What Is the Relationship Between Teen Dating and Addiction?

Do you have a teenage child who has substance addiction issues and is also in a dating relationship? Are you aware of how dating may affect his or her chance of recovery? The reason why dating and substance use are often closely associated is that young people may see alcohol and drugs as a way to facilitate relationships. They typically do so without realizing the potential negative impact. Furthermore, the medical community has pointed out that drugs and alcohol increase the risk of dating violence.

How Can Teen Dating and Substance Use Affect Emotions?

Although dating at any age can be an emotional minefield, beginning a romantic relationship during the teenage years can be a daunting undertaking for one’s emotional health. It is widely known that the human brain does not mature until age 25 when the prefrontal cortex forms cognitive maturity. Before that, a lack of discernment and love for risk-taking activities might characterize a young person’s life.

Dating among teens and adolescents happens together with other challenges in life, such as academic pressure, navigating social pressure, gaining independence from parents, transitioning to college or work, and a journey of self-discovery. Although most teenage or adolescent romantic relationships do not last long, they can still be extremely impactful on young people’s life.

Because the patterns of young people’s romantic involvement may be influenced by their parents’ role model in that kind of relationship, young people who grow up in volatile homes can display greater degrees of insecurity and emotional distress. They might even unconsciously apply some toxic behavioral patterns learned at home to their romantic partners, such as temper tantrums, belittling, and emotional disengagement.

Negative or traumatic dating experiences may reshape a young person’s sense of self-worth. Some feel unlovable and succumb to negative self-talk. Additionally, sex presents a risk. Many young women experience sexual violence in dating relationships but tend to blame themselves for it. Parents and educators tend to be late in catching up with the signs of distress. Many young people do not have a safe space to ask questions and process these painful experiences in a healthy way. Some carry the wounds for life.

When Does Teen Dating and Substance Use Lead to Violence?

For teenagers, romantic relationships and substance use can both be filled with attachment, drama, and emotion. The interaction of these two realities can sometimes lead to volatile emotional patterns such as controlling behaviors. Dark feelings such as jealousy in dating, when aggravated by substance use, can lead to consequences that may involve violence and abuse.

Victims or survivors of dating violence can then become susceptible to substance use, particularly when the dating partner is someone who uses. In these cases, substance use or addiction is both the cause and effect. Without intervention, this cycle may repeat itself.

The Impact of Dating and Substance Use on Long-term Mental Health 

It is widely known that teenage and adolescent years are associated with many psychological and developmental challenges. The “first loves” experiences can only exacerbate difficulties in processing intense emotions. From infatuation and intimacy to committed relationships, teen romantic involvement is typically highly sensitive to the peer context and the trajectory of self-identity. The complexity and intensity of teen dating may partly explain why rates of suicide ideation and self-harm associated with adolescent romance have been constant.

Young people need healthy relationships to guide their self-identity and emotional wellness, so the dual challenge of teen dating and substance use may lead to long-term mental health problems. Some people can be stuck in compulsive behaviors for the rest of their lives. Others develop lasting conditions of depression, anxiety, and self-hate. The inability to navigate intimate relationships and trauma may socially impair many from engaging in future marital and family relationships.

How Important Are Healthy Relationships to Recovery?

For these above reasons, if a young person is going through treatment for substance addiction, it is highly recommended that they do not engage in a dating relationship. This is simply because the emotional turmoil associated with teen dating could potentially sabotage one’s recovery progress from substance addiction.

While recovering from addiction, young people can build healthy boundaries in emotional regulation and social relationships. Progress in these areas can benefit one’s future dating experiences. Parents, recovery coaches, and interventionists can teach a young person to understand healthy relationships as characterized by honesty, respect, trust, equality, compassion, and compromise. They need to learn how to detect toxicity in romantic relationships and set boundaries for self-care. Treatment specialists also need to design age-specific therapies for young people who are recovering from both the effects of substance addiction and teen dating. 

Most recovery experts do not recommend recovering individuals, especially young people, to begin romantic relationships within one year of their treatment. This is mainly because dating relationships may bring additional stress for someone in recovery. If you are concerned about a loved one in this situation, maybe a professional interventionist can help provide recovery coaching. You do not need to look too far for help. At South Florida Intervention, our professionally-trained interventionists have helped many teens and young adults navigate social life after reaching early sobriety. They know how to work with young people and their families. These recovery coaches and interventionists may also help your loved one connect with a strong and supportive recovery community, including other trusted health experts. South Florida Intervention offers a range of services, from recovery coaching, parent coaching, to sober escort and case management. We are here to help. Call us today at (202) 390-2273 to learn more.