Rehab Romances Don’t Work and Here’s Why

Rehab Romances Don’t Work and Here’s Why
July 13, 2016 Stephanie Torres
In Recovery Tips


Listen, let’s just get straight to the point: getting involved in rehab romances is a bad idea. Everyone thinks their situation is different, and they’ve truly found their soul mate at the local rehab treatment center, but no. What they’ve found is a nice case of chlamydia that needs antibiotics stat and enough heartbreak to throw them right back into rehab after the relationship inevitably ends in disaster.

On the surface, falling in love in rehab sounds like some weird rom-com plot you’d find in a film starring James Franco and Emma Stone, but in reality, rehab romances are less about finding that cool alternative hipster who understands what you’ve been through and more about your hormones going crazy over the first warm body you’ve felt in months. Sure, anything is possible, and maybe you did find the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with, but you have about the same chances as that happening as the final couple on The Bachelor/The Bachelorette still being together after the reunion special. But people can dream.

Humans are social creatures. We get it. Rehab seems intimidating at first glance, and you might feel lonely, but part of recovery is realizing you don’t need someone else to fill the void in your life. Rehab romances can be more damaging than you’d think, and here’s why:

You may not have thought this through.

woman covering her eyes with broken heart on handsAddicts like short-term gratification without thinking about the long-term effects, so yes, a little fling in rehab sounds like a nice, harmless idea—but so did heroin (among other poisons), so, you know, maybe it’s not.

People are vulnerable when they enter rehab. They’re walking slush bodies of emotions, digesting the fact that they have feelings again. A good amount of folks are dealing with heavy stuff, too—from severe depression to trauma and loss over past actions and events—so it’s natural for their need to bond with others to be at an all-time high. When you feel like the world has abandoned you and someone comes along telling you that you’re still a good person (and kind of cute, too, now that the color of your skin has come back), it’s pretty easy to believe you found the one during a mindfulness session.

But this isn’t love. This is the beginning of what could be a codependent relationship, in which “one person relies on the other for meeting nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs.” If you allow someone to be the sole source of your happiness, then you also rely on that person to maintain it, which can lead to constant manipulation, abuse, and irresponsible behavior. Rehab romances are based around the fact that a person who is trying to heal avoids self-improvement by letting their infatuation fool them into thinking they don’t have to. Someone who feeds you all the nice words you want to hear does not necessarily aim to take care of you, but to possibly control or take advantage of you.

See, outside of rehab treatment, there’s a colloquial term in recovery, particularly in 12-step programs, called “13th stepping,” which refers to when someone who has been sober for more than a year hits on someone who is still in their first year, especially newly sober individuals.

Melody Anderson, an addiction therapist at the Hazelden’s Friends and Family program, explained to The Fix about this relationship dynamic, saying, “It creates a differing power ratio where someone is gaining power over someone who is weaker, and it can endanger both of their sobriety. The one thing I always want people to realize is this is not a gender thing. All sexes and gender preferences can be predators.”

Although 13th stepping is associated with people outside of treatment, the same concept exists inside rehab. People who’ve been in treatment for at least one or two months are much further along than the person who stepped through the door for the first time. Does this mean that every person trying to reach out to you is trying to take advantage of you? No, of course not. But there are people who may have an agenda of sex and power. So be careful with who you trust.

Sex may not be worth the risk.

Speaking of sex, it might have been a while since you thought of it. Drug and alcohol abuse tends to subdue sex drives, which means you might have spent more nights getting into bed with a bottle of Jack instead of the bartender named Jack (or Jaclyn). As such, it’s typical for clients to suddenly go through a “reawakening” of their sexual urges as they go through treatment. It’s downright primal.

Give it a few weeks and your standards for a bedmate will be virtually nonexistent. In a sea of aging folks with rotted teeth and tired faces, if you even so much as find one person with prominent cheek bones and non-chapped lips, that’s it, you’re good to go. It doesn’t matter if upon the first time you met someone, they were literally dying; it’s been a couple of weeks in treatment and they’re looking kind of good now that they can keep their pretty eyes open.

condoms pinned to string with "STOP AIDS" and red ribbon written on themBut before you rush in to make a move, consider this: STDs.

Nothing is more of a buzzkill than finding out you contracted a sexually transmitted disease, which is a very real consequence of rehab romances, especially if left untreated.

Unless your rehab partner readily admits their infection, most people are ashamed about having an STD. In the case of someone battling addiction, an STD could be the result of sexual assault while they were under the influence, risky behavior they engaged in while high or drunk, or sexual work they performed to fuel their addictions. The person might not even know they have an STD until symptoms show up months later.

Some of the more common STDs that run within the substance abuse community are:

  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Genital herpes
  • Genital warts
  • Viral hepatitis

In a 2012 study done by the National HIV Behavioral Surveillance System Study Group, it was estimated that 10 percent of new diagnoses of HIV infection in the United States were “attributed to injection drug use” and both unprotected vaginal and anal sexual intercourse. About 39 percent of persons who injected drugs “participated in substance abuse treatment in the previous 12 months.”

So, unless you manage to find a condom in the rehab treatment center and are willing to have an honest, thorough conversation about sexual histories, it’s better to get the job done yourself.

Rehab is meant for recovery, not finding a relationship.

Rehab romances affect the recovery process. They’re distractions. Rehab treatment centers want to make you feel safe and comfortable as you attend counseling and therapy sessions, but don’t let that fool you into thinking you’re at some vacation getaway. There is a reason why a strict schedule, curfew, and set of rules are mandated at the facility: for the safety of the clients and so that their recovery runs smoothly.

Rules about when and where different sexes can interact are put into place not because the residential centers want to treat their clients like children, but because rehab romances that occur during treatment diminish quality in personal growth, and there are a few reasons for this:

You’re not being totally honest about who you are.

two apples, one smiling and the other frowning with happy post-it on faceWe live in a society where first impressions count. When you meet someone you find attractive, you may not realize it, but you’re containing your personality and background to feature the best things about you so that the other person can find you attractive in return. People who struggle with addiction know all too well what it’s like to deal with rejection; so in a dating perspective, mentioning that time you overdosed in a Shell gas station bathroom while your friend waited in the car is probably not the best conversation starter—but that’s the problem. When you’re in rehab, it’s not supposed to be about impressing anyone. It’s about being honest with yourself and owning up to your past mistakes so that you can learn to move on from them and prepare yourself for recovery.

You’re losing sight of the goal.

More often than not, the reason why you go to rehab is because addiction has made your life a mess—and romance isn’t going to change that. In fact, rehab romances might make everything worse. Don’t lose sight of the main goal: getting sober and keeping it that way. If you get caught up with trying to be a good partner for someone, you will lose sight of yourself and ignore any real chance for change.

You’re not fixing any old habits.

The main issue with rehab romances is that they give you comfort that you don’t need. Rehab romances give you the pretense that there is nothing “wrong” with you and that you can be loved “just as the way you are,” which would normally be fine if the reason why you were in rehab didn’t involve a crippling addiction that was legitimately killing you. Getting too comfortable in a relationship while in rehab will not provide enough incentive to change serious factors about your mentality and previous lifestyle. Your mental and emotional health, which involves stress reactions and coping methods, need counseling and relapse prevention education.

While rehab romances can provide temporary comfort, you need to understand that going to rehab means committing to changing yourself for the better. You don’t find a sense of self by looking at someone to give it to you. You still have to deal with your demons and shortcomings. You will have to heal separately.

Rehab romances usually don’t last, but friendships do.

two wooden person figures high fiving each otherRehab romances risk some stressful factors after treatment: enabling, relapse, and breakups.

Because rehab romances take away from the recovery process, life after treatment involves several shaky variables, which are dependent on whether the both of you are strong enough to support each other in high-stress situations after only knowing each other for, essentially, three months. Everything was fine and dandy when you two were practicing yoga therapy on the beach, but now that you’re back home, life gets real.

The truth is that rehab romances are a vehicle to deal with stress and change, but in the process, they avoid change and can bring on more stress than initially intended. There is nothing wrong with wanting to form loving and fulfilling relationships with people. Making friends in rehab is highly encouraged, as they allow for you all to monitor each other’s growth while also staying focused on your own. Whereas love is an emotional roller coaster, friendship is a steady climb toward success, which is everything you need in recovery.

At Elevate Recovery Center, we are passionate about surrounding young adults with a community-oriented atmosphere. Clients can form friendships while they receive treatment, forming a solid support circle. If you, or a loved one, are struggling with a substance addiction, then call our specialists today to receive more information about your recovery options at Elevate. Call us today at 844-318-0073 and learn more about our treatment options.   

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