Crystal Parish – Vice President of Clinical Operations

One thing that sometimes gets overlooked in the recovery conversation is the amazing relationships that you have the opportunity to establish throughout your journey. Forming new relationships outside of substance use is instrumental to a sustained recovery, and doing so also enriches your life in ways you may have never expected.

According to preeminent researchers in the field, “a robust body of scientific evidence indicates that being embedded in high-quality close relationships and feeling socially connected to the people in your life is associated with decreased risk for all-cause mortality as well as a range of disease morbidities.” Essentially, strong relationships are always an important component of maintaining mental and physical health, though they are particularly crucial during the recovery process.

It can sometimes be helpful to make connections at self help groups and in treatment, but also, it is recommended to connect with others that have been sober for a longer period of time and have intentions of staying clean and sober. Other ways to connect with a community can include joining a faith-based group, volunteering, trying other support groups, joining a club, or starting a new sport or hobby that creates opportunities for connecting around a shared passion.

People are often able to admit to being depressed or sad, but there is much more stigma around the term “lonely”. Some may even feel like being away from family and friends fosters a sense of independence they desire. However, without high-quality relationships, a person is much more likely to relapse or be tempted to start using substances again. Knowing what we know about the stigma and impact of addiction, if someone is trying to fight addiction alone, how successful will they be?

Self help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, are shown to be helpful in supporting long term abstinence, but why? The benefits of social support are many. A sense of belongingness and inclusion, a sense of safety and security, reduced stress, and decreased isolation and loneliness are all benefits of forming long term, trusting relationships. Additionally, individuals benefit from an enhanced sense of meaning and purpose knowing that people rely on them. Strong social connections also may give an individual an increased sense of hope and optimism about the future, and provide an opportunity to escape the narrow world of one’s own concerns. Social support is a great way to counteract shame, isolation, and secrecy that often go hand in hand with addictive behaviors.

Humans are inherently social beings. Experiencing feelings of loneliness in early recovery can become overwhelming, and can oftentimes lead people back to using substances just to feel connected with someone or something. This is the precise reason why connecting to a community is so important.

By forming new and healthy connections, individuals can gain communal reinforcement, socialization opportunities, and even peer support from people who really understand and accept them for who they are.

 1 Holt-Lunstad, J., Robles, T. F., & Sbarra, D. A. (2017). Advancing social connection as a public health priority in the United States. American Psychologist, 72(6), 517–530