Why Distancing Yourself From Old Friends Can Help You Avoid Relapse

Steve Trevino
May 17, 2022

When in recovery, it is important to distance yourself from any friends or associates who may be triggers for your substance abuse. Relapse is always a risk, but by avoiding temptations, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of falling back into old patterns of abuse.

It's not easy to distance yourself from old friends, especially if you have known them for a long time. However, if you are trying to avoid relapse, it is often necessary to take this step.

The reason is that old friends can be a stumbling block in your recovery process. They may remind you of past use, making you feel tempted to start using again. In addition, they may not support your sobriety, making it more difficult to stay on track.

This blog post will highlight the dangers of hanging out with old friends and how to communicate with them without becoming sucked into risky behaviors and addiction.

Understanding Addiction, Peer Influence, and Relapse

Many people who overcome addiction fall back into old habits when around others who still abuse substances. This is often referred to as "relapse." According to the National Institute on Drugs Abuse, relapse is a normal part of recovery, happening about 40-60% of the time.

There are many risk factors for relapse, including:

  1. Co-occurring medical or mental health conditions
  2. The severity and consequences of addiction 
  3. The individual motivation, coping skills, and support system
  4. Insomnia and other withdrawal symptoms
  5. Boredom 

Negative peer pressure is also a risk factor for relapse among those recovering from substance use disorders. Peer influence can encourage use or trigger feelings of loneliness and social isolation. On the other hand, positive peer pressure can steer you in the right direction of recovery. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the role that people within your circles can play in causing relapse and take steps to protect yourself from the negative influence of peer groups.

What are the Dangers of Hanging Out With Old Friends?

Relapse is a very real danger for anyone in recovery from addiction. While it may be tempting to spend time with old friends who still use drugs or alcohol, it is important to remember that these relationships can be toxic and trigger a relapse.

National Institutes studies have shown that individuals in recovery are more likely to relapse if they spend time with people who are still using. Sometimes, all it takes for relapse is the sight of drugs or people that trigger memories of how it all felt. Another reason is one may feel pressure to use, to fit in. This is why it’s important to avoid old friends and forge new relations that will serve as a positive influence.

How to handle meeting an old friend while in addiction recovery

It's not easy to know what to say when you run into an old friend while in recovery. You may be worried about how they will react or think of you. However, it is important to remember that your addiction does not define you.

Recovery is a process, and it is okay to take things one day at a time. Here are a few tips for how to handle meeting old friends while in recovery:

Be honest about your current situation

If you feel comfortable, let them know that you are in recovery and doing your best to stay on track. It is okay if you don't want to share the details of your recovery journey, but be sure to communicate that you are not currently using any illegal drug or alcohol.

Practice what you'll say ahead of time

If you are worried about what you will say, it can help have a plan in mind. You might want to rehearse conversation starters or have an idea of how you will respond to questions about your addiction and recovery.

Be prepared for any reaction


Some of your old friends may be supportive and understanding, while others may not know how to respond. Be prepared for either outcome and remember that everyone is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all response to this situation.

If your old friend is supportive, that is great. If they are not, that is okay too. Remember that you are not alone in this journey and that there are people who care about you and want to see you succeed.

Don't be hostile or judgmental

When you meet an old friend, you should stay calm and non-judgmental. If your friend is still using drugs or alcohol, try not to be hostile or aggressive. Instead, reiterate your commitment to sobriety and let them know that you're there for them if they need help. By taking the high road, you can set a positive example for your friend and pave the way for a healthy, supportive relationship.

Life after treatment involves forging new relationships

When you are trying to break the connection with old friends, you need to find new ones who will support your sobriety. Here’s how to go about it: 

  1. Reach out to your close family and friends and let them know what you are going through. Most of them will be happy to support you and even connect you to their network of better friends. 
  2. Join a sober community or group to find others going through the same thing as you who can offer support and advice. Many support groups and communities in the United States - including Alcoholic Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. You can also ask your addiction treatment center to recommend groups or communities near you.
  3. Finally, stay active and involved in your recovery. This will help you stay focused on your goals and give you something positive to focus on. 


Distancing yourself from friends and acquaintances who still use drugs or alcohol is one of the most effective relapse prevention plans. While difficult, it’s an important part of staying sober. A strong support network of recovery-minded friends can make the process easier.

If you’re having difficulty controlling the urge to use, you can get help. Treatment programs exist to help people on the verge of relapsing regain control of their lives.


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About The Author: 
Steve Trevino
Steve Trevino is married to Julie, his high school sweetheart and they have two daughters. He is the founder and executive director of CrossCentral Church and Recovery Center. With experience in both non-profit and for-profit treatment, he has helped thousands find freedom from addiction through residential programs, recovery workshops and consulting around the world.

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