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Social Support in Addiction Recovery

There is evidence that social support is not only optimal for human survival but vital in recovery, as well. Social support has been shown to dramatically increase the chances that an individual will stay sober and maintain a sustainable recovery.

In the article, “Outcome Research on 12-Step and Other Self-Help Programs,” published by the American Psychiatric Press in 2008, researchers concluded that there are four major aspects that explain why social support is so effective when it comes to recovery: goal direction and structure, recovery-oriented social activities, recovery role models, and an outlet that allows individuals to practice coping skills and increase confidence in their identity.

A 2011 study determined the psychometric properties of a measure of social support, the Community Assessment Inventory (CAI), and examined the role of social support in recovery. The CAI and the Addiction Severity Index (ASI) were administered to 196 opioid-dependent adults both in and out of methadone treatment in Baltimore, Maryland between 2004 and 2006. Baseline CAI scale scores indicated a generally high level of internal consistency. Analysis of variance indicated that in-treatment participants reported significantly more support at baseline than out-of-treatment participants. This study’s findings indicate the CAI may be a useful measure of social support and that such support is an important factor in treatment entry.

Goals for Social Support In Recovery

upset man being supported in recoveryFirst off, social support gives the addict structure and accountability to reach the goal they have shared publicly and set for themselves. The primary goal of social support is to connect with other people they may have neglected in their addiction, then continue these relationships by consolidating their positive life changes to share with the other person. For many addicts in recovery, the life they are building is completely different from what they are used to, which illuminates the need for social support from someone who accepts and supports their new sober lifestyle.

Social support is considered essential in the recovery of drug-addicted individuals, yet little is known regarding how such factors may influence treatment entry and engagement. Spouses, family members, peers, and neighborhoods have been shown to play key roles in both an individual’s addiction and their recovery. In spite of this finding, traditional drug treatment interventions have been criticized for focusing on the individual without taking into account the environmental situation that may support or permit their continued drug use. Thus, a key component of substance abuse treatment should involve strengthening the individual’s place in their community as a productive worker, family member, and member of the community. At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we put this research to use and guide our clients to obtain a “Get Well Job” in the community to help them reach a different phase in their recovery.

The Benefits of Social Support On Recovery

woman supporting friend in recoveryBuilding a Support Network

Those in recovery should establish social support groups outside of their recovery program in order to ease back into their identity and the familiarity of their lives. At the same time, receiving support from those in recovery is just as, or even more, essential. This is because it is extremely important for individuals to find a relatable group of people also in recovery who can provide understanding and authentic empathy that only those who have struggled with the same issues can provide. Having support from people who are also in recovery allows addicts to learn and accept the language of recovery, meet recovery peers, and learn the coping skills they need to manage their lives without alcohol or drugs.

Replacing Old Habits With Sober Social Activities

Social support also offers healthy and obtainable ways to replace old habits by providing people to share sober social activities when old friends may not. When addicts are no longer consumed with drinking or doing drugs, an immense amount of time opens up. To avoid their past behaviors, many recovering addicts decide quickly that they need to find alternative ways to spend their time. For example, alcoholics are used to hanging out at bars, drinking at dinner parties, or consuming alcohol during any recreational activity of their choice. The same goes for marijuana and drug users; they are used to places, habits, and people with whom they spend the majority of their time doing drugs.

This void of time and built-in friends leaves those in recovery feeling lonely and unable to relate to their old buddies. Social support groups and loved ones can show unconditional love by spending time with the addict no matter where or what they are doing. Many social support groups, in every area of the nation, organize activities and outings that complement newly-sober individuals’ new lifestyles. The people who attend and host these activities make socializing just as enjoyable while sober. Addicts are able to socialize, interact, and truly enjoy themselves without their drug of choice or any other intoxicants. Those in recovery are pleasantly reintroduced to sober fun, as many individuals who struggle with addiction have often forgotten how to engage in enjoyment without being under the influence.

In order for many addicts to alter their behavior and change for the better, they need to be exposed to what these positive actions look like and how to carry them out. For individuals in recovery, it is invaluable to experience what optimal recovery looks like by seeing, hearing, and watching an individual who is already in recovery interact with the others.

The Role of AA and NA Support Groups

Attending social support groups for addicts solidifies daily activities in individuals who are new to recovery and enables them to spend time with those who are further along in their recovery. The most commonly-known social support groups for addicts are Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) and Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.).

  • Finding A Sponsor: Some individuals who have completed all the steps in these programs will become sponsors of newer members. Sponsors are the A.A. and N.A. version of a mentor, someone who volunteers to take on a formal role in the recovery journey of someone else. This social support gives any novice in the program a helping hand in managing the ups and downs of sobriety. These peer relationships are usually the core of an individual’s sober social support network and may even become lifelong friendships. For the majority of individuals in recovery, a sturdy recovery peer group is what stands between them and relapse. When addicts have a bad day and their coping skills are being tested, a relatable conversation with a recovery peer or sponsor can help them get them through the situation sober.
  • Learning New Coping Skills and Managing Triggers: There is a mutualistic relationship for those in recovery, an ongoing give and take between members of sober support groups. Attending meetings or having a leadership role helps people in recovery on many levels. Practically, peer support meetings offer more than just a social benefit. They provide a place where individuals can learn new coping skills and stress-management tactics, as well as helpful tips for managing triggers based on other members’ experiences.
  • A True Sense of Belonging: On an emotional level, support groups offer people in recovery access to a social group with shared goals, values, and intentions. This experience contributes to a sense of belonging and a feeling of being heard and understood. Not to mention, sharing this recovery journey with others fosters a sense of shared purpose, and ultimately, increases how individuals in recovery view their place in the world. Self-belief, self-confidence, and self-esteem increase with time, and addicts are able to take a step back and reflect from a distance on what has worked and what has not worked in their life.

At Boardwalk Recovery Center, our clients constantly mention the fraternity and bond that they are grateful for in their recovery. Recovering at our drug rehab facility and having access to local support groups across the San Diego area makes our clients feel connected and supported in every domain of their life but most importantly in their recovery. Contact us today to find out how we can help you or your loved one find and maintain long term recovery.

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man struggling with addictionman sharing in alcoholics anonymous meeting