The simple answer to the question in the title of this article is “yes” – your social life will change once you get sober. You’ll probably need to cut ties with a few toxic friends or family members along the way, and you’ll certainly need to stop attending events where you might relapse, at least for a little while.
But here’s the thing: sobriety isn’t synonymous with a boring life, a lack of socialization, or even becoming a loner with no friends. In fact, a big part of the recovery process involves re-learning how to forge friendships and relationships that are healthy, fulfilling, and enduring – no substances involved.
Even though it might not feel like it right now, there is hope for a bright future filled with opportunities to make memories with wonderfully, supportive, sober friends.
Why Sobriety Changes Your Social Life
“Wait,” you’re thinking. “Why do I have to cut out friends and change my social life just because I’m sober, anyway? Can’t I just make a commitment not to use while I still enjoy my life?”
When you first get sober, the changes you need to make to protect your sobriety can often feel more like a punishment for becoming addicted in the first place. You’re already raw, emotional, and feeling needy – now you have to cut off your friends and loved ones, too? What gives!?
The problem for most addicts is that the lives they’ve created are often deeply entwined with drug or alcohol use. In many cases, people become so used to turning to substances to help them socialize that they lose the ability to have fun or feel confident in their social skills in any other manner. If you attempt to go back to your old social patterns, especially in early recovery, you’re highly likely to rationalize a relapse or “just one drink” along the way.
When you’re fresh out of recovery, being surrounded by substance users and substance use can also be extremely triggering. An alcoholic who heads to the local bar is instantly surrounded by opportunities to drink and people who probably don’t care as much about their sobriety, either. The risk of relapse is extremely high.
Cut Out Toxic Relationships
Science and research shows that people in toxic or abusive relationships are far more likely to abuse substances, often as a form of self-medication. But why is this is the case, and what role does it play?
Many addicts maintain friendships with people who really don’t have their best interests at heart – and we aren’t just talking about the local plug, either. Having friends who use, who refuse to get sober, who enable you, or who simply do not have your best interests at heart, is a relapse risk.
And keeping people who abuse you in your life? That’s not okay, either – you deserve to have healthy, reciprocal relationships that encourage you to be the best “you” possible without putting you at risk.
The fact of the matter is that drugs and alcohol make it easier to avoid confronting the negative feelings associated with problematic relationships – and problematic relationships nearly always lead to problematic socialization patterns.
A big part of recovery involves learning how to develop healthy boundaries and self-protective strategies for healthier friendships. You leave behind the socialization that was harming you and develop newer, more meaningful friendships along the way. It isn’t something to fear — it’s something to celebrate.
How to Re-Learn How to Socialize
So let’s talk about socialization in recovery. No, you don’t need to give up your entire social life – we promise. However, we’ve mentioned you will need to make significant changes to protect your new sober status.
What exactly does this mean?
Ultimately, you need a game plan that fulfills your need for socialization without putting you at risk. Planning in advance for triggers, contingencies, and healthy opportunities to make new friends is your number one tool, here – and that’s something we can help you with.
Build Your Relapse Prevention Plan
Set aside specifics for the moment. What can you do to prepare yourself for the eventuality of triggers and situations that make you want to use?
- Know Your Own Triggers. Keep a diary or journal. Each time you feel the need to use drugs, write down what was happening. Were you with a specific friend, or in a certain location? Were you hungry, tired, depressed, anxious, or feeling insecure? Get to know your triggers so you can anticipate and respond to them appropriately.
- Build Your Support Network: There’s a very good reason rehabilitation experts push the value of being deeply involved in the recovery community. Staying connected, either through AA/NA or even your inpatient rehab’s alumni program, gives you opportunities for safe socialization and friendly support. Get a sponsor, link up with a therapist, and find out about sober activities in your local area. Lean on people you know you can trust, versus people who have proven themselves a risk in the past.
- Don’t Isolate: It might seem strange to say after all of these warnings, but isolating yourself completely isn’t wise, either. Get out into the world and around people when you feel up to it, even if it’s just a walk around the local mall or a trip to the local park. Volunteering can be a great way to access socialization and give back to your local community.
- Get Some Exercise: Yes, it seems simple, but exercise releases endorphins which can help you feel better and get past cravings. A quick jog or even a short workout each morning is a great way to care for yourself. When you feel ready, join a gym – you’ll find yourself making friends with people who value health, first.
- Get Enough Sleep: It’s difficult to manage emotions when you’re exhausted, much less socialize in a healthy manner. Get at least eight hours of sleep per night – more if you find you need it at first. And yes, that means no staying up all night at parties, too, at least for the moment.
- Learn How to Relax: If you’ve been addicted for a long time, you may not know how to relax without drugs or alcohol on board. Ask your counselor to help you develop new relaxation and stress management skills. Connect to close, trustworthy friends and enjoy safe activities together, such as meditation, yoga, swimming, running, or even lazing around the beach. Avoid situations that make you feel more stressed, but don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone now and again. It’s good for you!
- Redefine Your Social Circle: For many addicts, their social circle mostly consists of other drug and alcohol users. If this is true for you, you’ll need to start thinking about what you want in the future and whether these people really fit into your new life. It’s okay to cut off people who aren’t supportive of your sobriety, even if they’re family.
- Find New Sober Friends: While early recovery might feel isolating, there are plenty of places to find new sober friends. Attend as many meetings as you can and choose a home group where you can really get to know people. Reach out to members of your church, if you’re religious, or join local clubs and develop new hobbies. Try Meetup to find sober activities in your area, or check out specialized sober bars all across the country. You might be surprised to learn just how many people aren’t into substances!