Navigating Relationships in Recovery

Individuals seeking recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) and co-occurring mental health disorders often face a plethora of challenges on their healing journeys. One of these challenges involves establishing reliable social support. When a person actively engages with alcohol or other drugs, they may unintentionally hurt their friends, family, and other loved ones. Navigating relationships in recovery can be difficult. Luckily, it is an opportunity for individuals to address, mend, and create supportive relationships that will be worthwhile for their healing. 

The Consequences of Addiction on the Brain

Individuals in active addiction may be unaware of the consequences that their substance abuse has on their interpersonal relationships. Through the repeated use of alcohol and other drugs, an individual’s brain structure and functioning can become impaired. Some of these brain changes are associated with “brain circuits involved in pleasure (the reward system), learning, stress, decision making, and self-control,” according to the Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Knowing this, it is no surprise that an individual with addiction may behave in ways that hurt their interpersonal relationships. 

The Consequences of Addiction on Navigating Relationships

After an individual’s brain becomes affected by addiction, they may spend a significant amount of time seeking, obtaining, and using drugs. Out of convenience or solidarity, they often surround themselves with others who also engage in substance use. Friends and family members are often directly affected by this choice of social circle. The individual with the addiction may seem to choose substance use over their personal relationships. 

Meanwhile, the individual may begin to experience alterations in their personality as a result of their substance abuse. They may say or do hurtful things while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Additionally, a significant facet of SUD includes withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, when a person with addiction does not get their “fix,” they may appear increasingly aggressive, violent, or irritable. 

These are just a few ways addiction can wreak havoc on interpersonal relationships. When a person begins addiction treatment, they can address the consequences of their substance abuse on their relationships. Moreover, recovery can motivate individuals to repair past relationships as well as create new, healthier ones.

The Invaluable Role of Social Support in Recovery

Healing from the effects of substance abuse and addiction is a highly personal endeavor. However, social support plays an invaluable role in an individual’s motivation throughout their recovery journey. According to Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, “[T]o reach and maintain abstinence, it is important to maintain positive relationships and to engage self-agency to protect oneself from the influences of negative relationships.” Positive, healthy relationships not only influence recovery but can also reduce the risk of relapse in the long term. 

Additionally, when an individual is not yet committed to sobriety, social support can influence treatment entry and engagement. An article by Substance Abuse: Official Publication of the Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse explains, “Social factors have been found to be important in influencing entry into drug-addiction treatment, as well as for retention in treatment and ultimate recovery.”

Navigating Relationships in Sobriety

For an individual to have the best chance at lasting success in sobriety, they must learn to navigate interpersonal relationships well. Effectively navigating relationships in recovery requires self-reflection and humility. Before attempting to repair broken relationships or create new ones, recovering individuals must address the quality of their interpersonal skills. 

Strengthen Interpersonal Skills

According to the Libyan Journal of Medicine, “Interpersonal skills are those essential skills involved in dealing with and relating to other people, largely on a one-to-one basis.” Some examples of interpersonal skills important for navigating relationships in recovery include:

  • Conflict-resolution
  • Teamwork
  • Empathy
  • Active listening
  • Flexibility
  • Patience
  • Forgiveness
  • Compassion
  • Communication
  • Gratitude

Strong interpersonal skills are often necessary for mending and creating relationships in recovery. For example, restoring relationships requires patience. Once an individual apologizes for wrongs committed during their time in active addiction, they may need to give their loved ones time to foster forgiveness. 

Compassion and active listening are also important skills when working to create new relationships in sobriety. If a person does not feel heard or validated by another person, they may not feel motivated to establish a worthwhile relationship. 

It is important to recognize that strengthening interpersonal skills requires time and practice. Unsurprisingly, many addiction treatment facilities incorporate interpersonal skill-building into clients’ treatment plans. Individuals needing additional support in mending or navigating relationships in recovery can work with their care team to ensure interpersonal skill-building is part of their treatment plan. 

Prioritize Social Support

Along with practicing and strengthening interpersonal skills, navigating relationships in recovery requires individuals to prioritize social support. In early recovery, a person’s main focus must be on their healing. However, as identified earlier, social support is an invaluable facet of healing. 

Individuals in recovery can benefit from intentionally setting aside time to strengthen their relationships with friends, family, and other loved ones who are supportive of their sobriety. Practicing interpersonal skills during this time can reduce the risk of relapse. It can also help individuals in recovery identify greater meaning and purpose behind recovery. 

Social support plays an invaluable role in fostering treatment entry, engagement, and retention. Navigating relationships in recovery will require you to reflect and strengthen your interpersonal skills. It is important to identify what relationships will be worthwhile to your sobriety. With that in mind, prioritize spending time with the people that support your healing journey. At 12 South Recovery, we understand the complex challenges that addiction and recovery can present to your interpersonal relationships. Fortunately, we provide client-centered care, meaning we can individualize your treatment plan based on your unique needs and goals for recovery. If you are seeking interpersonal skill-building, we can incorporate it into your plan. To learn more, call (888) 830-8374.

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