Dating A Recovering Alcoholic? 10 Tips From A Sober Person
So you’ve met someone, and there’s a spark.
You’re considering asking them out. Or maybe you’ve been on a date already. They’re intelligent, funny, and have a lot in common with you.
But there’s one thing about them giving you pause: they’re in recovery and don’t drink.
You’re new to this whole dating a recovering alcoholic thing and have some questions. Maybe even some concerns.
That’s why I (with help from the Soberish community) want to offer you some tips on sober dating.
We’ll start with a common dating question in the recovery community. Has it been a year?
- What is the “1 Year” Rule in Recovery?
- Advice For Dating A Recovering Alcoholic
- 1. Prioritize open and honest communication.
- 2. Take it slow.
- 3. Learn and respect their boundaries.
- 4. Don’t make it weird.
- 5. Rethink date night.
- 6. Accept that your social life will change.
- 7. Learn their triggers.
- 8. Be supportive of their schedule.
- 7. Educate yourself about addiction and alcohol use disorder.
- 8. Be open about your alcohol use.
- 9. Don’t make their recovery your responsibility.
- 10. Know that relapse is possible.
What is the “1 Year” Rule in Recovery?
The “1 Year” rule is more of a guideline that advises against making major life changes in the first year of sobriety, including dating or starting a new relationship.
This gives people time to do the hard work of recovery without added stressors and distractions.
Is this a hard and fast rule? No. But it’s a helpful benchmark for sober people who want to wade back into the dating pool.
If you’re hesitant about jumping into a relationship with someone in recovery, here are some initial questions you can ask:
Feel good about their answers? Ask them out! If, after a few dates, things look promising, the following advice can help you navigate your budding relationship.
Advice For Dating A Recovering Alcoholic
If you’re dating a sober person, I’ve got some “do’s and don’ts.” But first, an important note.
Not everyone who quits alcohol is an alcoholic (although many are). There are also gray area drinkers who choose sobriety because they recognize unhealthy drinking patterns and don’t want their life to become unmanageable.
How do you know which descriptor fits your paramour?
You start with tip #1.
1. Prioritize open and honest communication.
Open and honest communication is critical for success in any relationship, but it is vitally important if you plan to date a recovering alcoholic. That’s why it’s number one on this list.
You’re going to have a lot of questions, and it’s important to ask them. Conversely, your partner should be open to discussing their needs, routines, triggers, and boundaries.
Communication will pop up in every piece of advice on this list. That’s how important it is.
If you struggle with transparency and communication, start working on it now. Otherwise, this relationship will not work.
2. Take it slow.
It’s good advice for any relationship, but especially for dating someone in recovery. Don’t rush into a committed relationship.
Recovery is an ongoing process; we spend a lot of time in meetings, therapy sessions, and creating routines to achieve that.
New relationships are inherently disruptive.
I know that word has a negative connotation, but it doesn’t have to be all bad. If somebody sweeps you off your feet and wants to spend time with you, that is disruptive in the best way. It feels good.
But for people in recovery, it can also feel overwhelming. So we’ve learned how to slow down and reconnect to our core priorities. Believe it or not, euphoria can be a relapse trigger.
Plus, taking things slowly allows you to get to know each other and build true intimacy. It also gives your sober partner time to integrate you into the cadence of their life at a manageable pace.
3. Learn and respect their boundaries.
If you’re dating a recovering alcoholic or thinking about it, ask about their boundaries. Every sober person has them, but they aren’t the same for everyone.
In this context, boundaries are the non-negotiables a person establishes to protect their sobriety.
- Not going to bars.
- Not keeping alcohol in the house.
- Avoiding social events where people are visibly drunk.
- Avoiding visibly drunk people in general.
If you drink alcohol, you need to know your partner’s boundaries for dating someone who drinks.
Is it okay to drink in front of them? Is it okay to be drunk around them? Should you invite them to parties?
Get to know your partner’s boundaries and then respect them.
If they don’t want to be around you drunk, don’t go out with friends, get drunk, and then hit them up with the dreaded “you up?” drunk text.
Don’t try to negotiate or change your partner’s boundaries.
The boundaries are the boundaries.
Your partner might be the most incredible person in the world, but if they have a strict “I don’t do bars or drunk people” boundary, and you like to go out to bars and get drunk, it’s not going to work out.
And that’s okay.
But don’t waste each other’s time believing or hoping they will be cool with it one day.
4. Don’t make it weird.
Sobriety is complicated, especially in cultures where drinking is the norm and addiction is stigmatized. But that doesn’t mean you have to constantly shine a spotlight on your partner’s sobriety.
You wouldn’t make a big show of a partner with diabetes, even though that is a chronic condition that requires a lifetime of lifestyle restrictions and maintenance to stay healthy.
Sobriety can be like that.
It also depends on your partner.
Some people are defined by their sobriety. It is integral to their identity, and they wear it as a badge of honor.
But for others, sobriety is quieter. They don’t identify strongly with it. And although they work hard to maintain it, they don’t advertise it as boldly as others.
Again, this is where communication is vital. Ask your partner what role they want you to play.
5. Rethink date night.
Dating a recovering alcoholic means getting creative with date night.
Obviously, you’re not going to go out and party or hang out at bars every weekend. So what will you do instead?
Some people worry that dating a sober person will be boring. If your entire social (and dating) life has revolved around drinking, it’s an understandable concern.
But fear not! Sober people have all kinds of fun, and you’re about to find out.
One benefit of dating a sober person is that it forces you to reconnect with your interests and step outside your comfort zone. It’s easy to go out and get drunk with the person you like.
Sober dating requires more effort, but it’s also way more meaningful.
This is your chance to form authentic connections that aren’t chemically induced, with the bonus of not waking up with a hangover.
6. Accept that your social life will change.
I heard this advice from Allie K. Campbell, a sobriety influencer on YouTube. She talked about how her girlfriend’s social life changed after they got together.
It’s so true. If you drink and have a social life that revolves around drinking, dating a sober person will fundamentally change that.
Your partner is unlikely to hit up boozy social events with you. Or they might, but only stay for a little while.
If your best friend is hosting a bottomless mimosa brunch, your partner might not want to go. In that case, you’ll have to decide if these are things you’ll do alone or decline to attend altogether.
This is related to knowing your partner’s boundaries.
For example, I have no problem going to parties with close friends and being the only one not drinking.
But would I go to a random bar with my husband surrounded by people I barely know? Maybe for a little bit, but I’ll most likely get bored and leave early. So we don’t do that together.
I will, however, happily go to a concert or live event where there’s drinking because I have something else to entertain me.
Some people won’t go within ten feet of a bar.
If having a date for parties and happy hour matters to you, this relationship might not work.
And that’s okay!
But, as I said, have that conversation early.
If you’d like to hear Allie’s full discussion with her girlfriend, here’s the video:
7. Learn their triggers.
Ask your partner about their triggers. We all have them. Triggers are the people, places, things, and situations that make us want to drink.
They can be utterly Pavlovian and unobvious to our partners.
For example, when I first quit drinking, I stopped going directly home after work on stressful days. Why? Because my brain was wired to anticipate alcohol from the minute I got home.
Just opening the door to my apartment and seeing my refrigerator would light up the pleasure centers in my brain like a Christmas tree. The anticipation of a bottle of hard cider at 4:30 PM was a powerful adversary.
So, when I felt too weak to resist, I’d ask my husband to meet me for an early dinner somewhere.
Maybe there is a place your partner avoids, like an old drinking spot or restaurant, because it triggers a similar response in their brain.
Or maybe they’re okay if you drink a beer in front of them but ask you not to consume whiskey because that was their drink of choice.
Triggers are very personal, sometimes quirky, and often nuanced. Learning your partner’s triggers will help you support them.
8. Be supportive of their schedule.
For many people in recovery, routines are lifelines. We learn to organize our lives strategically to stay physically and emotionally healthy.
Because if either thing slips, our ability to stay sober is threatened.
Examples of sobriety routines include:
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time every night.
- Attending therapy sessions or meetings regularly.
- Hitting the gym at 6 AM every morning.
Be supportive of those schedules and routines. Don’t ask your partner to skip or change parts of their routine for you.
You have to be okay with the fact that their recovery is the priority, and that will never change.
7. Educate yourself about addiction and alcohol use disorder.
If you don’t have any personal experience with addiction or alcohol abuse, learn about it. There are a lot of misconceptions out there. You may have absorbed a few.
Educating yourself about addiction and what alcohol does to the brain can help you empathize with your partner’s experience.
Don’t know where to start? Here are some articles you might find helpful:
- What Happens To Your Body When You Quit Drinking?
- The First 30 Days of Sobriety Explained
- 5 Must-Read Recovery Memoirs
- Why Quitting Alcohol Can Feel Like Grief
- Why You May Feel Depressed After Quitting Alcohol
- Alcohol Was Hard On My Marriage. So Was Recovery.
- 11 Surprising Benefits of Quitting Alcohol
- Why Alcohol Makes Anxiety Worse
8. Be open about your alcohol use.
Resist the urge to downplay your drinking habits for your partner’s comfort. Sure, you want to make yourself look good in the eyes of your new partner, but that isn’t the way to do it.
If the truth is you like to go out and party a few times per month, which includes getting drunk with friends, tell them.
If you try to hide or downplay your drinking, it will cause problems further into the relationship.
Just don’t do it.
Of course, it would sting if your new partner decided occasional partying is a dealbreaker, but better to know now than later.
9. Don’t make their recovery your responsibility.
It is normal to want to protect the people we love.
When dating a recovering alcoholic, this urge to protect can lead to blurred lines and unhealthy codependency. I’ve written about relationships with codependent alcoholics before, and it’s something you want to be vigilant about.
Your job is to support your partner’s recovery, not micromanage it.
If you try to do the latter, you will lose yourself in the process. Their recovery is not your responsibility. It’s theirs.
This is important to remember, especially if your partner hits a rough patch and appears to be flirting with drinking again.
You can support them in difficult times by encouraging them to lean on their recovery support networks and taking things off their plate so they can get extra support. But it’s not your job to keep alcohol away from them.
10. Know that relapse is possible.
When it comes to sober dating, the elephant in the room is always relapse.
Let’s be real. It can happen.
Approximately 30% of people who try to quit drinking will relapse in the first year. I’ve been there, as has everyone I know in sobriety.
That risk goes down with each year of sobriety. By the time someone has five years of sobriety, the risk is less than 15%.
Should you be hyper-vigilant of relapse or constantly afraid of it? No! Nor should you let the risk affect your decision to date someone in recovery.
But it’s out there, and you should be able to talk about it with your partner.
You don’t have to figure this out on your own.
Final Thoughts on Dating A Recovering Alcoholic
When it comes to dating in recovery, the name of the game is communication and going in with clear eyes.
Dating a sober person is different than dating someone who drinks. This is especially true if you drink alcohol.
But it can also be one of the most rewarding relationships you’ll ever have.
The most important thing is whether you are a good fit for each other. If the answer is yes, you can navigate whatever obstacles come your way.