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Social Relationships Impact Recovery From Alcohol Use Disorders

Posted in Relapse Prevention

Social networks play an important role in many types of behaviors. From eating to shopping, many of our behaviors are "contagious" because we mimic the choices of those around us. However, in some cases, others influence our decisions by direct sanctioning or encouraging of our choices.

A recent study looked at the role of friends in how those with alcohol-related problems make choices about alcohol consumption. For individuals struggling to overcome an alcohol use disorder, the encouragement of a friend to remain sober can be a powerful influence over their ability to avoid alcohol.

The study showed that the effects of social influences can extend over three years after treatment is completed. The impact of a positive social network that discourages drinking can help an individual cope when faced with the temptation to drink.

The study’s findings showed that those who had friends or family who were vocal about their desire for the individual to refrain from drinking were more triumphant in their long-term recovery. By contrast, those who had a friend or family member who encouraged problematic drinking behaviors, referred to in the study as a pro-drinker, developed more challenges with giving up alcohol.

The study was led by Dr. Robert Stout of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE). Dr. Stout explains that while many people think of a pro-drinker as someone who is a heavy drinker, the reality is that a pro-drinker can simply be a friend who doesn’t believe that the individual has a problem.

Dr. Stout and colleagues believe that the study conducted provides support for the intervention with pro-drinkers. It may be possible to help a pro-drinker understand the risks of drinking for their friend and the positive effects that could come from abstention. Making pro-drinkers advocates for abstention can give them tools to help another person recover from addiction.

Dr. Stout acknowledges that taking the steps to make changes in social relationships can be difficult, especially while an individual is trying to overcome an addiction. However, making the changes may be central to recovery, though it may be hard to explain to friends and family the need for their support.

Breaking off old relationships can also be very difficult. But Dr. Stout says that it is equally important to remove those who advocate drinking in efforts to surround oneself with those who support recovery.

Dr. Stout says that additional research is necessary to fully understand the ways in which friends and family can influence the outcome of a person attempting to recover from an addition like alcoholism.