How Friendship Helps in Recovery
A Friend Is Someone You Can Always Talk to
Combating loneliness when you’re newly sober often seems like a challenge you’re not really up to. On the one hand, you may be afraid your friends will judge you harshly for your addiction. You may believe they’ll shun you as if you have a contagious disease. Even the most well-meaning of your friends may not understand what you’re going through, let alone that addiction is a chronic brain disease, as defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). It takes time to heal and you need a strong support system. This is where, in addition to family and fellow members of self-help or 12-step groups, your friends provide a bulwark of much-needed encouragement and support as you begin your recovery journey.
The friends who matter most are the ones you feel you can always talk to or turn to when you’re in need. These are not fair-weather friends or bar acquaintances or the guys or gals you hung out with at parties and sports or other recreational activities and events where you freely drank alcohol and maybe did some drugs. You’ll know right away which type of friend you have when you try to talk with them and they’re suddenly too busy.
Your true friends, however, will always be there for you. Nothing you have done will deter them, although they may be sad and pained that you’re going through this period of adjustment to an entirely different life. Having trusted friends is one of the joys you can count on as you make your way in sobriety.
Friends Help Validate Your Goals
After rehab and armed with a list of recovery goals and recommendations, you may begin to feel a bit overwhelmed, at least at first. What should you tackle first? Which approach is the right one to take at which time? What if you make a mistake? What if you relapse? Is everything lost? While in such a period of vulnerability and sudden change it can seem overwhelming — and this is yet another reason friends are so important. Not only are they there to bounce ideas off of, to cheer you up when you need it, they are also invaluable to help you realize that you’re on the right path, you’ve made a wise decision to get clean and sober, and help validate the goals you’ve set — and will continue to set — for your new life in sobriety.
Happiness Is Contagious
Often those in recovery from alcohol and drug abuse are also struggling with co-occurring mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. After returning home from treatment, you may experience periods where you feel ill-equipped emotionally to deal with all of the stresses you’re facing. You might feel like being around your friends will bring them down emotionally as well, but this is not generally the case. A recent study of adolescents from the University of Warwick found that having friends suffering from depression doesn’t affect the mental health of others. Indeed, researchers found that social support and befriending influence mental health: happy friends tend to spread happiness. This is one emotion that appears to be contagious. The takeaway here is to avail yourself of your friends. If they invite you out for a movie or a coffee or to some other event or activity, accept the offer and get out of the house. You need social interaction with friends — and the opportunity to relax and enjoy yourself without the crutch of alcohol or drugs.
You’re More Likely to Eat Healthier
Going through rehab was probably fairly rough, at least at times. One aspect of treatment is careful attention to diet, since addiction does serious damage to many vital bodily organs and often addicts don’t eat well at all, are malnourished or have vitamin and mineral deficiencies or other physical problems. Establishing and maintaining a healthy diet helps the body heal after addiction. Now that you’re home, it’s important to adhere to a regular schedule of eating nutritious meals. Friends can provide an impetus to do just that — and are often willing to go out of their way to make sure you come out for a meal and some much-needed socialization.
Friends Offer You Perspective
During early recovery one of the issues you face is your ability to judge what course of action to take. You realize that you haven’t always been the best judge, given the circumstances you found yourself in as a result of addiction. Now that you’re in recovery, you’re still feeling your way, trying to find the best schedule and routine, how to judge whether you’re making progress. Friends can help put things in perspective, offer an outsider’s point of view, make suggestions, and provide an atmosphere of stability that you so urgently need.
Sometimes You Just Need Encouragement
It isn’t always an emotional difficulty you’re going through but, nonetheless, you may sometimes seem at a stalemate. While you weigh all of your options, but nothing seems quite right, at such times the friendships you’ve developed can provide tremendous dividends. What we often can’t do for ourselves is something our friends can provide: encouragement. Friends can point out your talents and strengths and help you see choices more clearly. While true friends won’t seek to dictate or demand, they can offer you the benefit of their experience or wisdom. Often, just listening to their words of encouragement is enough to spur you on to making your own decision.
Friends Can Help Your Motivation
Some days will be good and other days will be miserable in early recovery. That’s common. There will be days when you wake up and want to crawl back under the covers. Maybe you had a lousy night’s sleep, restless as a result of recurring nightmares, cravings and urges, anxiety or depression. If you have been building relationships and have a close friend or confidante, or a 12-step sponsor, you can call on that person and do something together or just discuss what’s going on with you. What often happens is that your friends can motivate you — just by being with you and sharing conversation and/or activity. It isn’t that you’re going after the friend to help motivate you, but this is often the end result. At any rate, the fact that friends can motivate you is a huge benefit in recovery.
Schedules and Routines Are a Little Easier
You know from in treatment that schedules and routines are important to long-term recovery. In the beginning, it can seem like a chore to make up schedules and stick to them. Recovery experts strongly recommend having a routine during the first weeks and months. When you have friends who share your routine — perhaps others you’ve met in 12-step meetings — it can make things a little easier to bear. There’s no question that it takes some getting used to. After all, prior to treatment, you probably never gave a thought to going to regular 12-step meetings. If you went at all, your heart most likely wasn’t in it. You weren’t truly invested in recovery until you completed treatment. Now that you’re in this for the long haul, your friends can help you smooth out the rough spots. Listen to what you hear in the rooms about schedules and routines. This shared experience is invaluable.
One final point is that long-term recovery isn’t here today and gone tomorrow. You want to make friends and develop new relationships that will be around for the long term. These friendships truly help in recovery.
Source: Proceedings of the Royal Society, Spreading of healthy mood in adolescent social networks, Aug. 19, 2015