Why Friendships are Important in Recovery
Friendships are important for people in recovery. Oftentimes the true colors will come out and you’ll be faced with hard decisions. If you have supportive friends who do not partake in your addiction; those who you met before your addiction started, it’s important to analyze those relationships to see how you can keep them close and near you, how you can lean on them for support, and work on strengthening those relationships. On the flip side though, you do need to be careful. You need to make sure that your friendships are healthy or your path through sobriety may be at risk. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations, SAMHSA, the support of peers and friends is also crucial in engaging and supporting individuals in recovery. Having a happy life in recovery and sober living should be part of the plan.
It’s Complicated and Depends on the Person
For the most part, people can easily distinguish good and bad friendships but there are going to be those people who you may feel are in the middle or just not sure about where they may fall. For example, let’s say you have a best friend who you drink with and you’re trying to quit drinking alcohol. When you tell this friend they are supportive and tell you they are going to be there for you no matter what. Then one day they come with beer and offer you one, you decline and they don’t give you a hard time but after a few beers they start talking about how they don’t understand why you can’t just have 1 or 2 or drink occasionally and tell you how much they miss their drinking buddy and things haven’t been the same. This makes you feel bad. The next day they call and apologize and say it won’t happen again. Is that a healthy relationship or a toxic relationship? Well, I can’t answer that for you specifically but I can say that there are certainly red flags. If that person is willing to hang out with you sober and do sober things and it was a one off situation then I say there’s probably a good reason to keep that friendship strong. On the flip side, if it happens again then you’ll know it wasn’t just a one off thing and it’s probably best at that point to consider the relationship unhealthy even if they apologize for their behavior.
Signs of an unhealthy friendship
The people you are surrounding yourself with will dictate how well your recovery is going. If you’re serious about breaking your substance abuse or behavior addiction forever you need to create space around your thoughts so that you can be receptive to information you may not want to see, hear, or do. But it’s important.
An unhealthy or toxic friendship will not help your recovery journey one bit. If you have a friend who is constantly justifying your behavior or trying to make you feel good about what you do, that is a dangerous emotion and a huge red flag. It’s an unbearable feeling when a friend is cruel and has negative influences on your recovery. You are here because you know you need to quit your addiction – your friends and social interactions should be supportive of that 100% so if they aren’t, it’s not a friendship you should be involved with right now.
If you have a friend who also partakes in your addiction with or without you and can’t go anywhere without doing it then that’s another sign of an unhealthy friendship. For example, if your addiction is alcohol and your friend can’t visit or go anywhere without drinking then that’s a problem. If your addiction is video games or social media and your friend can’t do anything else but that – then that’s a problem too.
A huge red flag is if you have a friend who discourages you from getting help. A friend that says, “Seriously? Everybody does xyx – you don’t have a problem.” Please be cautious of those friends. That is not okay and every friend you have should be supporting you through your recovery.
If you have a friend who is constantly peer pressuring you to do more of your drug of choice, alcohol, or behavior or if you have a friend whose life revolves around your specific addiction then that’s another reason to be apprehensive. And last, if you have a friend who is threatening to end your friendship if you stop your addictive behavior then that’s not a friendship worth trying to even keep.
With all that being said, you may need to make some hard choices.
When to walk away
Identifying an unhealthy or toxic friendship is pretty straightforward but knowing when to walk away may not be and there are many different factors that play a role in this decision. Just because the relationship is unhealthy, doesn’t always mean you need to walk away. Some friends may adjust their behaviors once they find out you’re breaking your addiction. For example, let’s say you’re addicted to opioids and you had a friend who was using too and would discourage you to get help. However, now that they know you’re stopping your addiction they’ve decided to get their own help as well. In that case you wouldn’t want to walk away and could cautiously use each other for support. On the flip side, let’s say that friend still tells you that you don’t have a problem and comes by with pills or whatever and tries to pressure you to get high with them even knowing your stance, you might have to flat out tell them that you cannot be their friend anymore. There is no friendship in the world that means more than your recovery. What I mean by that is that a real honest true friend would never put you in a situation where you’d even have to think about walking away. It’s time you put yourself first. You’re worth it.
Signs of a Healthy Friendship
Having healthy friendships can be a lifeline to sobriety. As we’ve been talking about unhealthy and toxic friendships and when to walk away it’s also important to talk about healthy friendships and how they contribute to an overall healthy life. It’s not uncommon for people who are fighting an addiction to feel like they have no friends when they start recovery. Loneliness is one of the main reasons people relapse. Therefore, it’s important for you to know that this may happen so you can be fully prepared mentally and know that it’s completely normal. But if you stick with it, you’ll start to eventually make sober friends and be able to re-strengthen those relationships that you had with friends who were not bad nor toxic – the ones who are were there for you before, who are there for you now and those who are genuinely rooting for you success.
If you have real friends who do not partake in whatever addiction it is you’re fighting and who want to see you succeed then it’s important to hang on to those friendships. If you don’t though, just know that this is a normal part of the process. For some of you, all of your friendships may have been based around your addiction and you might have to walk away completely. It’s like starting over with a clean slate. While in recovery, as you work through the process and start taking action you’ll eventually start to meet like minded people through different hobbies you may be taking up, maybe you’ll join an in-person support group, or maybe you’ll just meet new people with the same interests as you through apps or whatnot. Some of you may have a solid family and that might be all you need for now. The rest will come later and in time. Spending time with friends is important but remember to always put your recovery first.
How to Keep a Healthy Relationship Strong in Addiction Recovery
You heard me just talk about knowing when a friendship is worth hanging on to and that’s if you have a friend or friends who don’t partake in whatever it is you’re addicted to, who have always been there for you in the past, who is there for you now and who is genuinely rooting for your success. Those are friends to hold onto. But in order for them to continue to be your friend you’ll need to know that it won’t be easy for them just like maintaining a solid friendship in recovery isn’t going to be easy for you. I want to talk to you about how you can be sure your friends continue to stay your friends.
First off, it’s important that you communicate with your friends about where you’re at. Nobody is a mind reader and if you’re having a bad day, struggling with triggers or post acute withdrawal syndrome, and you feel like you’re going to snap at someone anytime, it’s probably best to keep your distance but don’t blow anyone off without telling them why. Recovery from addiction is not fluid and can be sometimes unpredictable. For example, let’s say you have lunch plans with your best friend but you wake up crabby as heck and you know if you go to lunch you’ll probably end up saying or doing something crabby. In that case it’s best that you tell your friend what’s going on and then make plans to reschedule. If you keep it all inside, how do they know not to take it personally if you lash out on them or if you skip the lunch without texting? They won’t know that and that could put your friendship in jeopardy.
Another thing to think about when maintaining good high quality friendships while in recovery is understanding that you no longer should be putting yourself first. I know that sounds counterintuitive from what we were talking about earlier but what I mean is that when it comes to toxic and unhealthy friendships you should absolutely be thinking about yourself and your sobriety. But when it comes to healthy solid friendships, you know that those friends won’t jeopardise your sobriety so you’ll want to maintain those friendships by realizing that a friendship is a give and take. If you make everything about you then they’ll get annoyed and eventually they’ll be the ones walking away or distancing themselves. So while you should be leaning on them for support, try also letting them lean on you as much as they need. You’ll never know what they’re really going through or how they really feel unless you ask. So for example, if you’re meeting up with your friend for lunch and the entire conversation is about you and your recovery try to recognize that as it’s happening and at some point try to turn the conversation around on them and be genuine about it too. You don’t want to spend 45 minutes talking about you and then realize 5 minutes before you have to go that you haven’t talked or been interested in them and then say so how’s it going with you? Up well time to leave. That’s not cool. The best thing you can do is to start the conversation about them – ask them what they’ve been up to, how’s their sick grandpa or how having they been handling the death of their dog? Etc.
Now I want you to think about your friends – the good ones, the ones you want to keep around but maybe they’re hesitant to let you back into their life. You’ll want to start regaining their trust. Now I say this but be cautious about this though. When you think about the normal trajectory of a friendship, it’s common to have friends that come and go throughout your life so if you have a friend whom you think you want to continue a friendship but they’ve drifted away due to your addiction, you should certainly try to reach out and do things to regain their trust but try not worry too much if you’re not getting any results. People change and friendships grow apart so feeling like you’re drifting away from someone may have nothing really to do with your addiction but more about the natural coming and going of a friendship.
But if you have a friendship where the other person lost trust in you while you were struggling with an addiction to regain their trust you’ll need patience and compassion. When I say patience I’m talking about the age old saying of time heals all wounds. By simply not taking part in your addiction will show your friends that actions speak louder than words. On top of that you’ll want to show up, live in the present when with them and be sure to step up when needed. If they need a favor or need someone to talk to, be there. The trust will gradually start to accumulate over time and turn into lasting friendships.
Steamboat Pilot and Today did an interview with Trevor ‘Apple’ Mekelburg about his path to sobriety. Apple stated, “If you’re going to let go of a substance, you need something else to grab on to,” Apple said. “I’ve seen people in recovery grab onto all sorts of stuff — whether that be God or physical activity or music. You just need to find a community of like-minded people.”
Recovery From Addiction and the Right Treatment Program
Now that we’ve talked about the importance of friendships and knowing when enough is enough you should have the tools and confidence you need to make smart decisions about the future of your friendships and recovery efforts. Some of you may be starting over completely and finding new friends in recovery or working towards strong sober support networks. Long-Term recovery is all about balance and that includes ensuring you have a strong social support network.
Our Recovery Program, Live Rehab, uses a holistic approach for addiction treatment. If you struggle with a substance use disorder or any addiction, and traditional treatment programs are not for you, check out LiveRehab.com to see how you can obtain sobriety from the comfort of your own home. Life in recovery doesn’t have to be hard. Your recovery process is unique to you and that’s why we have plans that cater to everyone, individually.
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