Women in Recovery: Establishing Healthy Relationships in Early Recovery is Not So Easy

By: Lakeview Health Staff
Published: July 29, 2016

Addiction Destroys Genuine Intimacy

Women in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction describe their emotional struggle during recovery as empty, lonely, guilty, disconnected and numb. For the woman who is still addicted, these fearful and painful emotions are temporarily remedied by drugs and/or alcohol and, sometimes, sexual encounters. “Most of the time I felt lonely and undesirable. So I’d go out and drink, do a little cocaine and let myself go. Afterward I felt horrible about some of the stuff  I did while I was partying. But it seemed better than being lonely all the time. Treatment helped me quit drinking and drugging but I still struggle with self-esteem problems, loneliness and bad relationships.”   —Janice, 33

Coping With Emptiness

According to the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment in Washington D.C., women who are recovering from alcohol and/or drug addiction need to address several key issues. These include low self-esteem, shame, unhealthy relationships and sexuality. As many as half of the women who enter treatment for drug or alcohol addiction have been in destructive or abusive relationships. This gets in the way of their recovery and ability to achieve true intimacy in future relationships. Unfortunately, many women in early recovery fill the emptiness by rushing into unhealthy relationships. These relationships, like drugs, provide short-lived satisfaction. Then, they are followed by feelings of guilt and shame. Others cut themselves off emotionally and physically from others to avoid getting hurt. Both are destructive and increase the risk of relapse.

Importance of Healthy Relationships

There is nothing more important in a recovering woman’s life than her significant relationships. Healthy relationships offer a rich quality and purpose to life. Here is how a recovering woman can develop healthy relationships:

1. Find healthy women for emotional support, accountability and friendship

Everyone who is recovering from addiction needs support and accountability from friends and others. For women, this inner circle of friends must be with women who are willing to:

  • engage in gut-level honesty
  • hold each other accountable
  • commit to meeting regularly to chat, listen and simply enjoy each other’s company

2. Avoid any new romantic or sexual relationships

Romantic or sexual involvement in early recovery creates a false sense of self-worth and control for women. Like a drug, these relationships and sexual trysts feel good but are emotionally intense and short-lived. Romantic or sexual involvement reinforces the lie that a woman’s value is based upon the amount of attention or affection she receives from men. This robs the woman of the opportunity to discover her true beauty and value. Unhealthy relationships will keep her sick and shame filled. This is the opposite of the grace and forgiveness needed for personal and spiritual growth. Lastly, romance and sexual involvement lead to relapse. How long must a recovering woman avoid romantic or sexual involvement? In most cases, at least one year. And then, it should happen only with the blessing of her inner circle of supportive female friends or family.

3. Seek spiritual help

The shame, anxiety and emptiness that recovering women experience are largely spiritual problems. Twelve-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, are founded on the belief that only through a relationship with God (higher power) is healthy recovery possible. Through this relationship comes the “grace”  to accept unconditional love, seek and offer forgiveness, and possess the serenity necessary to restore and create genuine intimacy in your life.


If you are stuck in a bad relationship, or still overwhelmed by shame or bitterness, talk with a your sponsor, a counselor, or clergy person. They can walk you though the process of healing, self acceptance, and forgiveness. Remember that recovery is a journey through which women can find meaning in life. Dumping drugs, alcohol and bad relationships for health, purpose, inner peace, and joy–is the best choice you can ever make.

About the author:

Dr. Drew Edwards is a nationally recognized expert in Addictive Disease and Behavioral Medicine. You can learn more about him by visiting his website.