you are and are not comfortable with. That will make disclosing your history of alcohol abuse and your need to stay sober more important. However, it can also put demands on an early relationship that will strain the relationship.
At the same time, you should be setting boundaries with any relationship. The fact that they are around alcohol shouldn’t matter too much if the relationship is healthy. Setting boundaries is normal. The important thing is that you approach them in a way that is respectful to both sides and a conversation.
I will not drink and I would like to not be pressured into drinking or asked to drink. My sobriety is important to me and it’s important to me that my sobriety is important to my partner.
Being around alcohol is uncomfortable for me. I don’t mind if you drink but I’d like to ask you to do it when not with me. I’d also appreciate if you could brush your teeth before getting home or spending time with me.
I have trouble with saying no when presented with alcohol. I expect that that will change but for now, if I’m offered alcohol and I’ve had a bad day, I will drink it. I shouldn’t be. Please help me with this by keeping alcohol away from me.
You can share any kind of discomfort, problem, or hard no in this way. Just make sure that you respectfully share your problem and then ask for a compromise or a workaround that helps you deal with it. Here, it’s never a good idea to limit your partner’s behavior. Asking them not to drink isn’t okay – unless they’re struggling with alcohol use disorder themselves. However, asking them not to drink around you is a much more reasonable request. You can then have a discussion about it, figure out how reasonable it is, and move forward from there.
Your new partner might not understand addiction, its impact, or how important recovery is to you. In addition, the more important that person is to you, the more important it is that you ask them to learn these things. While you shouldn’t do so in the first few months of dating, having a partner who understand your disorder, what you’ve been through, and the medical perspective of addiction is important.
That might mean asking them to read up on addiction, asking them to attend Al-Anon meetings, or bringing them as a guest when you go to speak at a self-help group. It might also mean getting them involved with your ongoing treatment. All of that can be significant time investment on their part, which will create challenges.
People in recovery lead very structured lives because it allows us to maintain sobriety. People who aren’t in recovery can be significantly less structured. With no set bedtime, no daily exercise habits, and no reason not to stay up drinking until the middle of the night – they may do all of those things. Most importantly, in early relationships, it’s likely very easy to allow spending time with that person to get in the way of your maintaining your own habits. That can cause you to crash and relapse – especially if the other person also drinks.
In addition, your new partner might not be able to adapt to the amount of planning it takes for you to do things around alcohol. If you have to sit down and consider what you’ll say and do if handed alcohol before going to a party, they might feel it’s a drain on their ability to have fun. Lack of spontaneity can be a problem for many people. However, you can work around that by doing things spontaneously in venues without alcohol – they just have to understand that will be the case.
It’s important to keep in mind that any dating in early recovery can be extremely disruptive to your recovery. However, even dating after a year or more of recovery can be difficult. That’s only made worse if your new partner isn’t sober. And, if you’re accustomed to doing everything your new partner wants to do and spending time with them, that disruption can cause you to relapse.
New relationships should involve structure, discussing expectations, and deciding how and when you’ll see that person, so you can maintain your own routines, habits, and self-care. And, if they drink at the same time, you should have a discussion about your sobriety and how you can maintain it around them as well as how they can help you to do so.
Asana Recovery offers detox, residential, and outpatient addiction treatment services at our center located in Orange County, California. Please contact us today to speak with one of our experienced addiction treatment team if you have any questions about our programs.