Respectful, compassionate communication is the key when dating someone recovering from alcohol use disorder.

Dating someone new can be exciting. But as you open up to another person, you both might have to navigate a few challenges around figuring out how to support one another.

Your path forward depends on the nature of your relationship. For example, if you’ve been long-term friends with this person, you might know more about their recovery than if you’ve met them recently.

It also depends on the commitment level of your relationship. If it’s something super new and casual, they might not feel comfortable leaning on you for support. But if things are starting to get serious, that might change.

Research shows that supportive, positive relationships can help those with a substance use disorder. But what does that look like? Here are a few things to consider.

Supporting someone often starts with clear, compassionate communication.

It’s not always easy to know what to say when someone shares their experience of addiction with you. You might feel nervous about saying the wrong thing or coming off as overly nosy.

It’s best to be upfront about your feelings. You could say something like:

  • “Thank you for sharing that with me! Is there a specific way I can support you?”
  • “Thank you for your honesty. Do you want to tell me more about where you’re at in your recovery?”
  • “I appreciate you sharing that. I want to be supportive, but I’m honestly unsure where to start. Can you tell me more about how I can help you?”

If they’re open to talking about it, you could also ask about:

  • whether they need extra encouragement or support
  • what their triggers are and how you can avoid them
  • whether other people in their life know about it and are supportive
  • what their boundaries around discussing it are
  • what kinds of support have helped — and which kinds haven’t
  • what a supportive partner looks like for them

As in every relationship, setting boundaries is essential. These boundaries don’t always have to relate to your partner’s recovery but to your own needs.

Boundaries are most effective when you:

  • are assertive, kind, and firm
  • use “I feel” statements (“I feel overwhelmed when you expect me to text back immediately. I need time to decompress after work, so I’m not always able to respond quickly.”)
  • set boundaries early on (although these might change depending on your circumstances)
  • stay consistent instead of letting boundaries slide
  • communicate when your boundaries are crossed (for example, “Just a reminder that I can’t hang out after work on Mondays. Could we spend time together on Friday night instead?”)

Likewise, it’s important to respect your partner’s boundaries. Someone in recovery may have boundaries around:

  • who they tell about their alcohol use disorder
  • how much information they share about their experience with you or others
  • keeping a distance from alcohol (for example, not having alcohol in their house)
  • spending time with people who have an active addiction

But boundaries differ from person to person, and your partner’s boundaries will depend on what makes sense for them.

It’s not always possible to intuit someone’s boundaries. If you’re unsure whether your partner is OK with something, just ask.

Being mindful of your partner’s triggers can help your relationship in the long run.

An obvious trigger for someone recovering from alcohol use disorder is alcohol itself. Depending on their boundaries, you might:

  • avoid dates at bars, pubs, or clubs
  • avoid bringing alcohol to their house or ordering it at dinner
  • avoid watching movies or series where alcohol is a major component
  • avoid getting intoxicated with them or before you see them

However, other triggers for relapse can include stressors. Difficult deadlines, financial worries, and relationship troubles can be potential triggers.

This isn’t to say that you should walk on eggshells around them or try to buffer them from stress. Rather, it’s to help you be mindful of what may trigger a relapse.

Community, self-care, and professional support can be significantly helpful to people who are recovering from a substance use disorder.

It’s important that they take charge of their treatment plan and learn to seek the help they need — but, as with anyone, they might need encouragement.

This can look like reminding them that you’re proud of them, giving them space to vent and process emotions, and offering them practical support when necessary.

If they’re have difficulties, they might appreciate some practical help. You might say something like:

  • “I know you mentioned you’d like some extra support. I saw that there’s an AA meeting in my area later this week — wanna go? I can come with you, or you can go alone if you prefer.”
  • “I’m sorry you’re stressed. I know you mentioned exercise helps you feel better. Would you be keen to go on a walk with me this weekend?”
  • “You said leaving the house for therapy has been difficult for you lately. If it makes it easier, I’m happy to drive you to therapy.”

Of course, when offering support, it’s important to be authentic and honor your boundaries. Avoid making an offer you aren’t willing to see through.

According to research, avoidance can damage the physical, mental, and financial well-being of the spouses of people with addictions. Unhelpful avoidance tactics can include:

  • covering up the addiction
  • withdrawing socially
  • taking on extra work
  • not seeking support

Partners of people recovering from alcohol use disorder may benefit from:

  • joining support groups, like Al-Anon Family
  • seeking counseling or therapy
  • Speaking with a trusted family or friend

Supporting your partner doesn’t mean enmeshing your identity with theirs or planning your existence around their addiction.

It’s important to have your own life outside of a relationship — including friends, hobbies, routines, activities, and opinions that are all your own.

Dating someone with an alcohol use disorder can be challenging from time to time, depending on where they are in their recovery journey. Being communicative, respectful, and encouraging can go a long way in making the most of your relationship.

But remember: Supporting them doesn’t mean you should put yourself last. Taking care of yourself and honoring your boundaries is nonnegotiable.

Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.