Social support can help people recover from various medical disorders, including addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, social support bolsters the efficacy of drugs doctors use to treat substance use disorders, making it an integral part of any medication-assisted treatment program. We asked two experts about the role of social support in addiction recovery.
How Can Social Support Help With Addiction Recovery?
“Social support and healthy relationships are really critical for addiction recovery, as social isolation and relationship distress are key factors in relapse for many people,” Kelly E. Green, PhD, author of Relationships in Recovery: Repairing Damage and Building Healthy Connections While Overcoming Addiction, tells WebMD Connect to Care.
Green explains that one of the most difficult aspects of addiction recovery is relearning how to deal with life’s ups and downs without resorting to drugs.
“That means that life can actually feel harder for them for a while until they’ve developed strong coping skills and alternate ways to celebrate,” Green says. “Social support helps bridge that gap since opening up to others and receiving support and encouragement can mitigate the discomfort of living a newly sober life.”
In addition, social support enables people to feel as though they are not facing the challenges of recovery alone, says Jeffrey Huttman, PhD, Chief Clinical Officer at iRecovery.
“It is also important to consider the people and places an individual surrounds him or herself with in sobriety in order to avoid triggers for relapse,” Huttman notes. “Being among others who do not use drugs or alcohol, or who are in recovery, is important to encouraging participation in sober activities and avoiding returning to high-risk situations.”
Key Types of Social Support for Addiction Recovery
“Self-help groups are the most common source of social support for individuals in recovery from a substance use disorder,” says Huttman. “The ability to come together with a group of individuals sharing a common problem that they can support each other with has proven successful for millions of individuals.”
He points out that two of the best-known self-help organizations—Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous—are now active in over 100 countries, offering support to millions of people struggling with alcohol and opioid addiction.
Other social support options include individual therapy and couple/family therapy.
“Individual therapy helps people in recovery build a supportive, collaborative relationship with a trained clinician,” Green says. “Couple and family therapy are underutilized for addiction, even though research shows they can be very effective for supporting sobriety and for improving relationship quality.”
Green emphasizes the importance of repairing relationships that may have been harmed by addiction, adding that people often overlook this critical element of recovery.
“Addiction treatment and recovery programs typically prioritize individual recovery over relationship recovery, and even sometimes tell people not to focus on their relationships until they’re further along in recovery,” Green says. “But that really misses an opportunity to bolster addiction recovery by strengthening existing relationships that may have become damaged or dysfunctional, but could be repaired and rebuilt.”
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