February 10, 2023 By Leah Malone

Navigating Interpersonal Relationships in Recovery


Recovering from substance use disorder (SUD) and co-occurring mental health disorders requires individuals to reflect and address all areas of well-being in their lives. One of these areas is social well-being, comprised of an individual’s interpersonal relationships. Learning how to navigate interpersonal relationships in recovery can be quite a challenge. The effects of substance abuse often take a heavy toll on family members and friends. However, because social support is an essential element of lasting recovery, understanding how to navigate these relationships appropriately can be paramount for healing.

The Impact of Addiction on Interpersonal Relationships

When an individual struggles with addiction, the effects of their substance abuse often extend to family members and friends. This explains why addiction is often termed “a family disease.” It is important to understand that each family member and friend will respond differently to their loved one’s substance abuse. However, addiction can impact interpersonal relationships in common ways. Many times a person experiences more than one of these simultaneously.

Enabling Behaviors

Some family members and friends respond to a loved one’s substance abuse through enabling behaviors. According to the National Center for PTSD, enabling behaviors work to help, support, rescue, or protect a loved one with addiction from “facing the negative consequences of their substance use.” While well-intended, enabling behaviors can be dangerous. They perpetuate a loved one’s substance abuse.

Examples of enabling behaviors can include:

  • Making excuses for a loved one’s behavior
  • Covering for a loved one
  • Helping a loved one financially
  • Ignoring a loved one’s addiction to avoid conflict

Increased Emotional Reactions

Family members and friends may experience increased emotional reactions to a loved one’s addiction. This may be in response to enabling behaviors or be a general response to a loved one’s substance abuse. Individuals may feel a wide range of complex emotional reactions—including anger, anxiety, depression, fear, embarrassment, frustration, disappointment, and worry—when they become aware of their loved one’s condition. Many will experience internal battles as they try to understand their loved one’s diagnosis and attempt to reason with it.

Increased Relationship Dissatisfaction

Another common impact of addiction on interpersonal relationships is increased relationship dissatisfaction. On the one side, families and friends will often experience conflict as they try to encourage their loved one to participate in treatment. In contrast, others may experience this conflict because they are unsupportive of their loved one’s decision to begin recovery. This circumstance is common for families with favorable attitudes towards alcohol and drug use within the home.

Repairing Interpersonal Relationships in Recovery

Individuals seeking to establish sobriety and recovery must address the impact their addiction has had on their loved ones. This is a great opportunity for individuals to practice humility and gratitude. It also allows people to build a strong and encouraging support system throughout their recovery journey.

The Value of Forgiveness

One of the most important things to understand when working to repair relationships in recovery is the value of forgiveness. However, forgiveness is multi-directional. Before apologizing to those who may have been hurt, it is essential to turn inward and foster self-forgiveness. How can an individual expect to be forgiven by another if they have not forgiven themself for their own mistakes?

Forgiveness is often a lifelong journey, just as is the journey of addiction. Self-forgiveness requires an individual to acknowledge their past mistakes as a result of their past circumstances. When an individual is actively working towards recovery, they can address forgiveness to make peace with their past. It can also motivate them to be better in the future.

Once an individual becomes more comfortable with who they want to be in recovery, seeking forgiveness from those whose past substance abuse may have hurt can be valuable. It is important to remember that, like many things, forgiveness takes time. Discussing complex interpersonal relationships with treatment professionals can be instrumental for lasting recovery success.

Addressing Conflict and Disagreements in Interpersonal Relationships

Another suggestion for navigating interpersonal relationships in recovery is to learn how to address conflict and disagreements with loved ones appropriately. Individuals who struggle with substance abuse may habitually lie and isolate. Learning how to manage conflict is a necessary skill, both for recovery and life in general.

Although treatment can help individuals address conflict in interpersonal relationships, there are several things that individuals can do outside of treatment to handle conflict. Certain conflict resolution strategies can help, including the following:

  • Acknowledge the existence of a problem as it surfaces
  • Prioritize active listening
  • Find areas of agreement
  • Disengage if the conflict becomes too heated. Plan to revisit the conversation at a future time

Utilizing Family-Based Interventions

Family members and friends can also consider participating in family therapy and other family-based interventions to address the effects of a loved one’s substance abuse. Many types of family therapies and activities are available for those seeking additional support. Traditional family therapy can help clients and their families work through SUD, mental health disorders, past trauma, and current interpersonal conflicts to reestablish a healthy family unit. Moreover, support groups exist to help family members of people with addiction.

Learning to navigate interpersonal relationships while recovering from substance use disorder can be challenging. However, the support received from family members and friends can be instrumental for lasting sobriety and recovery. Valuing forgiveness, learning to appropriately address conflict, and utilizing family-based interventions can be paramount. At Grace Recovery, we provide transitional living homes for women in recovery. Coupled with treatment services and additional recovery resources, our treatment facility has programs for all women. Each woman is paired with a case manager and experiential coach to improve their life skills. We offer family therapy, in addition to several other interventions, to ensure healing for all involved. To learn more, contact us today at (737) 237-9663.

About Author

Leah Malone

Learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings can be painful and disturbing at times. When Leah was able to see her behavior patterns and decided there was enough pain to be disturbed, she became motivated to make changes and accept the work that needed to be done to heal. She needed direction and had no clue how to heal on her own. Through a connection with God, authentic connection with others, honesty, willingness, and humility, Leah is now in recovery from addiction and trauma.

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