Building healthy friendships during recovery requires a willingness to slow down and take the relationship one step at a time. Honesty, open communication, and trust are essential to the process. Some people are hesitant to develop friendships with peers in recovery, but often, those friendships can strengthen both individuals and lower the risk of relapse. Although those connections can be invaluable during treatment and early recovery, you should not limit your social interactions to peers recovering from substance use disorder (SUD) or mental health disorders. True friendships are special because they can be found in unlikely places.
The Importance of Friendships and Social Groups
Fulfilling and positive social connections are essential during treatment and recovery. Substance misuse and mental health disorders can cause symptoms like anxiety, depression, or loneliness, which may interfere with your ability to live a healthy and fulfilling life. Friends can become part of your support system and keep you feeling positive, hopeful, and excited for the future.
According to Current Opinion in Psychiatry, “Social support is also related to broader types of health behavior, including fruit and vegetable consumption, exercising, and smoking cessation.” Spending quality time with people you have fun with and respect can improve your mood and help you make healthier lifestyle choices. Creating meaningful friendships and joining healthy social groups can be motivating and inspirational.
Some benefits of close relationships include:
- Learning to set and maintain healthy boundaries
- Feeling less stressed in your day-to-day life
- Fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Reduced risk of relapsing or backsliding into maladaptive behaviors
- Increased self-confidence and self-esteem
If you start slowly and work your way up to establishing a more profound friendship, you benefit from the steady foundation of trust that has been created. Social groups are an excellent place to begin when looking for healthy companionship. You can use that introduction to discover other people you relate to and share common interests with.
Joining New Social Groups
Joining new social groups is a great way to reinforce positive behaviors and build new healthy relationships. These groups can be comprised of people in the recovery community, but don’t always have to be. Within these groups, you can develop lasting friendships and can bond over common interests, which might include:
- Sports-related activities
- Skill development groups
- Educational classes
- Volunteering and community activities
- Support groups and mentorship programs
Friendships can be easier to establish between individuals who share common goals, life experiences, and motivations. However, quality relationships are not limited to only like-minded individuals. Meeting someone who you find engaging can happen anywhere at any time. Groups are simply a great starting point for building bonds with others in your community.
How to Establish a New Relationship During Recovery
Sometimes you meet a new person and the two of you “click” and instantly feel comfortable. However, that is usually not the case. During recovery, you want to safeguard your mental health by being mindful of who you spend time with and the type of influence that person has over your thoughts and behaviors. You may want to be more deliberate in who you choose to spend time with and how you go about building that relationship. You can learn more about your new acquaintance by:
- Going to events together
- Asking their opinion on various topics and actively listening to their opinions
- Spending time together doing activities you both enjoy
- Having honest discussions about recovery and any issues they may struggle with
This can help you decide if you’re going to make this person a significant part of your life. The more you know about them, the quicker you can determine if developing a friendship will be beneficial or potentially harmful. Making healthy decisions at the start of the relationship can decrease the risk of falling victim to abusive, manipulative, or toxic influences later.
What to Avoid When Establishing New Friendships
It is essential to avoid falling into old maladaptive behaviors and thought patterns. While recovering from SUD or a mental health disorder, the last thing you want is a new, potentially toxic, or codependent relationship. Warning signs can be easy to miss, especially if most of your past relationships have been unhealthy.
Beginning a friendship that eventually becomes toxic can cause you to backslide in your recovery and potentially relapse. You need to be mindful and aware of the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship, which include:
- Codependent behaviors
- Controlling or manipulative behaviors, like telling you not to hang out with other friends
- Frequent “jokes” that are belittling or insulting
- Stigmatizing or offensive behavior
- Pressure to drink or use substances
- Untreated mental health disorders that cause frequent mood swings or abrupt changes in temperament
Maintaining a Healthy Friendship During Ongoing Recovery
You deserve to be treated with respect and honesty. Both people in a friendship should actively participate in the relationship and continue to work towards personal growth. You will have days where you struggle, and although your new friend may not always understand what you are going through, their continued support can make it easier to navigate those difficult moments.
Building a new social circle and establishing healthy friendships during recovery is a slow and steady process. A few ways to get started include joining a new social group and spending time with peers. No matter where you are in your recovery journey, the healing power of friendship can benefit you in a variety of ways. Isolation, feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety are common symptoms of SUD and mental health disorders. A healthy relationship can decrease or, in some cases, eliminate those symptoms by providing you with positive emotional support. Vanity Wellness Center encourages clients to make solid and lasting friendships with peers and other individuals in their community. You do not have to go through the recovery process alone. To learn more about our facility and services or speak with an intake specialist, call us today at (866) 587-1737.