Updated on 08/02/23

Content reviewed by Christian Losch, LCSW, LCADC, CEO of Pinelands

Being in addiction recovery is life-changing in many beautiful ways. You develop new, healthy habits and lifestyle choices that help you become a better version of yourself. Part of this process may also involve changes in your friendships. Perhaps you are coming to realize that some of these relationships with friends no longer serve you anymore. Or maybe you are experiencing hardships with them while in recovery and need help making effective adjustments. Whatever the case may be, these changes may be confusing to navigate.

Do not be afraid to trust your instincts.

It can be easy to blame yourself when realizing that your current friendships are problematic or no longer serve you. You may be tempted to gaslight yourself by saying that you are “being dramatic” or “being too sensitive.” Despite these potential thoughts, it is important to trust your instinct. You are probably correct if you feel rising concerns developing in your friendships while in addiction recovery.

Before entering recovery, you probably engaged in harmful behaviors by yourself and with friends. If you continue these friendships after beginning a sober lifestyle, it is crucial to be aware that just because you have made these life changes does not mean that they have as well. If some of your friends continue to engage in substance use while you are sober, this can pose many issues for your dynamic together.

Even if you have friends who do not struggle with substance use or other harmful behaviors, you may still find yourself facing problems in these friendships. While using substances, you could not be self-aware enough to realize what you enjoy or find problematic regarding social dynamics. Now that you are more in-tune with your thoughts, beliefs and emotions, you may come to realize that the things you used to be okay with are now proving to be harmful to your well-being in some way.

Dealing with changes in friendship dynamics is possible.

When figuring out how to handle struggling friendships, you may feel at a loss. Knowing how to handle situations such as these can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.

Although each relationship and scenario is unique, there are a few tips you can try to help manage these issues:

  • Use effective communication. Before making any important decisions, try communicating openly and honestly with your friend. You can do this by using ‘I’ statements to explain the problematic situation or behavior and how it makes you feel. Be sure to express vulnerability and openness in these conversations. Doing so will allow your friend to feel comfortable and open enough to communicate with you and hopefully find a resolution. This allows room to discover solutions, such as forming new boundaries within the friendship that respects and is inclusive of everyone’s boundaries.
  • Find new activities to do together. If you are unsure of whether or not it would be healthy to continue with a friendship, it can be helpful to “troubleshoot” the dynamic by engaging in new activities together. If you and a friend used to only ever go to bars together, maybe try going on scenic walks instead. Perhaps it could be helpful to play a fun, simple sport together such as disc golf to take the pressure off one another. Being in a new environment away from old triggers can help provide a clearer idea of whether or not this person is still healthy to be around.
  • Take some space away from the friendship for a while. If you are having difficulty figuring out how to move forward with or on from a friendship, it can be helpful for you and your friend to have some space away for a while. This can allow you to take a mental break away from the stresses of the relationship and refocus on your own goals, aspirations and values. When you both feel ready to talk again, the space may have given you a better perspective about what you want out of the friendship and whether you think it is worth continuing or not.
  • Connect with a therapist or trained professional. When you are so close to a person and situation, it can often be challenging to find a reasonable solution on your own. In this case, it can be beneficial to confer with a trained professional about your given situation with a friend. An outside perspective offers help as you identify your thoughts and feelings, process through them and provides approaches to try as you navigate this process. Having the extra support during this emotionally taxing situation can be especially valuable.

Living life in addiction recovery can cause you to make many beneficial changes in your life. However, you may not have expected this to mean that friendship dynamics may also change. While this may be daunting and unexpected, trust yourself when you feel that you are being wronged in a friendship. To navigate these challenges, you can try things such as communicating with your friend, trying new activities together, taking some space away from each other or reaching out to a therapist for further insight. Those of us here at Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford know how important it is to have loving friends to support you along your recovery journey. However, we also know that sometimes you may outgrow certain harmful friendships as well. At our facility, we can help you manage these changing dynamics while offering you valuable knowledge and support. To get help today, call us at (877) 557-5372.