By Devon Berkheiser
In early recovery, many people face a choice: whether to continue friendships with people who may still be using or to end those friendships in order to protect their own sobriety. This is not always an easy decision to make. Some using buddies may actually be long-term friends, and it can be hard to handle another important loss when you’re already dealing with so many changes in your life. Additionally, you may not have sober friends, which leaves you with the option of going back to old friendships or essentially starting over, which can feel overwhelming. If you do decide to maintain friendships with friends who are not sober, here are tips to help you manage the situation:
1. Evaluate the risk
Some using buddies may be supportive of your new sobriety while others, unfortunately, may not. As the old saying goes, misery loves company. Your friends who are still struggling with addiction may resent your success with recovery and subtly sabotage it. If you believe that your friends will respect and support your sobriety, whether or not they are still using, you may want to try to maintain these friendships. If, on the other hand, you worry that your friends will pressure you to keep using, you may want to consider moving on.
Let your friends know that you are sober! If they don’t know that you are in recovery, they will expect the same old behaviors from you, which is likely to lead to triggering situations. Be honest about your recovery goals and ask your friends for support.
3. Set boundaries
Ask your friends to respect your recovery by not using in front of you or asking you to participate, for example. Perhaps you want to avoid certain high-risk situations (such as bars, parties, etc) and only engage with using buddies in sober activities (meeting for coffee, going to a movie, etc). You have every right to set healthy boundaries in order to protect yourself and your recovery. It’s okay to say no to certain activities that feel too risky.
4. Plan ahead
Ultimately, your recovery is your responsibility and nobody else’s, so plan ahead for the possibility that maintaining these friendships could put your recovery at risk. Have an escape route ready when spending time with friends who still use. For example, you can make sure that you always drive yourself to the activity so that you can leave whenever you want, rather than feeling stuck in an overwhelming situation.
5. Build new friendships
While these old friendships can still be valuable and important, it’s worthwhile to build new friendships as well. You may find that when you’re sober, the old friendships don’t feel as fulfilling as they used to. It is natural for relationships to evolve and change. Some last a long time, while others come to a natural conclusion as you move on and grow. While you can still engage with old friends, don’t let that keep you stuck in your old life.
If you are finding it difficult navigating relationships in early sobriety, consider seeking help. You might want to look into getting help from a sober coach, relapse prevention specialist, or an addiction specialist. Practical Recovery offers many services that can help you get on track, and if we can’t help you, we will refer you to someone that can.