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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

Role of Relationships in Substance Use Recovery

09/22/16 09:51 AM | Lindsay Morrissey | Recovery, Substance Use

Human connection is an integral part of social and emotional health and well-being. Think about the many connections, friendships, and relationships that shape your daily life. When you are in need of support, these relationships are key to providing guidance, happiness, and stability.

Social supports act as a crucial determinant for shaping health outcomes. Research suggests relationships are a significant factor in determining substance use and recovery outcomes. Studies of adolescents suggest that family support and involvement acts as a protective factor against substance use. A study of women experiencing homeless found that those who had less social support were more likely to engage in illicit substance use. A common affirmation in the recovery community— people, places, things—points to how important people can be in impacting one’s journey to recovery. Social networks, including family, friends, community and kinship ties, can act as risk or protective factors in determining an individuals’ path toward recovery.

Given these findings, it is crucial to incorporate social networks into programming and treatment. Recovery professionals and medical practitioners should identify and support healthy networks for individuals experiencing substance use issues, harness healthy relationships, and foster strong norms around recovery and sobriety. Read Gloria Dickerson's thoughts on sustaining relationships as a recovery benchmark. 

Effective programs should identify existing kinship and intimate partner relationships that may act as either barriers or support systems for recovery. In recognizing the impact of these relationships, programs can most effectively promote successful recovery. For example, interpersonal dynamics between intimate partners that engage in substance use may directly shape recovery outcomes. Programs and treatment facilities must identify and address the complex role of intimate partner relationships in determining treatment and recovery plans of those who seek treatment.

Recent research also points to peer support or mentorship as an effective method for boosting substance use prevention or recovery outcomes. Peer support interventions have resulted in reduced re-hospitalization rates, increased treatment adherence, and decreased alcohol use. Because of the success of peer mentoring, an innovative initiative—Project Amp—utilizes the lived experience of young adult mentors to promote substance use prevention and intervention among adolescents. Using the power of lived experience and mutual connection to support individuals in recovery may lead to healthier outcomes.

In understanding the importance of relationships on the path to recovery, we as peers, friends, family members, and partners might be asking ourselves—“How can I best support my loved one on their recovery path?” This answer is simple, and yet, so complex. We must actively listen and support, standing by for all the achievements and struggles that recovery may bring. We must provide acceptance without judgment, working to eliminate stigma for our loved ones. We can help to create a substance-free environment and promote healthy habits. Finally, it is important to have patience and remember that recovery is a journey.

We know how important relationships are in our daily lives. With the substance use epidemic rapidly growing, we cannot forget that individuals experiencing substance use issues need support and human connection to recover. According to Johann Hari, “the opposite of addiction is connection.” Let’s foster connections for those in recovery to support their journeys, incorporating the role of relationships into treatment and programming.

Learn more about recovery by registering for t3's live, online course "Client Centered Behavior Change: Using a Harm Reduction Approach."

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 Image by mrhayata (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Lindsay Morrissey

Written by Lindsay Morrissey

Lindsay is a Communications Assistant at the Center for Social Innovation. She is a public health professional with experience in health communication, women’s health research, and violence prevention. Lindsay has a Master of Public Health with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Science from Boston University and a B.A. in Psychology from Smith College.