James Haggerty Recovery

Creating Friendships During Addiction Recovery

September 20, 2022
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Creating Friendships During Addiction Recovery

During active periods of substance use, unhealthy relationships are unfortunately all too common. I’ve found that the work necessary to keep these unhealthy relationships can serve to steer us further and further from recovery. Toxic relationships built on the foundation of substance use can create an unhealthy reliance on these people as a false support system, which is ultimately useless when seeking recovery. However, I’d like to reassure you that building healthy friendships in recovery is possible!

Making Healthy Friendships In Substance Use Disorder Treatment

Creating any friendship must start from a place of understanding and mutual trust. While going through treatment for substance use disorder, these friendships already have a strong foundation—joint struggles with substance use disorder. However, unlike trauma bonding, which requires us to base our friendships solely on our past traumatic experiences, creating friendships in recovery starts with a mutual desire to reach sobriety. This positive reassurance from others, especially those you consider friends, can create a strong support network crucial for encouraging healthy habits and behavior during your recovery.

Support networks are some of our most important tools for recovery, but during periods of active substance use, these networks tend to deteriorate. The problem becomes worse as we get further and further into substance use. Substance use disorder can cause us to feel alienated from friends and family, creating strained relationships with those we previously considered close.

I know firsthand just how distressing this process can be. Realizing your support network isn’t what it used to be can be a harsh reality to accept, especially when beginning recovery. I think you’ll find, though, that this creates the perfect foundation for creating healthy friendships in recovery. However, there may be no such thing as a “perfect relationship.”

Why Are Friendships Important In Recovery?

Forming a New Friendship in Recovery

Friendships are important for getting advice and support through difficult times of any kind. In recovery, friendships can be crucial to sustain your path towards a healthier, happier you. This is especially true if you, like many in recovery, are experiencing the effects of a mental health issue.

Depending on your personal experiences, as well as the experiences of those around you, substance use disorder can stem from a variety of causes. In most instances, beginning recovery comes with a mental health evaluation that helps determine any psychological reasons that could be contributing to your substance use. The purpose of a dual diagnosis of a mental health disorder and SUD is to find and treat the psychological reasons for your substance use.

In many instances, substance use goes hand in hand with one or more of these psychological issues:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Other Psychological Disorders
Although the root cause for your substance use can come from multiple inciting incidents, identifying any diagnoses that can trigger substance use is important for recovery. Identification of a mental health disorder can be incredibly isolating—but odds are that the other people beginning recovery with you are facing similar dual diagnoses. This reassurance you can find in others facing a similar circumstance during their own recovery journey, is excellent for building up the strength to continue on your path towards recovery. In fact, it can be great for facilitating healthy friendships.

For those with a friend group consisting solely of people who haven’t faced substance use disorder, expecting the same level of understanding when discussing your illness can be tough. This is especially true if your existing circle has the mindset that substance use disorder is solely a choice. I know how much these words can hurt, and how invalidating it feels to hear these things come from someone who you consider a friend.

Similarly, your existing friend group may be other people engaged in active substance use. Maybe they’ve even facilitated your use in the past. By breaking toxic friendships while in recovery you can create a more supportive friendship dynamic with those who can truly understand and empathize with your feelings and will not increase your risk of relapse.

Should Recovering Addicts Be Friends?

Short answer? Absolutely.

Not only can you find a friend who can empathize with your current situation, but you can also find someone who can keep you on track with your recovery journey. These friends can offer a much-needed support network from an emotional standpoint as well as a recovery standpoint. One of the biggest hurdles you will face during your recovery are cravings and withdrawals, especially in the beginning. Finding a friend that can support you during these episodes can be a fantastic tool to fall back on in times of need. In this role as an unofficial sponsor, these friendships can help provide a grounded voice to help you avoid any stumbles in your progress.

This support system works both ways. In the same way that these friends can help you feel more stable and secure in your recovery process, you can provide that much-needed reassurance for them. Building these sincere and honest friendships, especially during such a trying time in your life, can make long-lasting bonds that help you tremendously at all stages of recovery. You dared to seek recovery from substance use disorder, and you can use that courage to help support others along the way. In fact, you’ll find components of this philosophy embedded throughout traditional 12 step programs.

How Can I Be a Good Friend While in Addiction Recovery?

Being A Friend While in Addiction Recovery

The first step toward creating healthy friendships in recovery is being in the right mindset for creating these bonds.

Think to yourself:

Am I ready for friendship?

Am I in the right mental state to be a support system for another in recovery?

Can I handle the responsibility of being a good friend?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’re ready to start forming these relationships.

Some key factors to remember when approaching others and creating these friendships in recovery include the following:

Introduce Yourself and Get To Know Those Around You

As with any new social setting, the first thing you’ll want to do is introduce yourself to others and make an effort to get to know them. Between official icebreakers during group sessions, general downtime, and finding activities to help dissuade cravings and relapse, getting to know those around you is the best way to encourage and nurture new friendships. Plus, once you establish yourself as someone others can trust, they’ll inevitably feel more comfortable coming to you for support throughout the recovery process.

Be Vulnerable

When you’re in a setting like a rehabilitation center or group counseling meeting, allowing yourself to be vulnerable about your insecurities and substance use issues can help others feel comfortable sharing their stories. Speaking up about your experiences and choosing to be vulnerable can be the best motivating factor to help others seek the courage to speak out about their experiences. This encouragement, whether direct or indirect, can be a lifesaver for those in need of more support during group therapy sessions.

Listen To Those Around You

While it’s important to be vulnerable about your own experiences, it’s just as critical to listen in return. Listening to the stories of those around you and offering words of encouragement can show others that you truly care about their feelings and experiences. I know that these situations can be triggering, especially when others are discussing periods of active substance use. Creating a balance between your limitations regarding these topics and your ability to receive and empathize with others is crucial in helping create a friendly, productive recovery environment.

Offer Support

This is the part where friendships are made. Offering support for others is the ultimate stepping stone towards creating healthy friendships in recovery. One of the most important parts of friendship is being able to support your friends—thus, offering your support to those in recovery can help facilitate these friendships at this critical juncture. This step requires immense mental preparation, including identifying your triggers and coping skills, but once you’re there, you can provide a strong support platform for those in need.

Overall, creating friendships in recovery may seem difficult, but making yourself approachable and tackling your sobriety journey with optimism can be an inspirational force for others. Allowing space for yourself to grow while helping others facilitate their journeys makes you a good friend and helps guide you towards creating healthy, recovery-centered friendships.

What Does A Healthy Relationship Look Like In Recovery?

Approaching any serious relationship relies on four distinct components: encouragement, understanding, non-judgment, and listening. However, for friendships made in recovery, these factors are even more vital to create a healthy bond. Encouraging your friends to stay on the path toward recovery—and working through any rough spots on that road—is essential to maintaining these crucial relationships. Mistakes and slip-ups do happen, especially during the early stages of the recovery process, so ensuring that you can understand these moments and hold no judgment is crucial for a healthy friendship.

Listening to those around you, especially those you consider friends, is crucial for forming a healthy relationship either in or out of recovery. As with the four components of a relationship, listening is especially important during the recovery process. For example, if your friends mention that certain behaviors or topics are triggering for them, being mindful while in their presence can reflect how much you care for them. Creating a healthy relationship where your friends feel comfortable expressing their feelings to you is the backbone of any friendship, and it can completely change the health and tone of recovery friendships for years to come.

Keeping Healthy Friendships While In Recovery

Keeping Healthy Friendships While In Recovery

We’re only human, and we’re bound to make mistakes throughout our lives. Unfortunately, when it comes to relationships, instances of miscommunication, regular boundary setting, and even general changes in feelings or behaviors can cause these friendships to fall apart. Sometimes, the true nature of these relationships can come to light. Substance use disorder can cause you to create unhealthy relationships or lead to problems within healthy ones. Over time, the toxicity of these situations can lead to negative effects on you and your sobriety.

During the recovery process, creating healthy relationships with others in recovery can be a wonderful system for promoting and inspiring those around you to get on board with your recovery and commit to their own recovery. I know how impactful these friendships can be at every stage of the recovery process and understand the importance of having friends to rely on during these hard times. Staying on the path of recovery takes courage, and with the right support system, you can guarantee a healthy, happy future for yourself and those around you.

Your strength is inspiring,




James Haggerty

A Time to Heal: Family Interventions offers personalized SUD Interventions, Addiction Recovery Planning, Case Management, Sober Companionship and Family Support. Call 310-450-6627 to connect with us.

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