Why Comparing Yourself to Others Slows Your Recovery from Addiction

Why Comparing Yourself to Others Slows Your Recovery from Addiction

One of the keys to a successful recovery from addiction is to have a strong sober network. These are the other sober people you rely on. They are often friends from treatment or members of your 12-step group, but you might make sober friends just about anywhere. When you have a strong sober network, you have more resources to draw on in tough times. Just knowing that support is there and being able to talk about your feelings reduces stress and increases resilience. Having sober friends also creates an expectation that you will stay sober and increases your sense of accountability. The last thing anyone wants is to have to admit a slip or relapse to their sober friends. 

With all the advantages of a strong sober network, there’s one major disadvantage: the temptation to compare your recovery to others’. With so much depending on recovery, it’s only normal to look for signs of progress but comparing yourself to others is not the way to do it and it can actually impair your recovery. Here’s why.

Comparing yourself to others is bad for your mental health.

Perhaps the most compelling reason not to compare yourself to others in addiction recovery is that comparison has serious consequences for your mental health. About half of people seeking treatment for a substance use disorder also have a co-occurring mental health issue, the most common of which include anxiety disorders, major depression, and bipolar disorder. One study found that of people with lifetime major depressive disorder, 16.5 percent had alcohol use disorder and 18 percent had a drug use disorder. Those are both more than twice the rate in the general population. And among people with bipolar disorder, 56 percent had a lifetime risk of a substance use disorder. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851027/

It’s crucial for anyone recovering from addiction to actively manage any co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety or depression and comparison actually does the opposite. One study found that people who were in the habit of making frequent social comparisons were more likely to experience envy, guilt, defensiveness, and regret and were more likely to lie, blame others, and have unmet cravings. [https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2006-12888-004] These tendencies are all types of addictive behavior. 

Studies on the effects of social media on mental health have tended to focus on the depressive effects of making comparisons. One study predictably found that women felt worse about their appearances when they were asked to interact with Facebook profiles of women they perceived to be more attractive. Surprisingly, another study found that people who made more comparisons on social media felt more depressed even when they felt they compared favorably to the other person. [https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2018/11/16/new-research-shows-just-how-bad-social-media-can-be-for-mental-health/#7e8724137af4] That suggests that the act of making comparisons, in itself, makes you feel worse and if your goal is to keep depression and anxiety under control, it’s better to minimize your comparisons. 

Comparing yourself to others is pretty much meaningless. 

Another major problem with comparing yourself to others in recovery is that such comparisons are meaningless. Everyone enters recovery with a different addiction history, a different personal history, different mental health issues, different personal strengths, different family relationships, and different recovery goals. It’s hardly a fair race when everyone starts from a different line. What’s more, recovery is complex, with many moving parts. What’s easy for one person may be hard for another. For example, you might make a lot of progress getting your depression under control but struggle to communicate with your family. Someone else might easily patch things up with her family but struggle with sharing in group therapy. It would be meaningless for any of these people to believe they were doing better than someone else based on one facet of recovery.

What’s more, you never know what’s going on inside someone else’s head. You only know what people allow you to see. This is why comparing yourself to others on social media is especially dangerous. You see a carefully curated version of someone else’s life online but you are aware of all the problems, failures, and disappointments in your own life. Even in person, someone can seem calm and in control but privately suffer from anxiety and insecurity. Appearances are often misleading and not a basis for making comparisons. 

Comparing yourself to others makes you focus on the wrong things.

Although there are common elements to a strong recovery–a good sober network, treating co-occurring conditions, learning healthy coping skills, making healthy lifestyle changes, and so on–recovery will look a little different for everyone. One person will need intensive therapy for mental illness and another will need to work on coping skills. Comparing yourself to someone else in recovery is essentially adopting that person’s goals as your own when they may or may not be appropriate. It makes a lot more sense to look deeply into your own problems and, with the help of your therapist, counselor, and doctor, decide what your recovery priorities should be.

Recovery is not a competition.

Finally, comparing yourself to others turns recovery into a competition when it should be a cooperative venture. As the study above found, comparison tends to promote envy, defensiveness, guilt and blaming others. These feelings do not promote healthy relationships. Your relationships in recovery should instead be based on trust, openness, empathy, and mutual support. A success for one member of the group is a success for the whole group. Each member should strive to lift the others up and celebrate their wins. No one else’s success detracts from your own, but their failure might be a liability for you. It can be a major setback when someone close to you in recovery has a relapse. When you have a strong sober network, you’re all in it together. It’s great to be inspired by someone else’s example but you don’t have to feel bad when someone else achieves something you’re striving for too.

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 Info@PatrickHartConsultants.com or explore our website for more information.

AUTHOR: Patrick Hart Consultants