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The Role of Peers in Addiction Recovery

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role of peers in recovery

Addiction can be a very lonely experience that drives a wedge between a user and the world around him. By contrast, companionship is very important in recovery. Friends and loved ones offer a reservoir of support and inspiration to someone who is relearning how the world works. The role of peers in addiction recovery cannot be understated. Relationships take on new meaning in a post-treatment life.

The Importance of Friends

Male friends talkingEven beyond the extent of recovery, friends provide many mental health benefits. Friends are valuable for support and counsel. According to the Mayo Clinic, friendships increase a sense of belonging and purpose, boost happiness, help with self-confidence and self-worth.1

Of course, not all friendships are good ones. A bad friendship can have negative effects such as an increase in stress or anxiety. Some friendships can make you feel “in competition” with others.2 It is important to pursue as many healthy friendships as possible.

Friendship and Addiction Recovery

The same is true for friendship dynamics after treatment. If peers cannot adapt to a patient’s sobriety (if they still insist on drinking or using around her, or by being dismissive or critical of the patient’s new lifestyle), then such peers could easily push their “friend” into relapse.It may even be a requirement of recovery for the patient to break off ties with old friends and contacts.

The struggle of having to leave old friends (and maybe even family members) behind is one that is shared and understood by the other people in the group. This can give rise to a sense of solidarity; the worst thing for a newly sober patient is a feeling of loneliness. When someone provides support to an individual in recovery, healing takes place.

Friendship and Relapse Prevention

Relapse is a very real possibility in recovery. Many addicts have fallen off the wagon because they have tried to do too much too soon: pursuing relationships, starting new jobs, setting goals, and more. While these ideas are good in theory, they need to be balanced and staggered. Doing too much too soon is a recovery pitfall. A newly sober addict who feels like she can take on the world might very easily find herself overwhelmed, stressed, frustrated, and exhausted. And just like that, the right combination of factors for a relapse line up.

But this is where having peers in addiction recovery can help. These men and women have been through recovery before, and they may have even made the same mistake as the patient. Recovery friends understand that recovery is very much an ongoing process, and even the good things in life need to be spread out.

As much as friends are there to support and encourage, they are also there to say “no” and to offer warnings or corrections. Contrast this with the kind of “friends” who would encourage the patient to keep drinking and using drugs, even when it is evident that a substance use problem exists.

Sober Activities

While support groups are important, other activities in life should support a life of sobriety. For example, sober exercise peers give the patient a focus in his new life by helping him to enjoy a productive past time without the pressure or expectation to consume alcohol. Such a network can help guide everyday life. Of course, such a system is not just found in exercise. Sober groups can form for any number of activities:

  • Yoga, other fitness classes
  • Dancing
  • Hiking, climbing
  • Kayaking, canoeing
  • Musical pursuits
  • Cooking classes
  • Art

All of these pursuits offer a goal of some kind — to reach a target weight, to master an art form, or simply to learn a skill you did not previously possess. A friend offering a simple invitation to a yoga or other fitness class can make a person in recovery feel that his presence and companionship is valued and desired.

The Importance of Fun

A perception exists that once an individual gets clean, he is no longer fun to be around. This thought process may even be a source of friction between the former addict and friends who do not understand the changes made as a part of recovery. As useful and valuable as sober activities are, the importance of having fun cannot be overstated. Recovery does not have to be a military march to health. After a while, the most rewarding activities can become monotonous, and familiar disgruntlement and frustrations start to set in.

This is where the right kind of peers can really make a difference. There is no reason that simple, basic fun should be compromised because of a sober lifestyle. Discovering new hobbies and interests should be a part of a recovery program, but doing something purely recreational with peers is an essential part of healthy living.

“Negotiating Non-Drinking Identity”

College has often been considered a place where young men and women go to find their identity away from home. Many students may find this inspiring, but the first steps of independence and liberty can be overwhelming. With the almost universal presence of alcohol on most college campuses, sober friends can help a person in recovery steer clear of tempting people and situations, without feeling like they are missing out on enjoying their college years.3

Notwithstanding the importance of fun, people in recovery still need discipline and control in their lives. To lead a healthy life, free of alcohol and drug abuse, it’s necessary to change habits and regulate unconscious emotions that both drive and support abuse.4

How Can a Sober Person Stay Sober?

Being sober has many challenges, and despite all of the strategies that may be in place, an individual might still find himself in a situation where alcohol is flowing. This is obviously not an ideal place to be, but there are still ways to resist temptation in such a way that feels empowering and genuine.

Mindful man by windowOne way to do this might be to take a mental inventory before going to the event. Being mindful of what you’re feeling will help you control those emotions before you’re given the choice to drink or abstain. Being mindful of where you are emotionally will eliminate the surprise factor and empower you to make the healthy choice when someone asks you what you would like to drink.

Sharing your thoughts with an understanding friend can help you take ownership of what you are feeling. Once you have ownership of your emotions, no one can take them away from you.

Confidence is another key factor to consider when approaching risky environments. Some ideas to implement include: touching base with a sobriety sponsor, going to a meeting, or bringing a sober friend to an event to help stay accountable.5

Through these methods, friends can play a vital role in ensuring long-term addiction recovery and sobriety. With support from understanding friends and family, people in recovery begin to see their new lifestyle of health and sobriety as rewarding, fun and full of possibilities.

If you would like to talk to someone, please call our helpline at 760.548.4032. We are glad to support you as you help you move forward.

1Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health.” Mayo Clinic. Accessed 7 December 2017.

2 Heitler, Susan. “8 Signs of a Toxic Friendship.” Psychology Today. 25 March 2016.

3 Glatter, Robert. “Spring Break’s Greatest Danger.” Forbes. 11 March 2014.

4 Stosny, Steven. “Staying Sober.” Psychology Today28 March 2014.

5 “10 Ways To Stay Sober at Drinking Events.” Sobercourage. 22 July 2014.