Humans are influenced by the people they spend their time with. This is because they will look to this group for social support. Those individuals who are involved with substance abuse will usually spend time with other people who share the same values as them. This becomes their support group and the other members will provide vital functions such as:
* Emotional support means that there will be people to offer the individual member a shoulder to cry on. Addicts tend to have a confrontational interaction with the rest of the world, but they will usually feel that their alcohol and drug using friends understand them.
* Group members may offer physical support – for example if one individual is short of money the rest may share their drugs or alcohol.
* The group offers an appraisal function for each member of the group. This means that other members will let the individual know if they are performing outside of the expected norms for this unit.
* Members of this support group will be able to share knowledge and information. This can be particularly important for drug users who need to be sure of a regular supply to feed their habit.
The functions provided by a network of substance users are important ones. Just like the individual needed a group to support their drinking and drug use, the people in recovery need a network of comrades to support their sobriety. This new group will offer similar functions as the old group only this time the aim will be to promote growth and development.
If people in recovery do not have enough positive support it can reduce their chances of success because:
* Getting sober means building a new life. This can be difficult to achieve without support.
* Membership of a sober support network means that the individual can learn from the successes and failures of other people. This means that they can take a path in recovery that is well trodden and know to lead to success.
* There may be times in early recovery when the individual feels on the edge of relapse. The availability of some type of support at this stage can help the individual avoid disaster.
* Early recovery is sometimes referred to as an emotional rollercoaster – people can feel on top of the world one minute and deeply depressed the next. Having people to offer emotional support during these ups and downs can make all the difference.
* A common reason that people use for returning to alcohol or drugs is that they felt lonely in recovery – they missed their old drinking and drug buddies. It is therefore important that they build up a network of new friends so they can avoid feeling lonely.
* Another trap that people can fall into in recovery is negative thinking – in Alcoholics Anonymous they have a saying poor me, poor me, pour me a drink. The individual may not even noticed that they have fallen into the negativity trap unless it is pointed out to them by other people.
* When people first become sober they may be lacking in information about available resources. A network of friends can help by sharing their knowledge and expertise.
* The individual can easily feel overwhelmed by stress in early recovery so it is important to have people to turn to for support.
It is recommended that those who are in early recovery (the first couple of years) limit contact with former drinking and drug using friends. This is not because they are bad people but because:
* The support network of substance abuser supports this behavior. If the sober individual spends time with people from this group they will experience pressure to relapse.
* Other members of the group will see this attempt at sobriety to be a threat to them – it is pointing out their own failings. This may tempt them to try to sabotage the individual in their efforts to build a life away from addiction, and they may even do despicable things like spiking that person’s beverage with alcohol or drugs.
* These people are likely to be pessimistic about the individual’s chances of building a good life away from addiction. This negativity can eat away at the sober person’s motivation.
* Being sober and spending time with substance abusers is incredibly boring. The individual will be tempted to relapse just so they can fit in again.
* Humans are strongly influenced by the people they spend their time with – this is why the advice in recovery is to stick with the winners.
* Spending time with this group will encourage the individual to romance the drink or drug.
One of the important tasks that people undertake in early recovery is to build a new social support network of people who support their sobriety. These do not necessary have to be people in recovery, but they should not be those who are actively involved in substance abuse. This means that by the time the person has been sober for a few years they will have all the friends and support they need. The risk of relapse never entirely goes away, but those who make it to advanced recovery and continue to have the right support greatly increase their chances of success. It is in advanced recovery that the individual really gets the opportunity to live the life they have always dreamed of for themselves. In order to do this though, they need a strong foundation and good support.
One of the most heartbreaking things to deal with in recovery is watching friends in recovery relapse back to addiction. It is so sad to see someone who has been rebuilding their life throw all their progress away. It is also an uncomfortable reminder to the individual that the same could happen to them if they are not careful. After the relapse has occurred those who remain sober are left with a difficult choice – can they still remain friends with that individual? It is not easy to step away from such relationships, but that is what is advised in order for the person to protect their own sobriety. It is recommended that they limit contact with this individual so long as that person continues to drink or use drugs. Of course if this individual returns to recovery it will mean that things can be back to how they were before. Breaking off contact with a relapser is not about being judgmental or harsh – it is about personal survival.
Those people who are using a 12 Step program will often have a sponsor. The role of this individual is to offer one to one support and encouragement. It is usual for the sponsor to be more advanced in recovery than the sponsee, but this does not always mean that this person will be more secure in their sobriety. Sponsors can relapse and when this happens it can feel devastating for the sponsee. The only way to deal with the situation is to break off contact with that person and immediately seek support from the rest of the group. If the sponsee attempts to save the sponsor from addiction they may be putting their own recovery in jeopardy.
Some sober individuals need to cope with close loved ones who are still abusing alcohol or drugs. They may not have the option of limiting contact – especially if it is somebody they live with or are married to. In order to cope with this situation the sober individual needs to establish strong boundaries, and they will need a great deal of support to cope. They may not be able to make this other person enter recovery, but they can protect their own sobriety.
Limiting contact with drinking or drug using friends can be tricky in the beginning. Here are a few suggestions for how it can be made easier:
* The sober individual should refuse to allow these friends to bring alcohol or drugs into their home. The unavailability of substance to abuse will make calls to the house less appealing.
* Do not encourage these people to continue contact. This includes such things as not lending them any money.
* Keep away from the old hangouts where these people spend their time.
* Screen phone calls from former drinking and drugging buddies. This can feel rude but there is no obligation to take a phone call from anybody.
* The individual can change their routine so that they are less likely to bump into these people. This could include arranging not to be home when these people are likely to call.
* In some instances it may be necessary for the individual to make it clear that they wish to reduce contact with this group. This should be done honestly but tactfully – the person can just explain how they do not want to be around alcohol or drugs while they are so new to sobriety.
* The individual should avoid falling into conversations about the good old days when they were still using drugs or alcohol.
* If they meet former drinking or drug using friends outside they may want to keep the conversation polite but brief.