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Developing Healthy Relationships to Maintain Abstinence

Important Factor in Successful Recovery

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Updated June 23, 2014

If you are trying to maintain abstinence from drugs or alcohol, it is very important that you develop positive, healthy relationships to support you during your recovery process. For most people who go through a professional rehab program, that can mean having to make an entire set of new friends.

Avoiding your former drinking buddies or drug-using friends is a key step in maintaining your recovery, but it doesn't stop there. Developing new positive friendships with people who can support your recovery efforts can be even more important.

Avoiding Toxic Relationships

If you are like many alcoholics or addicts, 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 drug, maintain your supply or those you simply drank or used drugs with. For someone trying to maintain recovery, relationships with those former associates can be extremely toxic.

Codependent Relationships

It is possible that during the development of your addiction you also formed relationships with others who were codependent, perhaps a spouse, friend or even an employer. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines codependents as individuals who have "learned to believe that love, acceptance, security, and approval are contingent upon taking care of the addict in the way the addict wishes."

The danger involved in having a relationship with someone who exhibits this type of excessive caregiving behavior is it can promote even greater dependency on your part. Codependents have allowed you to define their reality, and if you are an alcoholic or addict, your "reality" was highly distorted during your drinking or drugging days.

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 range from making excuses, lying and covering up for you - protecting you from the consequences of your actions - to 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, research shows.

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. The counselor will help you work toward changing those relationships and your involvement in them.

You 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. If you have no relationships with people who don't drink or use drugs, your counselor will strongly recommend that you begin to develop new relationships.

Making New Friends

Many times these new, healthy relationships are formed through participation in mutual support groups - in fellowships such as Alcoholic Anonymous. Your counselor will also encourage you to find new relationships within any religious organizations you may be associated with or even recreational organizations.

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.

The Third Stage of Rehab: Maintaining Abstinence

Sources:

National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research Based Guide." Revised 2007.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. "An Individual Drug Counseling Approach to Treat Cocaine Addiction: The Collaborative Cocaine Treatment Study Model." Accessed May 2009.

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