A huge part of recovery involves making sober friends. Addiction and alcoholism are full of isolation, loneliness, and fear for many people. In order to keep using and drinking, many addicts and alcoholics alienate themselves from friends and family who are concerned about their behavior. Isolation isn’t healthy for anyone, so a large part of healing from substance dependence is making friends and developing a support network. It can be difficult at first, but it’s possible to make quality sober friends by taking healthy risks and knowing what kind of people you want in your life.
Why Do I Need Sober Friends?
Sober friends aren’t just a great way to combat isolation and loneliness. Sober friends are an essential part of the support system that people need in early recovery. There’s nothing wrong with staying friends with people you knew before you got sober, but it’s important to spend time with people who have the same goals as you and who can understand and benefit your sobriety. Staying friends with people who are still using and drinking can be risky; ultimately it can lead to a relapse. Even if you do stay friends with people you knew during active addiction, it is absolutely vital to also build a strong network of sober friends. In addition to fellowship, fun, and combating loneliness, sober friends can help with:
- Keeping you accountable
- Lending an ear when life gets hard
- Relating to your early recovery struggles and providing good, healthy feedback
- Helping you to grow in your participation in twelve-step fellowships and recovery support groups
- Assisting with making tough decisions and giving honest thoughts about your choices
- Supporting you through cravings and temptations
These are only a few of the reasons that having sober friends is important. When someone decides to recover from addiction, their whole life changes for the better. Along with these changes come challenges, however. Having sober friends can help you to get through those challenges without needing to pick up a drink or a drug.
Determining if Your Current Friends Support Your Recovery
One of the reasons it’s important to make new, sober friends on your recovery journey is because your current friends may not have your best interest in mind. Unfortunately, not all of your current friends are going to be on the same page as you with recovery efforts. Especially if they’re still using drugs or alcohol. Some of the reasons to consider moving on from current friends can include:
- The fact that they may not understand your sobriety goals
- They can become triggers to use and even stimulate relapse
- They cannot offer the same support someone who has been through recovery may
- Current, non-sober friends may not understand how to normalize sobriety
- They may not have the best boundaries and try to manipulate or control you
Certainly, if you have friends that are not sober, it doesn’t mean that you have to tell them never to contact you again. Nor do you have to disappear from their lives. Instead, carefully explain to these friends the importance of your sobriety efforts and the fact that their lifestyles no longer match up to your own. Furthermore, tell them that you are still on good terms, but that you need your space to continue with your recovery journey with safety. If they are really your friend, they will understand that your sobriety comes first and that your relationship with them puts your recovery at risk. And, if they truly love you, they’ll give you the space you need to accomplish your goals.
Sober Friends can Help to Prevent Relapse
Along with keeping you accountable and the many other benefits of sober friends listed above, one of the most indisputable reasons to surround yourself with sober friends in recovery is that they can help to prevent a relapse. Unfortunately, relapse is a very common occurrence in the early days of recovery. But, when you have support from sober friends, you can lean on them during these challenging moments.
Relapse doesn’t start with a person physically using their drug of choice. Rather, it begins as a single thought that leads to cravings and imagining use. This is called the mental relapse stage, and it’s important to be able to recognize this stage of relapse so that you can tell someone. But, who would you tell? Sober friends can be there during the mental relapse stage to keep you accountable to yourself in recovery. And, if they’re in recovery themselves, they understand what you’re going through. So, they won’t be judgmental or think less of you for what you’re battling.
What to Look for in Sober Friends
There’s a saying that’s commonly heard in recovery circle: “My picker is broken.” What it means is that in early recovery, a lot of people tend to gravitate toward people who are unhealthy for them and have trouble picking reliable and positive relationships. It makes sense- in addiction and alcoholism, a lot of us get accustomed to making bad choices and spending time with people who encourage us to do the wrong thing. It can be a hard habit to break during the early stages of recovery. But by paying attention to the people you choose to have in your life and by investing in relationships that support you being your best self, you can slowly build a network of healthy relationships. When looking for new sober friends, here are a few qualities to look for:
- Being honest even about difficult topics
- Kindness and compassion
- Strong boundaries; someone who doesn’t display codependent behaviors
- Dedication to recovery and sobriety; someone who takes concrete actions each day to take care of their recovery, whether it’s twelve step meetings or participation in another support group
- Willingness to hold themselves and others accountable
- Responsible and dependable
- Trustworthy- they won’t betray your confidence and doesn’t gossip about others
- Able to have fun and enjoy life
These are just a few good signs of someone who could be a good friend in sobriety. You won’t get along with everyone you meet, but as long as you are willing to invest time and care into new friendships with healthy people, you will be able to form a good network of friends in which everyone can support one another’s recovery.
Where to Find Sober Friends
Making friends as an adult isn’t necessarily easy, especially if the places you normally went to meet people, such as bars, are no longer an option for you in your recovery. However, there are many different ways to meet other sober people. A good place to start is a twelve step fellowship or other recovery support group, such as SMART Recovery. People in these meetings are usually working toward the same goal and more than willing to help one another and to reach out to newcomers. These can be excellent places to find new sober friends.
Commonly, people in the earliest days of recovery can meet sober friends at commonly held 12 step groups. Whether NA, AA, or another 12 step group, these types of groups are great for recovering individuals. They allow for the sharing of addiction experiences, which can offer great therapeutic benefit. Furthermore, they also allow for the development of sponsor/sponsee relationships. These relationships are a great way to be held accountable during your recovery journey. And, once you’re ready and have a few years of recovery yourself, you can even become a sponsor yourself. This is a great way to make new sober friends, encourage others on their recovery journey, and give back to others all at once!
Staying in Touch with New Sober Friends in Treatment
Another great way to make these connections is through alumni groups. Diablo Valley Drug and Alcohol Services has an active and large alumni group where graduates of the program meet to support one another, to fellowship, and to have fun. This can be a great resource for finding the support network that everyone needs in their recovery journey.
If you need help for addiction, or if you’re a graduate of Diablo Valley Drug & Alcohol Services and you need help finding your footing, contact us today at 925-289-1430 for information on our treatment, aftercare, and alumni programs.
**Originally posted on May 30, 2017. Updated on June 24, 2019.