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Now That You’re in Recovery, Can You Hang Out With Friends Who Drink?

Written on June 24, 2021
Now That You’re in Recovery, Can You Hang Out With Friends Who Drink?

Is it possible to keep your friends who still drink or use drugs now that you are in recovery from addiction? And how do you spend time around them when they are drinking or using? These are questions that get asked a lot in early addiction recovery, questions that don’t always have one-size-fits-all answers.

Assessing Your Friendships in Addiction Recovery

If you attend addiction treatment in early recovery, it is likely that you will spend some time taking inventory of which people you would like to continue to have in your life, and which people you are ready to part ways with. There is a good chance that with some of your friends, you primary connection was through your addiction and using together. Other friends may mean a great deal to you, though they do not support your recovery, your boundaries, or your needs in maintaining sobriety. It is OK to have good memories, to care about and even to love a person, appreciating the part they played in your past, while knowing they may not fit into your present. It is also OK to take a break from a person whose presence may be too large a trigger for relapse, while maintaining hope that you will reconnect again in the future.

Pay close attention to the friends in your life who will support your recovery from addiction. Early recovery can feel exhausting at times, and making sure you are spending your social time with people who recharge you rather than drain you is key in self-care. It is also important to have friends with whom you can be open about your recovery process without fear of judgement or dismissal. You’re getting really honest about your life; that takes major courage. You deserve to be around people who appreciate and support that.

Finding new Ways of Connecting in Sobriety

There is a good chance that alcohol or drug use played a central role in your social life during your addiction. There are many people that fall into addiction because of social anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues that make it feel extremely difficult to engage with others socially. Give yourself grace if it takes time to re-learn how to make friends, have conversations, and attend gatherings without using alcohol or drugs. It is a very normal part of the recovery process. Having a community of others who are in recovery, such as a community fellowship like AA, SMART Recovery, or Recovery Dharma, is a great way to practice socially interacting while being able to be honest about the struggles you may be feeling.

Hanging out during the day or during an activity is a great way to spend time with friends with less triggers to drink or use. Here in Boulder, Colorado, we incorporate such social outings into our programming several times a week. Ideas could include hiking, frisbee golf, paddle boarding, going for a walk, working out together, playing games, cooking, and gardening, to name a few. There are also alumni gatherings hosted by many treatment centers as well as organizations like Sober A.F. Entertainment that set up sober areas at concerts, sporting events, and other large-scale events so that people in recovery have the option of connecting with others in recovery during these events, free of the presence of alcohol and drugs.

When you do Hang out With Friends who are not Sober

One of the most important parts of recovery from addiction is getting clear with—and learning to unapologetically set—your boundaries. Boundaries are essential not only in maintaining sobriety, but also in developing healthy relationships that will support a thriving life. At each stage of your recovery, it is important to get clear on your boundaries before you are in a situation in which you might feel pressure to use. Are you ready to be at a party or bar where there is alcohol? In early recovery, this might not be such a good idea.

As your recovery progresses however, you may find that you feel more comfortable setting boundaries and managing triggers to be in the presence of substances again. If you do go somewhere where alcohol or drugs are present, it can be helpful to order or bring a non-alcoholic beverage so that you have something to sip on and so that you will less likely be offered a drink. It is also important to be really aware of your triggers, and to plan an exit strategy should you find yourself at an increased risk of relapse. Having your own transportation or a ride who is willing to leave with you at any point is important. Having a sober buddy with you help hold you accountable can be extremely helpful as well.

If you aren’t ready to meet friends at a bar or party, suggest to your friends something less triggering, like a friend’s house, a movie, coffee shop, restaurant, or activity like bowling. It’s also OK to ask your friends not to drink or use when they are around you if their use would pose too big of a risk of relapse. If they aren’t able or willing to be sober with you, perhaps they aren’t meant for your life at this time (and who knows? You may reconnect with them in the future).

Getting clear with and practicing setting boundaries will be essential in maintaining friendships with those who aren’t sober. Do you feel comfortable asking friends to refrain from drinking or using in your presence if it is too big of a trigger for you? Do you trust yourself to say “no” if you are offered a drink or drugs? If not, you may want to wait, continuing to work on your boundaries in therapy, before reconnecting with old friends who still drink or use.