Getting help for a drug or alcohol problem—such as counseling, medication-assisted treatment, or an inpatient rehab program—can be life-saving. Navigating what comes next, however, isn’t always easy.

One challenge that can come up in life after treatment is how to navigate old friendships affected by your addiction—including those that may have suffered or perhaps enabled your substance use.

Addiction recovery is a lifelong journey. Navigating challenges like this is an ongoing process that ultimately requires exploring which relationships in your life are supportive to your continued growth and which are not.

First Things First: Talking To A Friend About Treatment

One challenge that can emerge in early recovery is how to talk to people in your life about your treatment experience. And first things first: You don’t have to tell anyone you don’t want to about your substance use or treatment.

For friendships you want to nurture or rebuild, however, this is likely something that will come up. Whether they voice it or not, your friends may be concerned or curious about how you’re doing. 

Even so, talking about addiction and recovery can still feel like a weighty topic. That’s okay.

Here are some tips for talking about treatment and recovery:

  • Go at your own pace. You should never feel pressure to disclose something you’re not comfortable with. Talking to friends about your experience shouldn’t be an added stress. Be patient with yourself and don’t be afraid to ask that of others as well.
  • Practice what you’ll say. Preparing for questions from friends can help you feel more comfortable in the moment. Consider coming up with answers to questions you think might be asked.
  • Show yourself compassion. Admitting you had a problem and sought help for it can be a lot, emotionally. Above all else, being kind to yourself as you navigate old relationships is key. One step at a time.
  • Don’t be afraid to set boundaries. You’re allowed to set boundaries within a friendship. For instance, asking a friend not to ask about your treatment experience until you’re ready to share. Or, asking that a friend not be around you when they’re not sober. 
  • Prepare to be uncomfortable: Some things are going to be uncomfortable to talk about. This can include how you’re feeling, how they’re feeling, or how comfortable you are being in settings whether there is drug use or drinking. This is where recovery skills learned in treatment can come in handy—take a breath, check in with yourself regularly, and embrace these challenges as part of the recovery process.

Asking For Help: And Why That’s Okay

Friendships are mutual relationships. We want our friends to succeed and be happy. And your friends will want the same for you. 

Outside of a person’s treatment team, relationships with family and friends can be one of the greatest sources of support for people in addiction recovery. 

Recovery is not a solitary journey. Struggling with drug or alcohol misuse is an incredibly isolating struggle. Healing is not meant to be the same. A person doesn’t have to know exactly how you’re feeling or to have been in your shoes to be someone who can offer support.

Examples of how friends can offer support in recovery:

  • giving you space to talk about what’s going on in your head
  • taking you out for a walk or another sober activity
  • providing a shoulder for you to cry on
  • babysitting your kids while you attend treatment
  • helping you find a sober living program
  • providing transportation to a self-help group
  • reminding you that things will be okay: this too shall pass

Friendships are allowed to be imperfect. The key is communication and allowing that to go both ways.

You’re allowed to voice your own needs, and they’re allowed to voice their own as well. Friendships are about living, learning, and growing together. Talk about it.

Benefits Of Healing Relationships In Recovery

One mantra that’s often shared before and during treatment for a drug or alcohol use disorder is this: You’re not alone. And that message carries on into recovery.

Friendships in recovery can offer:

  • inclusion
  • safety
  • comfort
  • emotional support
  • hope

The benefits of social support in recovery are well-documented. Having a strong social support system is associated with reduced drug use, fewer and less serious episodes of relapse, and positive treatment outcomes.

Letting Go Of Relationships That Don’t Serve Your Recovery

Another challenge in navigating friendship after addiction treatment is recognizing which relationships in your life are supportive to your recovery—and which are not.

Examples of relationships that might not serve recovery include:

  • people who sold you drugs
  • people who enabled your substance use
  • people who took advantage of your substance use for their own gain
  • people actively struggling with their own addiction

Not all relationships are worth rekindling after treatment. Some can be harmful and may put you in a place that could put you at risk of returning to old habits.

If you believe a relationship could impede your progress, it may be a good idea to disengage. Delete their phone number. Disconnect on social media. Ask them to stop contacting you, and if you wish to, you can provide an explanation.

Questioning the nature of a relationship, and its role in your recovery process can be complicated. Not all friendships are the same, and the dynamics can be complex.

If you’re having trouble figuring out what to do, consider talking about it with a counselor, or bringing it to a support group to see if others have insight on how they’ve handled similar situations.

Life after addiction treatment is about exploring your own needs, your desires, and the world around you. In time, navigating these early challenges will get easier. You’ll learn how to talk about your ‘now’, move on from your old life, and embrace what comes next.