Human connection is a fundamental part of life. Every day, we’re creating connections with people we encounter, whether it’s strangers on the bus or in stores, our co-workers, or family members. Various psychological studies have shown that the relationships we form with others remain integral to our emotional and physical wellbeing and even our survival. We depend on support systems and companionship in nearly all walks of life. This is one reason that rebuilding relationships in recovery can prove to be an effective method for overcoming struggles with alcohol and drug abuse.
Addiction is hard for many reasons, but one critical factor is its impact on relationships. It places a tremendous amount of strain on the person struggling with drugs and alcohol. Additionally, there are psychological, emotional, and even physical ramifications for family members and friends witnessing the effects of drugs or alcohol. In time, substance abuse becomes a central focus of most daily relationships, further perpetuating negative emotions like fear and resentment.
The Addiction Center states that forming and maintaining healthy relationships in recovery is a building block in addiction sobriety.
Recovery from drugs and alcohol, on the other hand, has a different type of impact. Studies have shown that it can help increase the likelihood of long-term sobriety and may reduce the potential for relapse. Learning how to build and maintain healthy relationships is a component that is more frequently being integrated into recovery programs.
Why are Relationships Important in Addiction Recovery?
Rebuilding relationships in recovery is essential for numerous reasons. For one, a sense of community is a powerful tool for managing mental health disorders and addiction. A significant amount of research reveals that healthy relationships have a positive impact on mental health. Poor mental health, alternatively, is often a catalyst or a result of substance abuse. Additionally, toxic relationships can also be considered relapse triggers.
Current research indicates a strong connection between our brain chemistry and social interaction. When interacting with other human beings, the brain shows a drastic shift in chemical composition. The changes can cause our brain chemicals, also known as neurotransmitters, to adjust naturally.
Relationships help to build uplifting, sound, and healthy neurotransmitters. The two most common are dopamine and oxytocin. Oxytocin and dopamine are produced by a part of the brain, which is instrumental in regulating many of the body’s most basic and necessary physical rhythms: sleep, hunger, thirst, and emotional reaction. Interestingly, building relationships produces the same chemical effect as substance abuse, but without the residual and often fatal consequences.
Relationships and Addiction
If drugs and relationships produce the same neurochemicals in the brain, why are drugs so detrimental to mental health? For one, they flood the brain with dopamine through artificial means and are at levels unsustainable by our body’s natural chemical process. The introduction of elevated dopamine or oxytocin can lead to severe imbalances, which can manifest into mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and more. Addiction experts explain that is why a person may experience temporary euphoria followed by a crash and a need to continue using.
Alternatively, positive relationships trigger the reward system and build out neurochemicals’ natural production in healthy ways. The benefits of this outcome are drastically different. Positive relationships have been proven to:
- Build confidence and trust
- Decrease stress
- Alleviate certain symptoms of mental disorders
- Lead to happier and more fulfilling lives
- Increase life expectancy
A Harvard study, which examined data from more than 309,000 people, found that lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50% — an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity. So, yes, relationships are extremely important to mental health.
Codependence and addiction often coincide. Relationships, whether platonic or romantic are complex. With codependency person may unknowingly try to keep an individual from seeking proper treatment for fear of losing them once they achieve sobriety. According to the International Journal of Culture and Mental Health, codependency may actually increase the likelihood of relapse once treatment programs are completed. For this reason, codependency and addiction are often treated together so as to mitigate any mental health risks and possible relapses.
According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, codependency is described as a pattern of low self-esteem, inappropriate boundaries, extreme emotional dysregulation, negative relationships, and control. There are other components to relationship codependency. It is important to note that many people may feel these symptoms of codependency at one or more points in their life.
How Do Relationships Factor In?
Relationships can be more than a trigger for feel-good chemicals. Healthy relationships have proven to help individuals evolve in the recovery process and help foster personal growth. Experts define healthy as relationships that provide:
- Centers Health and Wellness
These types of relationships can enrich lives and navigate through dark periods, particularly when drugs or alcohol use become problematic. Unfortunately, many people in early recovery have a difficult time managing relationships with others. Because of addiction to drugs or alcohol, their lives often revolve around toxicity.
Toxic Relationships & Addiction
Rebuilding relationships in recovery is not always clear-cut. There are some relationships that are not meant to be mended. Often, when drug use is problematic, an individual can be drawn to hang out with the wrong crowd. As a person moves through recovery, they may begin to realize their toxic relationships and its impact on a person’s overall health.
Toxic relationships often involve:
- Encouraged drug use
- Abuse either verbally, emotionally or physically
- Control and manipulation
It’s important to be mindful of the types of relationships that deserve attention. Rebuilding relationships in recovery can be incredibly healing, but they should serve a purpose for both parties.
My Family Isn’t Supporting Me. What Can I do?
Strong feelings of resentment, anger, fear, and anxiety can overshadow strengths and positive aspects of any relationship. Drugs seem to exacerbate these issues. Lack of support can come in many forms. Some family members may also abuse substances. Whatever the circumstances, active addiction can drive family and loved ones away. The resentment, pain, and fear doesn’t automatically go away and rebuilding relationships in recovery depends on whether both are willing to move forward with health and wellness.
Unfortunately, gaining the support and unconditional love of family members is not always an option. There are many individuals that seek guidance and recovery without supportive relationships intact. While it’s painful to move through recovery alone, there are other avenues to consider. Here are some things you can do if your loved ones don’t support you or your recovery:
- Find a support group
- Keep your distance from toxic relationships
- Give back
- Create new relationships built on trust and understanding
- Immerse yourself in the recovery culture
Recovery centers also understand the importance of a healthy community and have tailored treatments to help provide sponsorships and support during and after treatment. These can come in the form of group therapy sessions, alumni activities, sober living communities, and more.
Can I Keep My Drinking Buddies While I Recover?
Keeping friends and family who do not support the recovery process is not recommended. Recovery can be difficult as many relationships and habits are changing. Unfortunately, continuing to engage with friends and family who have previously been engaging in addictive behaviors with an individual makes the recovery process more difficult.
There are several reasons that a friend or family member may make the recovery process more difficult. Common reasons unsupportive family and friends make recovery include:
- Urges and cravings
- Emotional triggers
- Peer pressure
- Higher potential for complacency
- Reduced accountability
Choosing a safe individual who can relate to the challenges that recovery entails is important. This is often referred to as sponsorship and it is commonly used throughout Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Narcotics Anonymous, and many other addiction support groups.
Rebuilding Relationships in Recovery
Is it possible to rebuild relationships in recovery? The answer is unequivocally, yes! Learning how to build relationships is critical and is a strong component of treatment.
Colorado drug and alcohol rehab centers understand the need for long-term sobriety before, during, and after completing any program. One way rehabilitation centers decrease the potential for relapse to teach proper social skills and individual development methods. Many of these individual and social skills development treatments include:
- Communication skills
- Developing routine
- Stress tolerance
- Time management
Individual and Skills Development and Enhancement or ISDE is a field of counseling that has gained significant traction for both children and adults with severe and persistent mental health disorders. Several ISDE programs are available at the local Department of Health and Human Services as well as within many rehabilitation programs.
AspenRidge Recovery: Helping to Rebuild Relationships in Addiction Recovery
As was indicated above, relationships play a critical role in recovery and it is AspenRidge’s dedication to aiding the recovery process through safe and confidential treatments. The staff is highly trained in assessment and able to provide further information on safely obtaining sobriety prior to admittance into the rehabilitative programs. It is highly encouraged for prospective clients to contact AspenRidge Recovery Centers at 855-288-5588 to speak to staff about various programs or to verify different insurance plans.