The Importance of Social Support
Social support has an influence on people’s lives. Social support is to whom the individual will turn if they seek guidance or comfort. Such a network of people can be of particular importance for those who are attempting to escape alcoholism. If the alcoholic’s social network is made up of people who support their drinking, it may be more difficult to escape the addiction. Humans are hugely influenced by interactions with other people, so it is little wonder that social support is so important.
Social Support Defined
Social support can be defined as emotional comfort and physical assistance that an individual receives from other people. Those offering such support could be friends, work colleagues, or family members. A social support group can provide the individual with positive feedback, and this can encourage certain behaviors. Members of this group can also confront the individual to discourage undesirable behaviors. Such a network can be of great importance to the individual’s sense of self-esteem, and they may also feel that they will usually feel that they have certain obligations to this group.
It is possible to break down the functions of social support into four areas:
* The group provides an appraisal of the individual. Feedback will be given about the individual’s behavior and how it compares to other people.
* Emotional support will be given. If the individual has problems, they can turn to their social network for support.
* Physical assistance such as lending money or helping the individual do something.
* Members of the group will also offer advice and information that the individual can use when making decisions.
Social Support for Drinking Alcohol
Heavy drinkers will tend to associate with other heavy drinkers. Within this social group, using alcohol to excess will not be viewed as deviant behavior. In fact, in such a group, it may be the non-drinker who is considered the deviant one. Such a group can be a comfort to the alcoholic or the person who is abusing alcohol. Heavy drinkers are less likely to confront others about their drinking. Instead, they will encourage it because they also consume alcohol. The alcoholic might seek out such a group of people or they may already belong to such a group.
If the individual decides that they wish to quit alcohol, it will be difficult if their social network is made up of heavy drinkers. This group is unlikely to support the decision to quit. In fact, they could see it as threatening because it could seen as suggesting that they need to quit the booze too. These individuals may encourage the individual in recovery to return to alcohol abuse.
Social Support and Self-Efficacy
Self-efficacy refers to the individual’s belief that they can achieve a goal in life. If people do not believe that they can achieve something, then this will greatly detract from their ability to accomplish this goal. When self-efficacy is high, the alcoholic will be highly motivated, and so much more likely to achieve lasting sobriety.
The individual’s sense of self-efficacy will be impacted by their social support network. If the people in this group are negative about the alcoholic’s ability to achieve lasting sobriety, it can sap motivation. Self-efficacy can be greatly increased by positive role models. If the alcoholic is surrounded by others who have achieves sobriety, they will be encouraged to do the same.
Evidence of the Importance of Social Support for Alcoholics
A number of studies have been carried out that examine how social support impacts the alcoholic. The University of Connecticut Health Center found that changing the social network of the alcoholic to one that supports recovery can increase the chances of sobriety. Another study by the State University of New Jersey found that those individuals who belonged to a social network that encouraged heavy drinking were far less likely to quit. It has also been found that such social networks can even encourage such high risk behaviors as drunk driving.
New Social Support Networks in Recovery
There is little doubt that the alcoholic’s social network will have an impact on their ability to escape addiction. If they quit drinking without making changes to their social network, it will make it harder to stay on the recovery path. Their old support network will be a source of constant temptation, and members of the group may be only too willing to encourage a relapse. The individual may feel they have an obligation to this group; but, for the sake of recovery, it is necessary to at least minimize contact, if not avoid it altogether.
It is important that people in recovery build up a new social support group made up of others who share similar goals or support these goals. This group will help increase self-efficacy and offer support when things get hard. Such a social network can be found from groups like AA or similar organizations. Nowadays, there are also many online support groups that can offer advice, inspiration, and encouragement in recovery. It is also possible to get such support from family and friends who are encouraging of a life free of alcohol.