There is a tradition that is upheld in 12-Step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and other self-help groups, as well as advice offered by addiction treatment therapists, that is often referred to as the “one-year rule.” The one-year rule refers to the notion that when an individual is beginning in a recovery program for any type of substance use disorder, they should wait a year before making major changes in life. Better put, this rule suggests that an individual should have a year of abstinence or sobriety under their belt before they make major decisions regarding their life. This includes becoming romantically involved with or dating someone.
Why Is It Best to Wait to Date?
The idea behind the one-year rule is that in the early stages of recovery, people should be taking care of themselves and not focused on romantic relationships or other big changes. Making major decisions can distract a person from efforts directed at their recovery. In the first year of recovery, most individuals are learning a lot about themselves, especially the newer versions of themselves that no longer use substances or engage in addictive behaviors. This means that at this point in an individual’s development, they are vulnerable to making very poor choices when it comes to life-changing decisions, including changes regarding one’s romantic life. Often, individuals in recovery begin to develop strong attractions for other people in recovery groups, which often lead to serious complications when these are acted upon.
Some people might also point out that it can be very easy for an individual in the early stages of recovery to become addicted to sex or to develop an unhealthy addiction to another person. As it turns out, the neuropathways associated with attraction are basically the same neuropathways that are activated in addictive behaviors, so there might be some relevance to this proposition.
Finally, there are the issues that can occur during a breakup of a romantic relationship that can affect one’s recovery program. A breakup of a romantic relationship is a difficult time for anyone, and an individual who has a past history of substance abuse and is in the early stages of recovery is at a significant risk to relapse as a result of the stress and emotional discomfort associated with the breakup.
According to Easy Does It: Dating Guide for People in Recovery, there are some other reasons why an individual in recovery should wait at least one year before dating.
- Individuals in recovery may wind up sharing too much or too little about themselves with their potential romantic partners. In either scenario, this can lead to resentment or very complicated issues that can result in significant stress.
- The relationship may become a replacement for one’s former addiction. Individuals in the early stages are extremely vulnerable and may develop unhealthy attachments to prospective new romantic partners.
- Of course, many dating activities revolve around environments where alcohol is used freely. This can be an unhealthy temptation.
- Starting a new romantic relationship involves a close interaction with an unfamiliar individual. An individual who is in early recovery can easily be taken advantage of by manipulative people.
Thus, the first line of advice to individuals in recovery regarding dating is to wait at least one year before beginning to date. This does not mean that one should not socialize with others, but dating with the intent of developing some type of long-term romantic relationship is often discouraged in the first year of recovery.
If You Still Decide to Date
Despite numerous cautions, there will always be some individuals who will find that they crave intimacy and romance in the early stages of recovery. These individuals are advised to tread lightly. According to Loving Someone in Recovery: The Answers You Need When Your Partner Is in Recovery for Substance Abuse, a person should develop a formal plan and a list to follow that can include the following:
- Don’t date anyone who has a potential substance abuse issue.
- Don’t frequent places where alcohol and drugs are available.
- Don’t date anyone who you are not willing to introduce to your friends or family members.
- Don’t date someone just for sex.
- Date someone who wants to develop a long-term relationship.
- Date someone who shares at least some of your interests.
- Date someone with similar values.
- Recognize the signs of a potential dysfunctional relationship.
In addition, the book recommends that individuals in recovery who date should also ensure that they are:
- Actively involved in therapy: Therapy allows for self-discovery, and the therapeutic environment can help the individual learn to develop meaningful relationships with others.
- Always honest about recovery: Be honest about the fact that a person is in recovery from the very beginning. If another person cannot accept that, then they are not worth dating.
- Moving slowly in the relationship: Take your time in the relationship and don’t rush things. Do not move too quickly or be in a hurry to get serious.
- Not dating people from recovery groups, therapy groups, or work: This is a rule that applies across many different situations, and many individuals make it a point not to date individuals with whom they frequently associate, such as colleagues at work, people who go to the same church, etc. Individuals in recovery should extend this to include individuals who attend the same therapy groups, support groups, peer groups, etc. Romantic relationships with these individuals can result in serious complications and much unwanted stress.
- Focusing on sobriety: In all areas, remember that sobriety comes first. Do not compromise your sobriety for any reason. Make sure to avoid triggers that can lead to relapse.
- Not afraid to ask for advice: Whenever an individual is new to recovery, it is important to remember that they will often need to get advice from sponsors, therapists, and peers in recovery. They can also get advice from family members and friends on issues related to dating and romance. It is important not to be afraid to get the opinions of others regarding romantic partners, dating partners, etc., and to ask for advice when facing difficult situations.
Conclusion: It’s Best to Wait
For individuals in the early stages of recovery, the general rule is to wait a year before attempting to develop a serious romantic relationship with anyone. Being in the early stages of recovery represents a very tenuous period in life, and the potential to make poor decisions is increased. It is certainly advisable to make friends, but most people should not attempt to develop close romantic relationships until they have actually have maintained their recovery program for a sufficient length of time.
The one-year rule is not a hard and fast rule, such that an individual should wait exactly 365 days; instead, one should not attempt to establish any serious romantic relationships for about the first year of their recovery program. Some individuals will ignore this advice and attempt to develop long-term romantic relationships. These individuals should tread lightly and rely on the advice of others in recovery, particularly their sponsor in social support groups, therapist, and close friends and family members. These individuals should also plan ahead and define the boundaries of their new relationship in order to promote a healthy recovery program.
Individuals who have more than a year of successful recovery should define exactly what they expect to get out of a romantic relationship, specify how their new relationship will interact with their activity in the recovery program, and ensure that their recovery program is their main focus.