To Hold On or to Let Go: Old Friendships While in Addiction Recovery

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Kristie Chairil
Jun 08, 2021

Addiction in Maryland

Maryland is no stranger to addiction. Six out of 10 residents over 12 years old report drinking alcohol every month, which is behavior that can easily spiral into addiction. Plus, Maryland is one of the top five states in the country that have been hit hardest by the opioid epidemic. Therefore, any victory against addiction deserves to be celebrated — preferably with family and friends.

These people should make you feel supported, loved, and motivated throughout your recovery and beyond. But when we experience big life changes, such as addiction and rehabilitation, some of our relationships must also change.

Entering Addiction Recovery: A vulnerable time

Addiction recovery can be a vulnerable time in your life, and finding the right support system is vital. This might not mean your oldest friends — the length of time that a relationship has lasted doesn’t determine its quality. Nor will it be the friends that enable or even encourage bad choices, such as using or drinking again. Holding onto friends who are a bad influence carries heavy consequences. The peer pressure can result in a relapse.

So if you think you have friends who drive bad choices, here are some steps to determine how to take action to change those relationships.

Step 1: Step Back

Thinking objectively and asking the right questions

Step back and think objectively about the relationships in your life that are most problematic. How do they make you feel? Do you have relationships that feel transactional? These are friends who only talk to you when they need something, ask repeatedly to borrow your money (or time), or keep track of who owes who what. These people often guilt you into doing things you’re uncomfortable with, and that’s the last thing you need if you’re recovering from addiction.

You also may have friends who encourage you to use and/or abuse substances themselves. Even after you announce your sobriety, they continue to peer pressure you to use. These relationships are toxic and deserve to be ended. Only when these friends become sober or learn to respect your sobriety should they be part of your life. The journey to sobriety is difficult enough — having friends who drive unhealthy choices will only make it harder.

Recognizing manipulation

Transactional or peer pressuring friendships can also be manipulative. These friends try to control your emotions, whether it’s brooding to get you to feel bad or praising you in order to get you into a good mood, for whatever reason. They might even claim, “you’re no fun ever since you got sober,” or make other comments to instill guilt about your sobriety.

As someone in recovery, you need friends who will be there for you through thick and thin. The above is not a comprehensive look at all the kinds of friendships you should be wary of, but it does paint a good overall picture of the people you do not want in your life, especially post-rehab.

Step 2: Set New Boundaries

New boundaries for the sober you!

After you reflect on your problematic relationships, it’s time to set new boundaries for yourself. You’re sober now, meaning that you should minimize attending social engagements where you know there will be drugs or alcohol. If your friends persist in inviting you to these events, you need to draw the line firmly and cut out anyone who crosses it.

Anyone who causes you undue stress also needs to go, because maintaining sobriety under this type of strain is difficult. Just as building good habits is crucial to thriving in day-to-day life, establishing new boundaries is necessary for healthy relationships.

Step 3: Weigh the Pros and Cons

Even good relationships have their ups and downs, but not every bad relationship is salvageable.

Think about — or better yet, list — the benefits and drawbacks of staying with certain friends. Do they contribute a net positive or negative to your life? Are your disagreements healthy debates or cycles of verbal abuse? Know the difference between friends who challenge you to grow as a person and people who are genuinely holding you back.

Consider how each relationship will affect your life in the long term. You may be able to deal with tensions now, but what about in a couple months? a year? Will it be beneficial for your physical, mental, and emotional health to stay friends over this period of time?

Step 4: Take Action

Now that you’ve weighed the pros and cons of each relationship, it’s time to take action. This can mean confronting the person about their behavior and cutting them out of your life. Or it can mean gradually letting go without a direct confrontation — plenty of friendships end merely by loss of contact. Or, if you think there is hope for a particular friendship, discuss your issues with the person and try to move forward.

If some friendships do end up on the chopping block, you can have a fresh start. At Avenues Recovery in Maryland, our Outpatient (OP) programs can help connect you to support groups of like-minded individuals dedicated to living sober.

Friendships can be complex, but deciding whether to hold on to some of them doesn’t have to be. Ultimately, you should put your sobriety first, and only people who support the new you should be a part of your new life.

Kristie is a writer living in Los Angeles. She has written about travel, healthcare, food, higher education, corporate security, and more

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