Relationship Withdrawal

Why Breaking Up Hurts: Similar to Addiction, Says Study – TIME

Say you’re a college student who was recently dumped by the person you thought was the One. You’re moping around campus in your I’ve-given-up sweatpants and eating crappy comfort food when you come across a flyer seeking people who are still pining for their exes. You think, at last, someone to talk to!

Well, not exactly. When about 15 sad sacks responded to the flyers, which had been distributed around the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Rutgers University, they discovered they were actually being invited to take part in a psychological study: researchers wanted to gauge the kind of pain felt by people on the business end of a breakup.

The corollary to these findings, that the early lust of a new relationship has qualities almost identical to addiction, is old news to addiction specialists.  It also helps to explain why relationships are the number-one cause of relapse.  They render us  incapable of thinking about other, more realistic issues.

6 thoughts on “Relationship Withdrawal

  1. Bill Post author

    Hi Chuck,

    I don’t normally give advice. However, you specifically asked and I believe I owe it to both of you to answer your question. That is especially true since I know that you already know the answer, but are hoping that I will co-sign your wants instead of your good sense.

    Michele and I drank and drugged together for 12 years before we got sober. We nearly separated several times after we got clean (not sober — it takes much longer to get real sobriety), and I think sometimes we really were staying together for the sake of the cats. We’re celebrating our 31st anniversary in a couple of months, but she would tell you the same thing. We are an exception, and the only reason is that we were lucky — and we both worked extremely strict, active programs.

    We need to learn to have healthy relationships with ourselves before we start trying to have them with others. At one year clean and sober, your friend hasn’t even finished the post-acute phase of her withdrawal, and really doesn’t even know who she is yet. While it is true that they say in the rooms “no relationships for the first year,” that is only with reference to concentrating on the program without distractions. It says nothing about the actual issues of the relationship itself, nor does it say they’re a good idea after the first year. It’s about the sobriety, not the relationship.

    In my experience, your situation can easily lead to misery. Neither of you really knows the other. You think you do, but she, at least, is going to change over the next couple of years. You have run afoul of the specific reason why men sponsor men, and women sponsor women. It may be that you were not sponsoring her per se, but if the two of you were together enough for a romantic relationship to develop, what’s the difference?

    Give it another couple of years and let her get some real sobriety under her belt. And perhaps you might consider working another 4th and 5th step with your sponsor.

    Keep on keepin’ on,



  2. chuck

    Im 57 shes 42..we met 1yr ago.i had been sober for 12yrs she had been drinking for 19yrs. she came to me and said she wanted what i had knew i read the bible daily and i said ok then you do what do you’ll have what i the meantime i fell in love with her and she with me. 1yr later now shes sober and says she love me as a friend ? yet she also admits she not sure what she thinks. what should i do??i do love her im sure..


  3. Bill Post author

    Hi Guinevere,

    Congrats on your successes. Remember that addiction is a disease of relapse. Few people make it without a slip or two along the way. One Vicodin is, without doubt, a relapse, but at least you caught it.

    Along those lines, I would point out that relapse is a process, not an event, just like recovery. The actual use of a drug simply makes it official. I have not touched a drink or a drug for a very long time, but I have been in relapse on two occasions that I can identify, and perhaps others. Relapse is thinking the old way and beginning again to live our lives in ways counter to our program of recovery — or just ignoring it completely. It’s sneaky; a situation where you are either moving forward or backward — there’s no sitting in one place.

    Thanks for writing, and keep on keepin’ on!



  4. Guinevere

    Wow. Congratulations on 21 years. And 30 years together. Excellent!
    When I got sober, my husband told me if I ever brought drugs into the house, it would be the end. So I just haven’t.
    I feel grateful to be two years off daily fentanyl this week… Though I took a Vicodin in January, and I considered it a relapse, it didn’t hold a candle to the kind of work I put into getting off the major drugs two years ago. Man. Seems like ages ago, and also like just yesterday.


  5. onepillawayfromchaos

    Congratulations on getting and staying clean together. Yours is surely a rare case. It’s seems an impossible feat to me. I could have never managed to get clean without leaving my husband. He was one of the major triggers in my life. When I was with him, I wanted to use. If we had been able to get clean together, I am certain we would have been strangers as well.

    All of the above is true. Statistically, practically all couples who get sober at the same time end up divorced. We were fortunate in a number of ways. We hit a really obvious and potentially terminal bottom together, were both convinced we’d die. Due to good insurance and an intervention by my boss, we both ended up in treatment at one of the best rehabs in the country, a 28-bed facility on the top floor of a full-service hospital. We had two years of aftercare, a huge alumni association for support, and four other people we were in treatment with remained in the area, and sober, so we had that connection as well.

    We are also fortunate to live in an area with literally hundreds of halfway houses, treatment centers, detoxes, sober houses, along with six recovery clubs within 10 miles and nearly 700 meetings a week in our county. Recovery City, USA, really (Palm Beach County, FL). That helps. Hard not to be involved, if you make any effort at all. We both got active, stayed active, both worked in the field. I got out, but my wife rented her first office for her private practice just yesterday.

    Just lucky. But the more frightened you are, the luckier you get.


  6. onepillawayfromchaos

    There is also the issue of having a significant other who is also an addict. Thus, if they don’t get clean, you (the recovering addict) must end the relationship. This prevented me from getting clean for a long time.

    It’s most assuredly a major issue. And believe me, having the significant other get clean isn’t a magic pill, either. My wife and I got clean together, in the best possible environment, with exceptional supports, and it was still nip and tuck for a long time after that.

    One thing we did, though, was make a contract: if either of us “slips” (I hate that word, so WIMPY; like describing lung cancer as an “inconvenience”) they move out of the house immediately. Neither of us did, so I don’t know how much weight that would have carried after the fact, but it was unquestionably a deterrent, at least in my case. At that, we nearly split a couple of times. When you’re living with a person in PAWS — especially when it’s one of the people who hard-wired your buttons — it’s a real picnic. And though we tried to stay out of each other’s programs completely, there were still opinions…lots of ’em.

    We’d been together for about 12 years at the time, drinking and drugging our asses off, and suddenly we were two strangers with a lot of grudges. Stubborn, though. Next month is our 30th anniversary, and the month after that our 21st clean.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.