You started your life in recovery for a reason. It could be that you were tired of dealing with the consequences of substance use, that you weren’t living up to your full potential, or that your addiction was interfering with more important parts of your life.
The friends you had before recovery may not understand why you wanted to quit and might not know how to support you and your new routine; this is a common experience for people new to recovery, and it can make or break your sobriety.
We all need to feel connected with a support system, especially during transitional periods and early stages of recovery. Here are eight tips that can help you set healthy boundaries with unsupportive friends and find the support you need in recovery.
1. Stand in Your Truth
Entering an argument about your sobriety or past mistakes with a friend will likely only result in frustration and anger. While you can hold space for their experience, their perspective shouldn’t supersede your needs, and the back and forth can be absolutely draining.
Recovery is a personal choice, and your journey isn’t up for discussion. If your friends want to argue about your recovery and personal decisions, you can try to change the topic or walk away. If they continue to question your experience or recovery-focused behaviors, it may be time to reevaluate the friendship (more on that below).
2. Know That You Don’t Have to Explain Yourself
While addiction can be truly devastating to the person involved, an outside observer may not fully understand why you need to seek treatment in the first place.
The consequences of your substance use disorder might not be readily apparent to your friends, and recovery may not seem logical if they don’t know the whole story.
You can choose how much you want to share, and that decision may not be the same for all of your friends. Disclosing may help others better understand the consequences of your addiction, and even if they can’t fully relate, they may learn to be supportive of your recovery. But ultimately, whether you decide to explain yourself is up to you.
Recovery is personal, and you may not want to spell out the reasons that led you to this choice. You have no obligation to explain yourself, and a good friend should understand that they don’t always need unlimited access to the most sensitive information.
3. Understand Where They’re At
Sometimes the people who are unsupportive of another person’s recovery are battling their own issues. When you were in active addiction, you may have resisted the thought of getting sober for various reasons.
If unsupportive friends once played a role in your substance use, they might be projecting their issues and insecurities onto you.
People who are in active addiction tend to be:
- Defensive about their substance use
- Resistant to change
- Resentful of people who were able to quit
- Unaware of the full impacts of their addiction
If this is the case with your friends, recovery may seem like a threat to them. They might try to break down your recovery to prove that it’s not a reasonable choice for them.
As hard as it might be to see your friends struggle, it’s important not to get too drawn into these discussions – they can make you doubt your recovery or wonder if long-term abstinence is possible. Arguments with someone in active addiction can lead to a high-risk relapse situation for yourself.
While you can surely empathize with their position, you don’t want to return to the mindset of active addiction.
4. Make Room for Yourself and Your Needs
If you feel put down or discouraged about your sobriety and recovery is starting to seem like a bad idea, it may be a sign that you should take a step away from anyone who isn’t supportive and take a step toward yourself.
Constantly surrounding yourself with people who look down on your sobriety or the work you do in recovery can begin to shift your perspective. You don’t need to give up on your friends entirely, but spending too much time with people who don’t support your recovery can lead to relapse.
Take time to work on your recovery, find meaningful activities, and build yourself a fulfilling life in sobriety. When the weight of unsupportive friends starts to feel too heavy, don’t be afraid to take a break to focus and rededicate your efforts.
Remember: you worked hard to carry yourself through your worst days. Although you may have had support along the way, you did the work. Your progress and your relationship with yourself should come first.
5. Stay Anchored in Your “Why”
Long-term abstinence requires constant attention to temptations and cravings that creep in from time to time. That’s why it’s essential to lean into those reminders of why you chose to seek recovery in the first place.
Some of the methods that can help you accomplish this include:
- Gratitude journaling
- Helping others with your experience in addiction
- Looking back at your progress since beginning recovery
- Talking with friends or family who are supportive of you
- Group therapy session
- Listening to recovery-focused podcasts
If you lose focus of what made you seek recovery in the first place, you may find yourself slipping into old behaviors and agreeing with the nay-sayers who don’t appreciate the gifts of sobriety.
Rooting yourself in your “why” will keep you from wandering away from a recovery mindset. Find habits that make it glaringly obvious why you chose this path and sprinkle them into your everyday routine.
6. Surround Yourself with More Support
Support is an essential part of your recovery toolkit. There’s a reason that recovery programs emphasize meetings and group therapy: surrounding yourself with people who support your recovery makes relapse less likely.
If your friends and family aren’t supportive of your recovery, you need to find a group of people who are. Focus on connecting with other alums from your treatment center, finding self-help groups that emphasize new healthy habits, or making new friends interested in maintaining a sober lifestyle.
By surrounding yourself with people who want you to succeed, you’ll become inspired to do better in your recovery and maintain your abstinence.
7. Know When It’s Time to Step Away
If sobriety doesn’t make sense to your friends and recovery talk is a constant source of tension, it might be time to reconsider your friend group. Constantly surrounding yourself with negativity or spending time with peers who engage in active addiction can quickly lead to a relapse.
Eventually, the time may come when you have to choose between old friends and recovery.
You don’t have to cut unsupportive friends off forever, but you may need to take a step back from the friendship to keep your sobriety long-term. The old saying goes, “If you spend all of your time in a barbershop, eventually you’re going to get a haircut.”
Spending all your time with people who don’t see the value of recovery can start to rub off on you, so it’s essential to take some time away if you feel yourself slipping in the wrong direction.
8. Remember: Your Recovery Comes First
Addiction can be insidious – even small things like unsupportive friends in recovery can increase the risk of relapse.
Prioritizing your recovery first is the best way to ensure that you can build meaningful relationships, live up to your roles and responsibilities, and maintain the emotional and physical well-being that you’ve earned in recovery.
The right friends will want you to be healthy and happy, and they’ll know that the best way to ensure that is by encouraging you to put your recovery first. But you have to be the one to set that tone.
Find More Support at All Points North
The road to recovery is hard-fought and hard-won. You deserve support from people who understand your story.
If you want to learn more about how All Points North encourages our clients to make supportive relationships and overcome substance use disorder, contact our team via the live chat function on our website or by filling out our online contact form.
- Havassy, Barbara E., et al. “Social Support and Relapse: Commonalities among Alcoholics, Opiate Users, and Cigarette Smokers.” Addictive Behaviors, vol. 16, no. 5, 1991, pp. 235–246., https://doi.org/10.1016/0306-4603(91)90016-b.
- “Recovery and Recovery Support.” SAMHSA, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 13 Sept. 2022, https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/recovery.