How to Repair Relationships After Addiction

How to Repair Relationships After Addiction


Having strong relationships and a sense of connection are among the most important aspects of a successful recovery. Much of this connection will come from a sober network comprising people you meet in treatment, 12-step meetings, and participation in new activities. However, it’s also good to maintain and strengthen relationships with supportive people who were in your life before and during addiction, such as family and close friends. Unfortunately, addiction is hard on relationships. People with substance use disorders can often behave in ways that are dishonest and self-serving even if those behaviors are contrary to their personalities. As a result, you may enter recovery with a long list of people who are justifiably angry at you. Here are some tips for repairing those relationships damaged by addiction.

Be selective about which relationships to rebuild.

First, be selective about who you want back in your life. Not everyone is a good influence. You certainly don’t want to renew relationships with people who were primarily drinking buddies or people you mostly just used drugs with. There may be other people who don’t fit that category but perhaps don’t bring out the best in you because they are negative or critical. You may owe some of these people an apology but you may not want to renew a friendship. When deciding who to rebuild relationships with, focus on the people who have meant the most to you and who bring out the best in you, people you respect and whose respect you want to earn.

Adjust your expectations.

Like many aspects of addiction recovery, rebuilding relationships probably won’t happen as fast as you would want, hope, or expect. This can be frustrating because you know how hard you’ve worked to stay sober and how much progress you’ve made during treatment and since. However, your friends and family don’t have that same insight. They may be aware you’ve gone through treatment and made progress, but they also know they’ve been hurt and they are likely to be cautious. It takes a long time to rebuild trust so don’t be disappointed if people don’t respond positively right away. Try to see things from their perspective and recognize your addiction has been hard for them too.

Work on your communication skills.

Good communication skills are key to having good relationships. They allow you to resolve conflicts and maintain boundaries. You probably spent a lot of time working on your communication skills in treatment, especially during group therapy and family therapy. However, improving your communication skills is a process that never ends. It’s especially important to practice being a good listener. Most of repairing a relationship isn’t about explaining everything you’ve been through but by letting the other person tell you what she’s been through. Good communication begins with making an honest effort to understand the other person’s point of view. It’s important to listen, especially to the things you may not want to hear. 

Ask for forgiveness.

You may be tempted to just let things go with the tacit understanding that whatever happened in active addiction is in the past and things will be different from now on. However, it’s important to acknowledge when you’ve hurt someone, apologize, and ask forgiveness. This is important for several reasons. First, you acknowledge that you did something bad to someone else and that person’s anger is justified. It’s a way of taking responsibility for your behavior, which is fundamentally different from how you acted in active addiction. Second, if someone feels like you’ve manipulated or deceived them, part of their anger has to do with feeling like you’ve deprived them of agency. Giving that person the power to forgive you–or not–returns to them some measure of control over your relationship. Third, manipulating or deceiving someone shows you saw that person only as a means to an end. Asking forgiveness shows you actually care about that person’s feelings. Making amends is often part of asking forgiveness. It shows that you’re actually willing to make some kind of sacrifice to make things right.

Stay engaged.

When repairing relationships, you will often have to take the initiative so it’s important to actually reach out. Apologize, ask forgiveness, and tell the person how important he or she is to you. However, that probably won’t be enough. Relationships aren’t built on grand gestures but on regular contact, kindness, and acceptance. If someone is important to you and you want that person in your life, you have to keep making an effort. This is one reason it’s helpful to prioritize who you want in your life. Each person will require a regular commitment, especially early on, so focus on the relationships that mean the most to you. Make regular contact, even if it’s just a text or email but also respect other people’s boundaries. If they don’t want to hear from you, then it’s out of your hands.

Work to rebuild trust.

The hardest part of repairing relationships after addiction is rebuilding trust. It’s hard enough to trust someone to begin with and it’s even harder if that person has deceived you, lied to you, let you down, or become violent. Some people just won’t trust you ever again but some will. The key to rebuilding trust is consistency. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Be honest, even about small things. Trust is rebuilt gradually over a long time. Try to make the best of your opportunities.

Stick to your recovery plan.

If you don’t stick to your recovery plan, then all the effort you put into your relationships won’t matter. Sticking to your recovery plan will help you communicate better, regulate your emotions, and keep moving in a positive direction. It will also show the people you care about that you’re committed to recovery, which will help rebuild trust.

At Patrick Hart Consultants, we provide a number of different services to fit the needs of each individual client. Among these, are helping you choose a treatment provider, helping you develop a treatment plan, helping you establish post-treatment support, and ensuring continuity among the different elements of treatment. Contact us today at 844-262-7970 or or explore our website for more information.

AUTHOR: Patrick Hart Consultants