The Power of Friendship in Recovery – How Social Support Improves Treatment Outcomes
What’s one factor that can make or break your recovery? Learn what it is, and how to have more of it in your life.
Your friends can be instrumental to your recovery from drugs and alcohol. Friends and peer pressure can also be the single, biggest obstacle that holds you back from finding freedom from addiction. This insight—namely, the power of friendship to help or hurt your recovery—is the outgrowth of a large body of research into how social support, or lack thereof, affects treatment outcomes.
What follows is:
- An exploration of these findings, with a view to showing how social support improves treatment outcome and treatment success rates
- The implications of these findings for clients in treatment for substance abuse and for their families
- Tips and resources for building your friend and support network in recovery, including addiction support groups and recovery group activities
The emerging takeaway is that harnessing the positive power of friendship and social support can give you a tremendous edge in your recovery, and here we’ll begin to show you how to do that.
The Link Between Friends, Peer Pressure and Substance Abuse
Your friends and social network can significantly impact your recovery—whether for better or for worse. By way of illustration, if you were to survey any room of clients in treatment for substance abuse and ask each of them how they were first introduced to their drug of choice, there is a statistically good chance that a majority in the room would say they first got their drug of choice from a friend who gave it to them.
Consider the following eye-opening statistics, for example:
- 83% of college students who misuse stimulants say they got the prescription drugs from friends, according to a 2015 survey at Ohio State University.
- 75% of all opiate addiction reportedly starts with the use of a medication that was obtained from a friend, family member or dealer.
- 48% of teen marijuana users said their friends encouraged them to start using marijuana, according to a 1999 survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.
How Social Support Improves Alcohol Treatment Outcomes
But there’s another more encouraging story to be found here, too—namely, that if the wrong friends are often the instigators of an addiction, the right friends can help you achieve positive treatment outcomes and long-term success in recovery.
A large body of literature supports this conclusion, having documented the important role friendship plays in recovery from various addictions. One of the most studied is alcoholism:
- Recovering alcoholics with bigger social networks, whose friends included a higher number of abstainers and other recovering alcoholics, achieved the best recovery outcomes three years following treatment, in a 2002 study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
- Healthy social support and interpersonal factors also positively influenced self-efficacy (level of confidence in one’s ability to achieve recovery), motivation to recover, positive expectancies about abstinence, cravings (by reducing cravings), mood states and coping behaviors, in a 2009 study.
- Social support was a significant predictor of long-term alcohol abstinence, in a 2006 study in the International Journal of Clinical Health Psychology.
- And, when researchers followed 461 treated and untreated people with alcohol use disorders over a 16-year period, in order to see what factors caused relapse, their conclusion was that social support was critical to sustained abstinence.
How Healthy Friendships Boost Recovery From Other Drugs and Co-Occurring Disorders
Similarly, encouraging findings have been made about the power of friendship to boost recovery success rates when the addiction is to other drugs and/or when there is a co-occurring mental disorder, such as depression:
- Higher social support correlated with less cocaine and/or heroin use as well as better mental health status among clients who were being treated for cocaine and/or heroin addiction, in a 2007 study in the journal, Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
- Among adolescents with clinical depression—the diagnosis is a common co-occurring disorder that can complicate recovery for people with substance abuse issues—those with 10 friends doubled the probability of recovering from their symptoms over a six to 12 month period, compared with adolescents with three healthy friends. That was the finding of a 2015 study. Moreover, adolescents with five healthy friends halved their probability of becoming depressed over a six to 12 month period, leading the researchers to infer that good mental health can, in essence, be “caught” within healthy adolescent social networks.
12-Step Involvement and Recovery Support Groups – Tips and Resources for Clients and Families
Such findings shed light on the power of friendship in recovery—in particular, the mental health benefits of a close, supportive network of sober peers—and are one more reason why involvement in a 12-step or other recovery support group can be so critical to success in recovery. (A whole separate body of scientific literature has shown how 12-step group affiliation is associated with higher recovery success rates.)
What’s the takeaway? If you’re not already involved in a recovery support group, you need to be.
If you’re struggling with alcohol abuse, this directory of AA meetings can help you find a face-to-face or online meeting that is close and easy to get to. Alternatively, for those with a drug use disorder, this directory of NA meetings is a good place to start. Dual Recovery Anonymous is another 12-step group specifically for people with co-occurring disorders.
There are also numerous 12-step group options for families and family members in need of more support: Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Codependents Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics and Parents of Addicted Loved Ones are some options. Each of these networks has its own directory of meetings, so find one that’s close to home and convenient to get to.
In addition, the Learning Centerpiece, “You’re Not Alone: Types of Addiction Support Groups,” provides a list of other types of recovery support groups, and these tips for finding a support system may also be of help.