Addicts in recovery may find themselves rebuilding many areas of their lives: personal health, financial wellness, and relationships with family and friends. These are aspects of an individual’s life that frequently suffer during periods of substance abuse when the addict neglects their health and wellness in favor of abusing drugs or alcohol. When a person decides to seek treatment, he or she has to address the actual addiction, but will also need to address these additional areas. In terms of recovery and relationships, the addict may need to repair and rebuild existing relationships that have been damaged, cautiously build new relationships, and end any toxic relationships that may contribute to relapse. A holistic approach to substance abuse treatment can help addicts learn appropriate skills for relationships in recovery from addiction.

Recovering Addicts and Relationships

During times of substance abuse, many addicts neglect or actively estrange those people who care for them the most. Addicts may feel uncomfortable spending time with healthy people who choose not to abuse drugs or alcohol, so they steer clear of sober friends and relatives. They may feel judged by people who do not use, so they spend less time with them in favor of fellow users. Family and friends who care about the addict may reach out, hoping to encourage the addict to change. A group of loved ones may even stage an intervention. Until the addict is ready to seek help, these attempts to help may come across as intrusive or offensive, and the addict may back off or sever the relationship.

Even when the addict maintains relationships with non-users, those relationships suffer from substance abuse. People who live with the addict often suffer the most, as they cannot escape being in close proximity to the addict. They may have endured forgotten commitments, angry outbursts, and even abusive behavior. This damage may take a long time to repair.

While in treatment, the addict can work on rebuilding healthy relationships where it is possible. The addict will learn to identify which relationships are important to save, take responsibility for past behavior, and techniques to move forward. This will likely involve apologizing for past wrongs and rebuild trust for the future.

Ending Toxic Relationships

While in treatment, some may find that recovery and relationships do not go together. This is especially true for toxic relationships with people who actively or passively hamper recovery. These individuals may be family members or friends; fellow users or sober individuals. Current substance abusers may tempt the addict in recovery to relapse, either to have someone to use with or just to normalize their own behavior. Codependent people, whether or not they abuse drugs and alcohol, may try to prevent the addict from seeking recovery. They may like having an addict to take care of or enjoy feeling superior to someone else. Whatever the reason, these types of people may act as if they care, but have their own best interests at heart. A trained counselor can help a person to see which relationships are healthy and which are not, set appropriate boundaries, and firmly insist that other people respect those boundaries.

Beginning New Relationships

Recovery is a time of change and can be very stressful, as the addict must learn to cope with life without the release of drugs or alcohol. It is a time of repairing damaged relationships and ending damaging relationships. Many treatment approaches recommend against forming new relationships while in recovery from addiction, for several reasons. If two addicts in rehab form a friendship, and then one relapses, the other might be more likely to relapse as well. People in rehab may need to focus so much on their own needs that they cannot be a supportive friend to someone else who is needy. Counselors often suggest waiting until one year of recovery has passed, when sobriety is less fragile, before committing to a new relationship.

Case Study: Tyler Ward

Tyler Ward is a pioneer in the relatively new field of “Social Media Artist.” He is a musician who has made a career based on his YouTube music videos, which he began making in his parents’ basement. Tyler built up a following online that he was able to segue into a career as a recording and performing artist. From his basement beginnings, he has made a full-time living from his music, recording albums, and touring to support them.

As his career took off, however, Tyler developed a toxic relationship with fame, his fans, and his identity as a musician, and that toxic relationship led to a drinking problem. He started to base his self-worth on how much attention he received from girls and from fans, whether it was in the form of hits to his website, views on YouTube, or album sales. In his own words, Tyler lost sight of who he was and felt torn internally. With all his dreams as a musician realized, he felt he should be thrilled and grateful, yet he felt depressed and lonely. Surrounded by people, Tyler felt alone, that none of those people truly loved him. On his “Sincerely Yours” tour, he would sit on his bus after a show, counting of the goals he had achieved–recording artist, successful tour, his own tour bus–and wonder: is this all there is? And to fill that emptiness, he drank.

Tyler had a moment of clarity at the end of that tour when he returned to his empty apartment and felt empty inside. In spite of all his success, he felt utterly alone and disappointed in himself. He had been drunk for 38 days in a row. Tyler is a Christian, and in that moment, he felt God tell to him that he could continue on this path of alcoholism and die, or give God one day at a time, and he would make it through. He felt God promise him that there was something better for him than this toxic relationship with alcohol and fame. With that promise, Tyler threw out the alcohol in his apartment and has not had a drink since–exactly one year from the day he made this video. There have been times when he was tempted, such as at an industry party where his friends were drinking, but he has enough strength in his recovery that he can tell himself, “I don’t need this.”

Since he has stopped drinking, he has been able to see that alcohol was just one of his many vices. When he was drinking, he thought that alcohol was the “one thing” with which he struggled, but his sobriety has allowed him to view his life more clearly. He now sees that alcohol was just part of the problem and that he also struggled with toxic relationships with women in his life. In recovery, he has found more freedom in his life and a greater appreciation for what he has. Tyler shares his story in hopes that he can help other people who struggle with their own vices, whether they are substance abuse or toxic relationships. He wants them to know that they can let that vice go, put it behind them, and move on to better things–just as he has.