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Five Ways You May Be Hurting Your Friend in Recovery

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

March 13, 2024

Table of Contents

With over 23 million Americans in recovery, the chances are good that almost every person has loved ones or friends in recovery, either currently or at some time in their past. While it doesn’t matter if they’ve been sober for a few weeks or a few decades, you need to remember that they still are living with a chronic disease that will always require monitoring, treatment, and support.

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Supporting your friends in recovery goes far beyond sending a cute meme on social media or the occasional high-five. It takes awareness and sensitivity, among other things. Let’s explore the five ways you may be hurting your friend in recovery without realizing it and how to support them.

Five Ways You May Be Hurting Your Friend in Recovery

1. Assumptions About Substance Use Disorders

How much time do you spend surfing the web for news or social media updates? Probably a fair amount. There is a lot of inaccurate information out there about substance use disorders. Knowing the truth about the seriousness of the chronic disease can help you understand what they’re going through better.

Why not use a little time to read about the emotional, physical, and behavioral components of the healing process? In your research, you’re bound to come across tips for providing the much-needed support for your friend. Contrary to popular belief, when a friend or loved one stops putting alcohol or drugs into his body, they’re not cured.

They may be clean and sober but they’re still in recovery. Recovery is a lifelong process, just as is a healthy lifestyle. Even if the person starts to look normal, inside their brain, they are still affected by substance use.

The brain needs time to heal, just as a broken limb might, and the amount of time necessary to heal is likely far longer than you may think. Research tells us that the initial recovery process can take up to two years and vigilant maintenance is necessary. It’s not uncommon for a recovering addict to stay in touch with his or her sponsor for decades after they’ve gotten sober.

By getting a deeper understanding of what your friend or loved one is going through, you will have a better appreciation for the challenges recovery presents in their day to day life.

2. Endless Encouragement from the Sidelines

For a person struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, ending treatment early significantly increases their chances of relapse. It is the job of the family and friends to do whatever it takes to encourage the person in recovery as long as it takes to get them clean and on the recovery path.

Science supports this, noting that those addicts who have the encouragement of family and friends have significantly better outcomes and a much lower risk of relapse. But encouragement isn’t where you should stop.

Talk with your friend and see how you can participate. Participation can range from family therapy, which can include close friends, giving them rides to treatment, to going to your own Alanon meeting.

There is no quick fix for someone going through the recovery process. They will likely be in treatment for 9 months and in some cases, for up to 18 months. If a person has been using substances for a few years or more, 30 days in rehab is not going to break the cycle of addiction. Ask your friend and their addiction treatment specialist how you get involved in the following:

3. Exposing them to Relapse Triggers

If your friend used to get drunk or high at football parties, once he’s in recovery, he shouldn’t be going to those types of events.

Even if your friend in recovery says they are “strong” enough to be around these things, it’s ill-advised.  It’s like being on a diet but Christmas shopping at a candy store. Just the temptation or familiarity of the setting might trigger cravings which put them at great risk.

Avoid these activities and settings at all costs. But even seemingly innocuous events or actions can be triggers. They may associate cigarettes or go to the beach with substance abuse. Going to a wedding of a life-long friend seems innocent enough, but if everyone’s drinking, it’s not a good idea to attend.

Nothing is as important as your friend’s recovery, not even the wedding of a childhood friend. Your loved ones or friends in recovery really need you to think about the people, places, and things to which they’ll be exposed.

A recovering brain isn’t ready to be immersed in or cope with a situation that could trigger cravings and stress. The potential for relapse is greatest in the first year of recovery. The cravings slowly subside, but science suggests that there is no definitive “safe period” when it comes to being around relapse triggers. See if your friend is up to going over a list of known relapse triggers with you. They may have one ready from a therapy activity. Knowing their triggers can prevent accidental exposure to relapse triggers.

4. Expecting Your Friend to Continue a Specific Path

Addiction is a chronic disease that will require the recovering individual to completely change his or her lifestyle. All of the old habits must die to foster this new life. Addiction recovery is a full-time job, at least initially. This could mean delaying one’s education, changing careers, or leaving their hometown. 

Old friends may not understand why they’re no longer in your recovering friend’s circle. You must remember that all the people, places, and things that were around when your friend was wrapped up in his or her addiction must be eliminated.

You may not understand or agree with these decisions or changes, but your friends in recovery are taught to make sweeping changes in the people with whom they socialized, the places they like to frequent, and the activities in which they participate.

They may even stop going to any of their old haunts or hangouts and will likely relocate to a new town. You can’t take any of this personally. Your friends in recovery are being taught to change these old habits as a critical part of the recovery process.

Like nurturing a wounded bird back to health, you need to cast aside your own attachment and let your friend find a new setting, one that is free of temptation and helps him or her avoid potential relapse triggers.

5. Not Taking Care of Yourself

Much of this article has focused on helping friends in recovery. Of course, you have to think of yourself, at least a little bit. If you’re living with a loved one or friend in recovery, you need to take care of yourself, too.

Specifically, you’ll be exposed to a variety of emotional highs and lows of your friend or loved one. It’s wise to consider attending some counseling to better understand how you can be supportive but also take care of your own emotional health but still provide emotional support. Family therapy and group therapy is highly recommended for those with loved ones in recovery.

Should Recovering Addicts Be Friends

One thing that many people in recovery often think about is if it is a good idea to be friends with others who are in recovery. While there is a lot to consider, the general consensus is that being around others who are sober can help hold each other accountable and can be helpful in preventing relapse in one another.

Oftentimes, when leaving an inpatient or intensive outpatient rehab, clients should be set up with an aftercare program that includes support groups, alumni and community events, and follow-up care. Essentially, this allows clients to form connections with those who are newly sober or have been in the program for a while. These connections help people rely on and lean on others when they are feeling strong urges to use again.

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Take a look at these ways you may be hurting your friend in recovery and make any necessary changes to your routine.

If you need help fighting back against addiction, our Orange County rehab or Lantana, Florida rehab can help.

Addiction is a complex issue and there are a lot of situations to consider. However, doing your part to avoid hurting your friend makes a huge difference. Contact our team by calling 866.330.9449 to see how you can participate and help your loved one in recovery.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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