The importance of a support system in recovery cannot be overstated. It can make the difference between long-term recovery and relapsing. Having a guaranteed source of positive interaction greatly improves physical and mental health with long-lasting benefits. It does not matter the size or scope of your support system as it’s quality over quantity.
Support System Definition
While you may have lots of friends and family members, not all of them may qualify as part of the true support system. This concept is defined as a network of people that are a positive influence and available to provide psychological, physical, and/or financial help. Further, these people demonstrate at least one of four types of supportive behavior:
- Emotional: Provides expressions of love and empathy; someone willing to listen to be moral support and lend an ear
- Instrumental: Provides tangible help such as offering to babysit or make dinner
- Informational: Provides advice or suggestions; sharing of useful information
- Appraisal: Boosts self-esteem and encourages feelings of being valued
This definition also excludes people who exhibit negative means of support such as being an enabler or providing angry criticism. Bear in mind that people do not have to exhibit all four of these behaviors to be considered part of your support system.
Health Benefits of a Support System
Social interaction improves overall health in a number of meaningful ways, both in the long and short term:
- Reduced stress and lower vulnerability to future would-be stressful situations
- Improved self-esteem and perception of being valued
- Higher pain tolerance/reduced perception of pain
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Reduce or ward off depression
- Lower overall mortality rate
Many of the benefits of having a support system directly target the struggles a recovering drug addict might face in the midst of their journey – struggles they’ll need to overcome to be successful. These health benefits are invaluable to recovering addicts who are undergoing things like dealing with withdrawal symptoms or fighting the temptation to use when confronted by triggers.
How Your Support System Can Help You Overcome Addiction
The emotional support from friends and family can quite literally be life-saving. Support systems not only give people the means to deal with the highs and lows of recovery but enable them to handle such situations in the future in a healthy, non-destructive manner.
Having others to hold you to a goal can help you stay on track even when your own discipline or motivation falters. Your support system will follow up with you to ensure that you are on the correct path and that you also haven’t fallen into old habits. This can look like making sure you attend group therapy meetings (or driving you to them), calling on a regular basis to ensure you haven’t relapsed, or inquiring as to whether you’ve been taking your medication. Their presence applies (positive) pressure to ensure you stick to your healthier drug-free lifestyle.
Having people that are actively rooting for your recovery can go a long way. Whether it’s their encouraging words or not wanting to disappoint them, your support group can be a strong motivating factor to stick through recovery even when it gets unpleasant. Similar to the “Higher Power” concept frequently referred to in 12-Step based groups, your support group becomes an external reason to want to achieve sobriety. If your support group is composed of others who have gone through addiction treatment, it creates a sense of camaraderie that reminds you you’re not alone.
The act of going to rehab and attending therapy is helpful but can be a major disruption to daily life. Life doesn’t stop when you’re in rehab and dealing with life’s demands can be a major obstacle in addiction recovery. Having people that can help take care of practical tasks like washing dishes, driving you to and from appointments, or watching your children, allows you to focus on recovery.
Tips for Building a Support System In Recovery
Creating and nurturing supportive relationships doesn’t happen overnight, but if you’re looking to expand your social circle with positive influences, these tips can help you:
- Be open to feedback – They may not always say what you want to hear, but you know they have your best interests at heart.
- Reach out to them first – A relationship is a two-way street and making the effort to show you care can strengthen your bond.
- Offer to help others – People are drawn to kindness and it can make them more inclined to help you in return.
- Look to those around you – These can be people from church, from group therapy sessions, work, or school. Look to see if there’s already a community for others in recovery that you can join.
The positive impact of social interaction on our mental and physical wellbeing is well documented. Countless studies have highlighted the benefits of having a strong support system as well as the dangers of loneliness. Even just having a few close friends leads to higher emotional intelligence, healthier coping skills, and greater overall happiness. For a recovering addict, the benefits are even greater and can ultimately be life-saving.