Man drunk and laying on table with friend socially influencing addiction

Can you keep hanging around your old friends if you’re trying to stay sober? Do you need some tips for balancing old relationships with your new life? Here are some solutions for you, along with the science behind the social proximity effect and how social factors influence your addiction.

Are you struggling with addiction issues? Contact Georgetown Behavioral Hospital for help getting and staying sober.

Social Influence on Addiction

Social influence on addiction can be significant. Certainly, it makes sense to take your fair responsibility for any addictions you have. After all, when you recognize you had some control in starting or continuing your addiction, you understand that you can make a different choice. If you don’t make the decision to quit, it probably isn’t going to happen.

Yet, there were likely many factors and people who impacted your addictive path and continue to do so. For most people, a part of that path is something social scientists call the social proximity effect.


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What Is the Social Proximity Effect?

The social proximity effect is related to the people you spend time with and the habits you develop. You might notice that people who spend a lot of time together tend to buy the same things. Why? It might be partly because you become aware of an item when your friend buys it. Or it could be that you see them enjoying it and want to do so, too.

The social proximity effect is a scientifically proven principle. When you spend a lot of time with somebody, you are more likely to pick up the habits that they have. You are exposed to the same things they are. You often have the same opportunities they do, as well.

Your friend tells a joke, and later, you will probably tell it to someone else. After all, once that knowledge is passed to you, it’s yours. You have it to use whenever you like. This can be a good thing if you spend time with people whose habits you want to develop. However, if you are trying to stay sober, picking up habits from someone with an addiction is the last thing you want to do.

Ways Your Addiction Might Be Affected by Social Influence

Suppose you hang around with people who never drink or use drugs. It would be very hard to associate with them if you were doing those things in front of them. What’s more, you would have fewer opportunities to engage in drinking or using drugs.

On the other hand, the social influence on addiction would show up in a negative way if you hung out with people who used substances. In short, the social proximity effect means that you will likely pick up whatever habits your close friends engage in regularly when you are with them. That’s true, even if you would prefer not to pick up an addiction again.

Here’s an example. Let’s say your old friends called you up and asked you to come to their party. Now, suppose you know that their parties always involve drugs and alcohol. You might feel that, now that you are sober, you can manage to avoid using at the party.

When you first get there, you feel fine and don’t have any urges to use. However, as the night wears on, you see your friends engaging in their same old habits. You’re enjoying the time renewing old friendships, and you don’t want to feel left out. So, you take your first drink of the night, thinking it will be the only one. Yet, your relationship with them was so tied to using drugs and alcohol that you can’t imagine it any other way. Before long, you forget about sobriety and join in their habits.

Tips to Navigate Relationships in Your New Life

Living Sober 6 Tips for Navigating Relationships After Addiction Infographic

When you get sober, it’s important to recognize the social influence your friends have on your addiction. Yet, you may want or need to stay in contact with your old friends. In the meantime, you might gain new sober friends who don’t have habits you want to avoid. Here are some tips for managing your relationships and still staying sober.

  • Think about what you’ll say to your old friends before you see them.
  • Don’t assume that you will be able to avoid engaging in their old habits.
  • If you don’t feel strong enough to withstand the urges while you’re with them, then tell them honestly why you won’t see them.
  • Don’t go to the places where you and your old friends used to go to use drugs and alcohol.
  • If you must go, consider taking a sober friend with you to see your old friends.
  • Give yourself a certain amount of time to be with old friends, and then excuse yourself and leave when the time is over.
  • Get involved in activities and volunteering where you can meet new friends who don’t have addictions.
  • Make it a point to have something to occupy yourself and your old friends, so you don’t use it out of boredom or awkwardness.

Getting past an addiction is not an easy thing, ever. However, if you can manage the social influences around you, your chances of success increase dramatically.

How Treatment Helps Diminish Negative Social Influences

During treatment for addiction, you prepare for the times when you are out of treatment. You learn coping skills to manage symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. In

therapy groups or addiction-related groups, like AA or NA, you get a chance to talk about how to manage your friendships as well as practice in doing so. You can also build healthy relationships with people on the same journey as you and find accountability in your sobriety journey.

Treatment also helps you get stronger emotionally, physically, and socially. You get opportunities to learn about things like urges and how to deal with them when you are with friends with addictions. You develop a more positive attitude about staying sober, and you become more confident in your ability to avoid using drugs or alcohol. All these increased strengths help you deal with or avoid negative social influences on addiction.

Help for Addiction at Georgetown Behavioral Hospital

Georgetown Behavioral Hospital is a mental health facility serving Southern and Central Ohio. Along with our primary mental health services, we offer drug and alcohol detox as well as a dual diagnosis problem for people with both substance use disorders and mental conditions like anxiety or depression.

All our programs are available on a voluntary admission basis. What’s more, we welcome people who want to get sober and stay that way to take advantage of our medically supervised detox. If you enter our dual diagnosis program, we offer psychotherapy, psychiatric services, group therapies, life skills training, and 12-step groups. We also put a high priority on conducting quality discharge planning so that you are ready to manage on your own after you leave our hospital.

At GBH, we understand the value of friendship. That’s why we emphasize teaching you everything you need to know to build relationships that will help you stay sober. At the same time, we recognize that there may be times when you are with people who have habits you don’t want to pick up. So, we help and guide you as you learn how to manage those old relationships and still live the sober life you deserve.

Could you use some help with addiction issues? Contact our team at Georgetown Behavioral Hospital today.

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