Focusing on social circles in recovery is a common exercise, especially in the treatment space. The complex nature of substance use disorders (SUDs) and mental health conditions makes recovery extremely delicate. Therefore, we have to consider every factor that may impact sobriety — including our friends, families and other loved ones.
After treatment, life can’t just “go back to normal,” especially with social circles that previously influenced drug or alcohol use. Rehab programs often focus on building healthier networks, but is this change permanent? Can a person in recovery ever reconnect with their old social circle?
The answer is yes, it’s possible — but individual circumstances are unique. In this piece, we’ll explore how to handle the delicate balance of your social life and its effect on recovery.
A Negative Social Circle and Recovery
Your peer group may have been central to the behaviors that landed you in rehab. If you were drinking or using drugs excessively, there’s a good chance your social group was doing the same.
If your entire social circle went to rehab with you, they’d be able to share your experiences. They could support you, and you could continue spending time together. But this scenario isn’t realistic.
After rehab, there’s a choice to be made. You could choose to “social relapse,” returning to your old life and risking slipping back into the same old habits. Or, you could decide to move forward and build a “sobriety circle.” This is a group of people who understand and support you as you face the daily challenges of recovery.
How to Evaluate the Impact of Your Social Circle on Your Health
Start by examining how every person in your life may have contributed to or amplified your condition. Isolate the influence of your relationships. It won’t always be as simple as judging a person’s influence as positive or negative. Often, it’s a mix of both.
For example, imagine you have a lifelong friend who supports you unconditionally. Sounds positive, right? But they’re also the person you went to parties and bars with before treatment. Afterward, are they going to still support you, or will they resent you for not being the same person you were before? Even the closest friends can cause you to relapse, and at this fragile time, your health comes first.
When you consider drug and alcohol use, it’s fairly easy to see how other people may affect your sobriety. Do you have certain friends and family who use or abuse substances? Are they willing to abstain when you’re around? Will they support you fully in your recovery or look at you as weak because you stopped using?
It’s not as clear when you’re looking at how your social circle contributed to your mental health before treatment. You have to closely examine your relationships and how they made you feel. Are you able to talk about your emotions with your social circle? Are certain members not as supportive as you need them to be? Do they trivialize your issues or make light of your recovery?
Should You Cut Off Your Old Circle Entirely?
The facts are simple: Not everyone will be a good influence on your recovery, no matter what your relationship. In some instances, it’ll be better for your sobriety to make a clean break and start fresh. If your old drinking buddies refuse to make changes to support you, you can’t just give in. You can’t go back to the bar. Your health is more important than your old social life.
The Importance of a Supportive Community in Recovery
Recovery can be incredibly delicate, especially during the early months. There are times when the cravings get bad or temptation seems overwhelming. In these moments, your sobriety is balanced on a knife’s edge.
This makes it vital to have access to a network of positive influences as you navigate life after rehab. It can make the difference between succeeding in long-term recovery and starting over after a relapse.
The 2020 lockdowns are a perfect example of why you need a circle of recovery friends who can provide unwavering support. In June, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducted surveys to assess American adults’ state of mental health. Slightly over 40% of respondents reported an increase in mental health issues. Whether it’s pandemic- or recovery-related stress, having a network of people who understand what you’re going through is invaluable.
How to Replace a Negative Social Circle With a Supportive One
If certain friends or family members aren’t going to be a good influence, you may decide it’s time to cut them out of your life. Building a new network is essential so you can avoid isolation and loneliness that can make recovery more difficult. Here’s how to replace a negative social circle with one that’s better for the longevity of your sober lifestyle.
Lean On Your Recovery Experiences
There’s a reason so many people stay close with their rehab alumni “class.” In treatment, you’re asked to lean on each other and form bonds of complete trust. In group therapy and 12-step meetings, you share lessons and stories with the group over the course of the experience. The fellowship that’s created in these moments is difficult to replicate anywhere else.
Sharing your experiences in treatment for substance abuse or mental health issues is a vulnerable act. Opening up about this part of your life with someone who understands is less intimidating.
It May Only Be Temporary
In early recovery, you have to be selfish. You may have to have a few hard conversations with people you care about. The most important thing is that you focus on yourself at this time.
In some cases, this change will have to be permanent. You may never find the support or positive influence you need from certain friends or family members. But this isn’t always the case. It’s up to you whether you want to explore mending these relationships in the future.
Building a New Social Circle at FHE Health
It can be difficult to change your circle of friends for mental health or addiction recovery. But when friends and your recovery clash, it may leave you no choice. Entering a treatment program is one of the best ways to rebuild a stronger social circle. To learn more, call FHE Health at (833) 596-3502 today.