It’s often difficult to make friends in recovery, but it’s an important part of remaining sober long-term. Use these tips to help make long-lasting friendships in addiction recovery.
Humans are social beings. Instinctively, we strive to connect with other people and require this connection and support to function optimally in the world. But many of us struggle to form these connections and make close friends, especially as adults.
Add recently completing addiction treatment and being newly sober to the mix – and making new friends can seem impossibly overwhelming. However, addiction recovery lends itself well to forming healthy new friendships — it just takes time and effort.
The Importance of Friendship in Addiction Recovery
Forming friendships, especially sober friends, is essential in addiction recovery. Without friends life becomes lonely, and loneliness can trigger relapse. Thus, those in recovery should proactively avoid becoming lonely. Old friends who are still using will be inappropriate, and although difficult, breaking ties with former friends is necessary for your lasting sobriety. This leaves many people in early addiction recovery with few friends and the need to make new ones.
Friendships buffer against loneliness, but also provide different types of physical and emotional support as well as supportive feedback and advice — something we all need.
Making Friends in Addiction Recovery
To make new friends, first we must overcome the common roadblocks that keep us from reaching out.
Naturally, we fear rejection. People suffering from drug addiction often experience low self-esteem, which continues into addiction recovery. This lack of confidence can magnify fears of rejection. But the truth is, we all fear rejection. Remembering that the people around you fear rejection just as much as you do can help you overcome this fear.
Making new friends also requires vulnerability. In early addiction recovery people can feel particularly vulnerable as they enter a world that is different and strange to them as a newly sober person. The following tips on how to make friends can help reduce feelings of vulnerability and increase your confidence when it comes to making friends in recovery.
Where to Meet New People
- Meetings.Recovery fellowships are one of the first and most common places that recovering addicts meet new people who are like-minded. You may have to attend a few groups before you find one that feels right for you, but do not give up! Once you do find a “home group” the consistency is very valuable in forming friendships.
Early addiction recovery is all about discovering new interests. Taking a class or joining a club can help you discover and foster new interests, plus meet new people.
- Community events.
Attend events in your community, such as an art reception, community fair, or even the opening show of a new movie. Volunteering in your community is also a great place to meet new people.
- Take a walk.
If you have children or pets take them out too — meeting fellow dog lovers or other people with kids in your neighbourhood can be a great way to spark a new friendship.
- Go online.
The internet is a useful tool to meet people with similar interests and values as you. There are many websites, apps, and online communities designed to put you in touch with people near you, as well as recovery-specific online communities.
Note what you have in common with a colleague and use this as a basis for getting to know each other better. Do you both read books? Like shopping? Want to work out more or already belong to the gym? Watch the same television shows? Suggest getting together sometime outside of work to share your interests.
Remember that not everyone you meet will understand your sober lifestyle. It is up to you whether or not to share your addiction recovery with new acquaintances — but as you meet new people be prepared to turn down offers to meet up for drinks, or attend parties that could put you at risk for relapse – even if they seem like a great place to spark up conversations with new people.
Tips for Starting Conversations
Putting yourself in situations where you can meet new people is only the first step to making new friends. If you go to meetings or community events, but never speak to anyone new, friendships won’t come easily. Here are some tips to break the ice when you’re trying to make new friends:
- Comment on the surroundings or occasion.
You always have the space you are sharing in common with others who are there. Make positive comments about the scenery, food, or entertainment to get a conversation started.
- Ask open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions are those that require more than a yes or no answer. Asking someone “What do you like to do?” can be a much more effective conversation starter than “Do you like reading?”
- Offer genuine compliments.
Compliment people on what you like or admire about them. For example “You seem so confident when you speak, I’d really like to get better at that,” or “I really like your scarf, can I ask where you got it?” These comments offer the opportunity to engage in conversation, as well as make the other person more confident in themselves – and more likely to respond positively.
- Note what you have in common.
This requires paying attention to other people’s interests, then asking follow up questions. “I heard you say you like hiking, where do you usually go?
- Learn to listen.
Part of being a good friend is being a good listener. Practice focusing your attention on what others are saying rather than thinking about what you will say next.
We are accustomed to fear silence in conversation, but silences are natural. Learn to use silences to your advantage and think about what you are saying before you speak — generally people will appreciate a thoughtful statement or question even after an awkward silence.
Moving from Acquaintance to Friendship
Forming close, long-lasting friendships takes time. Perhaps you enjoy the company of your colleagues or recovery group, but haven’t been able to form what you deem a true and close friendship.
Consistency is key when it comes to forming new friendships. Groups and classes are great because this consistency is built in. The next step is extending your relationships outside the “container” of meetings, work, or classes. Accept offers to meet up after group, and ask others to do the same.
Lastly, practice forgiveness and be aware of how your expectations affect your ability to form close friendships. No one is perfect; being able to forgive yourself and others is imperative to forming close friendships. This does not mean accepting disrespectful behaviour, but rather recognizing differences and keeping realistic expectations of others.
Many find friendships in addiction recovery to be some of the most fulfilling and supportive they have had. With time, effort and a little courage, you can and will form new friendships.