Tips for Making Friends in Addiction Rehab

One of the factors that contributes most to our happiness is connecting with friends and family. So it’s no surprise loneliness is one of the four most common addiction relapse triggers included in the acronym HALT, which stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired.

loneliness and relapse

Even if you have all the support in the world, it’s still going to be challenging to find completely supportive friends as you begin your new, sober, adventure. Chances are you have a circle of friends who will probably need to be cut out of your life for the success of your recovery, and the reality is, that leaves a hole. Rather than waiting until you’re out of rehab and getting used to your new, sober life to try to make some new friends, you should start making friends in addiction rehab.

We all have something in common with our friends. Sometimes we grow apart from childhood friends, getting closer to adult friends based on our values and interests. The same is true for rehab, but it’s going to be a more dramatic shift. With some of your old friends, one of the things you shared was addiction. As you are in recovery, being surrounded by those friends could be detrimental to the success of your recovery.

Making friends in addiction rehab can do the exact opposite. If you come out of rehab with a few friends, you already have an established network — and these aren’t just warm bodies to keep you company. The friends you meet in rehab share your challenge of overcoming addiction. You have the power to support each other as you go through this together.

Sure, it sounds like a good idea, but the reality is many people who struggle with addiction also struggle with low self-esteem, which can make forming new friendships difficult. It isn’t going to be easy, but having a friend who understands addiction and is also working to overcome it can certainly lessen the load. How do you go about making friends in rehab when you already have a full plate of trying to work through some of your own challenges? We have several tips that can help.

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Focus on Yourself

Don’t confuse this tip with an excuse to be selfish — that’s not what we mean. Friendships, like all relationships, require some level of give and take, so the focus won’t always be on you, and it shouldn’t be. However, before you begin making friends in addiction rehab, you need to remember your primary goal — recovery.

recovery is your primary goal

It’s an ongoing process, but there will likely be goals set along the way, and your primary focus should be on those goals. Making friends should not substitute for your treatment, but making friends in rehab can certainly help you along the way.

In addition to focusing on your own recovery goals, there are some aspects of friendship that will improve as a result of your recovery process. For example, if you struggle with addiction, chances are good you also struggle with low self-esteem. Low self-esteem can put a strain on friendships in several ways, so we encourage you to be honest about your self-worth in rehab, as part of your treatment can help you improve your self-esteem.

As it improves, you’ll have a greater level of confidence and friendships will become easier to make and keep — results that are valuable as you recover but also in your new, sober life.

Be Yourself

As you focus on your own recovery, you will discover strengths and weaknesses, find new things you like and dislike, and develop new opinions. That might even mean changing old opinions. You will meet people who share your strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and opinions — and those who don’t. Embrace the diversity and be yourself. How can you be yourself during a time in your life that has so much transition? Be honest.

making friends in recovery

The best way to develop true friendships is to be authentic and transparent. This can make us all feel vulnerable, especially in rehab. It’s normal to feel vulnerable, but it’s also important to not let that get in the way of you being you. Try to avoid:

  • Putting up walls
  • Worrying too much about making a good impression
  • Trying to pretend you’re someone you’re not

These things may not prevent you from making friends, but they will prevent you from making the best kind of friends — the friends who are authentic and honest about who they are. Regardless of how uncomfortable it is, strive to be yourself and find friends who do the same.

Break the Ice

The first step in starting a friendship is breaking the ice. In rehab, there are a lot of heavy issues. Struggling with addiction isn’t something to be taken lightly. You are probably struggling with feelings of guilt, discouragement, anger and depression, among others. This may not seem like an ideal time or place to break the ice, but remember, while specific situations are very different, you’re all working to overcome a common struggle and share similar feelings.

smile at someone

Breaking the ice can be as small as smiling at someone else. It will probably include some sort of small talk, perhaps about the weather. While this is something that can be done at any point in rehab, in our program, mealtime is a great time to break the ice. Who doesn’t like to bond over food? When we break for meals, everyone is a little more relaxed. You let your guard down and begin to realize you aren’t alone. It’s a natural opportunity to begin with a smile or small talk — who knows, you may even begin to move past the small talk.

Get to know each other

After the small talk, you just might get to more personal questions about where you’re from, where you went to school, how many brothers and sisters you have, etc. There are countless questions you can choose to ask in addition to these. Since this can be uncomfortable at first, think of some basic questions ahead of time. Then, as the conversation progresses from small talk, you’re prepared with a few questions.

Asking questions shows you’re engaged and interested in learning more about the person, which is important, but you want to strike a balance of asking/talking and listening. While asking questions and talking helps to move the conversation along, listening is equally valuable in showing you are genuinely interested in what the other person has to say.

While it’s OK to have some questions up your sleeve, don’t become so focused on thinking of questions that you aren’t listening. Besides, listening may lead to other questions and, in turn, discovering some similarities you share.

Find Common Interests

As we’ve already alluded to, common interests are a great foundation for friendship. Chances are in your addiction rehab, you’ll have time for recreation, which is a perfect place to discover some basic common interests.

For example, on the weekends, we have a structured recreation program. Some of our activities include:

  • Deep sea fishing
  • Kayaking
  • Standup paddleboarding
  • Horseback riding

The goal is to give you a break from therapy and treatment, and to discover activities you enjoy. After all, one of the most common questions we get is, “What will I do for fun?”

These are going to be real-life situations — trying new activities, discovering what you enjoy and what you don’t, all while being surrounded by a group of others who are doing the same thing. We’re sure you’ll discover a few things you enjoy, and others will share your favorites. This gives you some common ground. You have an opportunity to talk about what you like about the activities you enjoyed and what you didn’t enjoy.

try new activities

Share Personal Struggles

Once you’ve had a chance to begin to get to know others in your addiction rehab program on a light-hearted note, there’s often an opportunity to share some deeper information. Obviously, this comes with a comfort level, as it’s hard for us to share the intimate details and struggles of our lives outside of rehab. However, the discomfort of sharing thoughts and feelings as they relate to your rehab journey can be very beneficial.

We include peer meetings as a part of our rehab program, which are perfect for this sort of sharing. Our peer meetings are meetings our clients have among themselves. They discuss problems, how they feel they’re doing, and issues that are burdening them — all deeply personal topics. Perhaps the fact that these are meetings where such intimate information is shared is why they often achieve so many breakthroughs.

tips for making friends in addiction recovery

You don’t have to go into the first meeting sharing all of your personal feelings. Start by listening to others. There will be someone who is struggling with the same things you are or views their progress in a similar light. If you aren’t comfortable speaking up right away, just reinforce others when they say something that resonates with you and your experience. In addition to fostering a connection with others in rehab, sharing personal struggles is a great way to remind yourself that you are not alone.

Encourage Each Other

Sometimes it means even more than not being alone to know you have someone supporting you. While we encourage family involvement and participation, chances are some, if not all, of your family members haven’t struggled with addiction. They may be supportive of you and your recovery, but others who are in rehab with you can often be a source of encouragement and support, just as you can be a source of encouragement and support for others.

What does encouraging one another in rehab look like? It might be:

  • A hand on someone’s shoulder as they relate an upsetting story
  • Sharing words of inspiration with someone who is having a rough day
  • Cheering someone on as they balance on a paddleboard for the first time during a weekend recreation session
  • Adding a story or tip in a peer session to help someone through a struggle

Think about what you would appreciate in the times you are feeling burdened. These words or motions of encouragement don’t have to be big and elaborate — they can be small and still mean the world to that person.

Celebrate With Them

Encouraging someone and genuinely celebrating with them in reaching their goals and achieving milestones are not the same thing. It seems like a no-brainer, right? Who doesn’t want to celebrate with someone? But it’s not that simple. When you’re making friends in addiction rehab, this may mean celebrating friends reaching a recovery milestone before you do, and that can be hard.

be happy for your friends in recovery

It’s important to genuinely be happy for them as they continue in their recovery to a sober life. Sharing in their happiness doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to feel a little bummed or discouraged, but it’s important to not let those feelings become so prominent you hold a grudge or ill feelings toward them as a result of their success.

Remember how we previously mentioned many people who struggle with addiction also struggle with low self-esteem? This is one of the times low self-esteem can get in the way, in the form of jealousy. As friends, you should try to foster a relationship where you celebrate each other’s success and are genuinely happy for each other.

Keep Secrets

As your new friends are sharing struggles and words of encouragement, there will be sensitive information that they confide in you, and you in them. Be trustworthy and keep that sensitive information to yourself. It’s tough to let your guard down and be vulnerable at rehab.

let your guard down

If someone does open up to you about their past, it’s a sign they value you as a friend and feel like they can confide some of their most personal experiences, thoughts and feelings with you. Don’t take that for granted. Treasure it and know if they are confiding in you, you may feel more comfortable confiding in them.

The exception to this rule, of course, is if a newfound friend confides in you something that would be harmful to someone, or detrimental to their recovery or the recovery of others. In that case, you should confide in one of the staff members at rehab in order to maintain everyone’s safety, acting in the best interest of your new friend. While this person may not be happy you didn’t keep their secret, in the end, it’s what’s best for everyone involved.

Say Sorry and Forgive

Whether it’s an outburst as a result of a shared secret or something else, at some point you or a friend will likely say something that results in hurt and/or anger. The reality is, friendships can be messy. In rehab, everyone is focused on recovery, but the road to recovery can feel long and get frustrating. Everyone has a lot on their plates, and words will probably be exchanged out of anger or frustration. It’s important to acknowledge this up front and own the fact that one of these times, it’s going to be you.

If you’ve said something hurtful, it’s important to apologize. Admitting we’re wrong isn’t easy, but it’s an important part of keeping a friendship. If something was said to you that hurt your feelings, try these three steps:

  1. Take a step back from the situation and let your friend have some time to cool down.
  2. Then, when you have an opportunity, share with them what it was they said that angered or hurt you.
  3. Be willing to forgive them even if they don’t apologize.

Everyone makes mistakes, and holding grudges doesn’t make for happy friendships.

Saying you’re sorry, forgiving and being able to kindly share with someone what they said that bothered you are three things that are sure to come in handy. Sorry to say, friendships are not all rainbows and butterflies.

Set boundaries

Speaking of rainbows and butterflies, we’d be doing you a disservice if we pretended all of the friendships you make in rehab end up being fruitful and last forever. The reality is, relapse rates show there’s a good chance one or more of the friends you make in rehab may end up relapsing. Muddying the waters with adding romance to your new friendships in rehab can also be detrimental to your recovery.

While we don’t recommend bailing on a friend who relapses or swearing off love forever, we do want to warn against romance and keeping friends who are anxious to go back to their old habits after rehab. Unfortunately, experts advise against dating in rehab, as recovery can be a rollercoaster, and beginning a romantic relationship on that rollercoaster isn’t solid ground. As for those who are anxious to get back to old habits, unfortunately, those individuals do exist, and a friendship with that person could be bad news for your recovery.

avoid dating in rehab

It may sound scary and kind of overwhelming, but you can prepare for this in advance by setting boundaries. Make a commitment not to enter into any sort of romantic relationship in rehab. If your friendship with someone begins to cross that line, have a conversation with that person about your commitment to wait until you’ve settled into a sober life.

To prepare yourself for friendships with people who may relapse in the future, think about at what point you’re going to draw the line, and cut ties with a friend returning to bad habits. While supporting a friend through a temporary relapse can be a true friendship, trying to bring a friend back to recovery from a relapse that seems to be more permanent could be detrimental to your own progress.

While we encourage you to make friends in rehab, remember the focus is on yourself and your recovery — if a friend isn’t helping you become a better version of yourself, they may not be a friend worth keeping.

Make Plans

On a happier note, friends you make in rehab will likely become some of the strongest friendships you have after rehab. When you aren’t in the same physical location on a regular basis, it can be harder to keep in touch. It’s essential to make time for these friends as you leave rehab and begin your sober life.

Whether you attend a recovery meeting together for support or dedicate time to pursuing a hobby together, your friendship will continue to develop as you both begin your new life. Friends are valuable for many reasons, the biggest of which are:

  • You provide a source of support for each other in tough times
  • You also understand each other and the struggle of addiction. Having someone who knows something so personal, and understands that struggle as well as the transition and transformation of rehab is a rare gem.

Perhaps the most refreshing part of the majority of these tips for making friends in addiction rehab is they are the same foundations for friendships between people who aren’t suffering from addiction. Yes, even setting boundaries is something everyone should do. A friend who develops bad habits that could be detrimental to your wellbeing is dangerous, regardless of whether or not you suffer from addiction.

While each of these tips is tailored specifically to a rehab experience, the process of making and maintaining friendships is the same. By embracing the opportunity to make friends in rehab, you’re also getting great practice for making friends when you’re out of rehab. And let’s be honest, regardless of whether you struggle with addiction, making friends as an adult can be challenging, so these tips will come in handy for weeks, months and years to come.

embrace friendships

Find Friends During Your Recovery Time at 12 Keys

At 12 Keys Rehab, we want to help you manage your pain, stop obsessing over your cravings, and rebuild your life so you can discover the fun that awaits you in a new, sober life. While everyone’s road to recovery looks a little different, our 12 Keys model is successful and tailored to your specific struggles.

People who go through our rehab program have lifelong friends all over the world. All they have to do is show up at a meeting or get on the phone. Perhaps that’s why we are such big fans of making friends during your time with us.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, we hope you’ll contact us so we can make a plan to transform your life and begin a new chapter.

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The Addiction Blog