Why Other People Are Key to Your Recovery – and Your Happiness

smiling womanAddiction is a lonely disease. Although it seems to be all about drugs and alcohol, research shows that social ties are the key to prevention, treatment and recovery.

Prevention. Research shows that people who are socially isolated are more likely to use drugs and alcohol. Likewise, people who are heavy drug users are more likely to be social outcasts, according to a 2012 study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. While it isn't necessary to be Miss Popularity or the life of the party, young people who feel that they don't fit in socially are more likely to struggle in school (dropping an average of three-tenths of a point off their GPA each year) and other settings.

A separate study by Australian researchers shows that the quality of a child's relationships in youth has more effect on their happiness later in life than intelligence or academic achievement. Close attachments to parents and friends, along with participation in youth groups and clubs, provided a sense of coherence and meaning in life that tied in with overall well-being. Time spent with parents, in particular, can boost a teen's self-esteem and social skills, according to a study in Child Development.

It's not just children and teens that benefit from close interpersonal ties. A study from England found that middle-age adults who have regular contact with family or a group of friends have better mental health. People who stayed connected to 10 or more friends or relatives had the highest level of well-being.

Treatment. During drug rehab, recovering addicts get an introduction to the various systems of support available to them. Most will participate in group and family therapy as well as 12-Step or other self-help support groups so that they have a solid foundation in place when they leave rehab.

Research suggests that social relationships, particularly bonds with other recovering addicts, provide emotional support, a sense of belonging and stress relief. This fellowship helps recovering addicts build healthy coping skills and practice communication and problem-solving with feedback and support from peers. Equally important, social support encourages addicts to ask for help – one of the most important skills they'll learn in treatment.

Recovery. Social connectivity remains important throughout recovery and has proven essential for those seeking a fulfilling life in sobriety. While higher levels of social connection improve quality of life, lower levels have been linked to relapse. In the early stages of recovery, support may come largely from a self-help support group or a sponsor. Over time, involvement in programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous may diminish and be replaced with coworkers, relatives and sober friends. Still, it is wise to maintain contacts with a trusted sponsor or group of recovering peers for those inevitable times when relapse is a threat.

Study after study shows that it is not money, prestige, or academic or career success that gives us the sense of purpose and satisfaction that protects against high-risk behaviors like substance abuse. It is the relationships we have with other people that define our lives.

Posted on September 22nd, 2012

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