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Developing Healthy Relationships in Recovery

Avoiding Toxic Relationships

If you are like many people with an substance use disorder, you probably progressed to the point that your primary relationship was with your drug of choice. As your addiction deepened, your behavioral repertoire began to narrow so that you spent more of your time and effort with drug- or alcohol-related activities.

If you had any friends left, they were more than likely those you associated with to obtain your substance or those with whom you drank or used drugs. For someone trying to maintain recovery, relationships with those former associates can be extremely toxic.

There is a saying: "If you hang around the barbershop long enough, you will end up getting a haircut." This means if you continue to hang out with the same people you used to use with, you will eventually return to your previous habits.

Codependent Relationships

It is possible that during the development of your addiction you also formed relationships with others who were codependent. This may include a spouse, partner, friend, or even an employer.

A codependent can be defined as an individual who has come to believe that supporting and even enabling addictive behaviors is the only way to maintain your acceptance, love, security, and approval.

The danger involved in having a relationship with someone who exhibits excessive caregiving behavior is it can promote even greater dependency on your part.

Codependents have allowed you to define their reality. This is problematic because your "reality" was highly distorted when you were using drugs or alcohol.

Enabling Relationships

Many times codependents exhibit enabling behavior by either directly or indirectly encouraging you to continue drinking or doing drugs. Enabling can take many forms.

Enabling behavior can include making excuses, lying, and covering up for you. These types of behaviors are a way of protecting you from the consequences of your actions. In other cases, enabling can involve outright furnishing you with money for drugs or alcohol.

Of course, those "friends" with whom you formerly drank, who supplied you with drugs, or who used drugs with you, are your primary enablers.

These two types of unhealthy behavior, codependency, and enabling behavior, can contribute to you deciding to go back to drinking or doing drugs.

Developing Healthy Relationships

If you are in follow-up care with your professional rehab program, your counselor will try to help you identify any damaging or unhealthy relationships in your life that could cause you to relapse. There are a few ways to approach this:

  • Changing problem relationships: The counselor will help you work toward changing those relationships and your involvement in them. You might need to work on the relationship itself through counseling or focus on setting boundaries with that individual.

  • Identifying supportive relationships: Your counselor or caseworker will also try to help you identify any positive, healthy family or social relationships that you have that can be a support to you in your recovery.

Making New, Healthy Friends

Finding new friends can be challenging at times, but there are some things you can do to help. The key is to seek friendships that are supportive and focused on activities unrelated to drugs and alcohol. Some places to meet new friends include:

  • Support groups: Many times these new, healthy relationships are formed through participation in mutual support groups—in fellowships such as Alcoholic Anonymous. Finding new friends in recovery is described in 12-step support groups as "sticking with the winners," a slogan that emphasizes the importance of healthy relationships in trying to maintain abstinence.

  • Religious groups: Your counselor will also encourage you to find new relationships within any religious organizations you may be associated with, or even recreational organizations.

  • Community organizations: Consider volunteering for different charitable groups or organizations in your local community. These groups are a great place to meet people who share the same concerns as you, and engaging in helping behaviors is a great way to stay busy and feel good about your actions.

  • Hobby or sports group: Taking part in a club devoted to your favorite sport or hobby is another great way to meet people who share your interests. It allows you to pursue something you're passionate about and bond with like-minded people.

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