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How to Say Goodbye to Toxic Friends While in Recovery

picture of Joe Gilmore
Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

December 6, 2023

Table of Contents

The challenges of maintaining sobriety are hard enough without the burden of toxic friends. Anything that reminds you of your past is a potential relapse trigger. Having toxic friends in your circle exposes you to powerful of relapse triggers. Recovery is a huge challenge and being around people who, for lack of a better description, are still living their lives irresponsibly, is dangerous to your progress in recovery. Their actions at times can seem predatory.

They know you’re in recovery, yet they still want to drag you to the places you used to go to see the people you used to see. It’s almost as if they’re seeking validation for their continued irresponsible lifestyle and poor choices. You can’t afford to be tolerant of toxic friends at any stage of your life, least of all in recovery. Still, if there’s one part of our past that is hard to leave behind, it’s old friends. You must resign yourself to realizing that anyone in your life who contributed, passively or actively, to your addictive behavior is a barrier to recovery.

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Remove Toxic Friends at All Costs

Often, we find it hard to let go of the people for whom we have feelings, despite the fact that the relationship is not conducive to recovery. Although we might care about someone even when that relationship is abusive in nature, we must learn to think about relationships in a healthier way. There’s also difficulty in letting go of a relationship that is nostalgic, bringing you back to a time when your life was different. Surprisingly, addicts sometimes report that they’re most fond of people who hurt them the most. Nostalgic feelings don’t change the fact that some relationships are undeniably toxic for a person in recovery. The simple truth is that sometimes, people in our lives are part of the cycle of addiction and can influence an addict to tolerate their current situation and not seek treatment. Hanging around in old places with old friends can be a powerful relapse trigger. Part of the 12 step plan focuses on people, places, and things. Common sense dictates that a change of environment is necessary to maintain sobriety. This step is exactly as described. In order to create a new life, you must build a new life by letting go of the people, places, and things that contributed to the addiction. A toxic friendship is one area that must not be ignored.

Here are Some of the Signs of a Toxic Friendship

  • If a friend is not actively supporting your recovery
  • The relationship is one-sided
  • They start trying to control your life or your “level” of sobriety
  • They show a deliberate attempt to keep you away from family or your “new” friends
  • They point out how you’ve “changed” since in recovery and not in a good way
  • They continue to point out your faults or make jabs at you
  • They continue to drink or use substances in your presence

Any one of these traits is a deal-breaker. At that point, if you truly value your sobriety, you must cut this person out of your life, even if it’s a relative. Sobriety is a big enough challenge without people trying to lead you into temptation. Emotional stress inflicted upon you by toxic friends is a powerful relapse trigger.

Saying Goodbye

When it’s time to say goodbye to toxic friends, don’t mince words. Communicate in no uncertain terms that you refuse to put yourself at risk for relapse by exposing yourself to dangerous triggers.

Remind these people that you are now a different person and you’re moving in a different direction with your life. Let them know that you will not follow their path and the only way they will be a part of your life in the future is if they chart a similar course. You definitely want to avoid negotiating with toxic friends – it’s your way or the highway. You’ll also want to avoid the places they frequent.

Seeing old friends, especially after ending the friendship, can be a relapse trigger. Lastly, don’t feel one ounce of guilt or remorse for letting go of those toxic friends. Remind yourself that they were not contributing to the new you and you have no further obligation to them.

The Big Surprise

Once you’re firmly on the road to recovery, you’ll be surprised at how many will come into your life with enthusiasm. The new you is the very best version of you that has ever been and this passion and enthusiasm is infectious. There are many stories about how people in recovery developed strong, meaningful relationships once they were sober.

This will happen to you, too. You’ll soon find yourself becoming friends with people who share your values, your zeal for life, and your sober lifestyle. This great awakening leads you to new frontiers, new people, and new adventures. It’s a clean slate – a chance to start over. Embrace the opportunity and leave toxic friends and relationships in the rearview mirror.



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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