Sobriety: Watching Your Friends Relapse

August 4, 2016 Becky Doyle

Watching sober friends relapse can be heartbreaking or challenging as well as enlightening and motivating. Personally, I have seen a handful of friends go back to drinking after six months or more of sobriety (Attitudes That Can Lead to a Drug or Alcohol Relapse ). In some cases, they convinced themselves they were not alcoholics and that they could manage their drinking. In other cases, they had always had some doubt as to the severity of their powerlessness over alcohol. And in a few other cases, the relapse seemed to come from nowhere. In reality, a relapse starts long before the first drink but it's not always easy to spot. Here are the lessons I have learned from watching sober friends relapse.

Imagine you are Facebook-stalking an old friend from rehab and you see a post about enjoying a wine or some beer. It may come as a bit of a shock at first, but remember,
relapse is very common among alcoholics. We often refer to a relapse as someone "doing more research" to see if really truly are an alcoholic. Judging these friends or thinking less of them because they have started drinking does nothing to maintain our sobriety or help our friends. That being said, relapse prevention requires devoted focus and hard work. Here are just two of the warning signs that a friend is headed for relapse.

Sobriety: Relapse Begins with Isolation

Watching your friends relapse can both hurt your recovery or help you strengthen sobriety. When you see friends relapse, keep some things in mind. Read this.

Sobriety is made possible by establishing friendships and connections to other sober alcoholics. The camaraderie and strength of these bonds are surpassed by very little. This fellowship of sober people reminds us of the challenges we came from, the root cause of our struggles, and the amazing progress we have made in overcoming them all.

Isolation is the antithesis of fellowship. In order for a relapse to happen, isolation must, typically, occur. Whether it happens physically, mentally, or emotionally does not matter because they all have the same effect. Even if you are physically present with friends and people who love you, it is possible to be isolated within your own mind. The more alcoholics separate themselves from their support network and their sober friends at large, the more like it is they will enter a downward spiral of hopeless feelings and negative thoughts. For many alcoholics, this is the emotional cycle that previously led them to start drinking and be unable to stop.

Sober Friends Become Frenemies

As explained above, personal relationships are instrumental in maintaining sobriety. Those recovering alcoholics who are at high risk of relapse will also begin to see a significant change in their relationships. The more isolated an alcoholic becomes, the more likely he or she is to turn friends into frenemies. In case this is a new concept for you, a frenemy is a person that you are kind or friendly to, despite a fundamental and seemingly irreparable dislike or rivalry.

This transition may occur for a variety of reasons, the most likely and dangerous of which is that a poisonous resentment has taken hold of one or both people involved (Managing Expectations and Resentments in Sobriety). When an expectation of the friendship is violated or ignored completely, it must be examined and resolved. It may be uncomfortable to talk about the problem as it will undoubtedly bring up a lot of strong emotions. In order to truly heal the relationship and move on without conflict, this step is essential. Just imagine you are trying to sweep a dirty floor. How can you be sure that you cleaned up everything without turning on the light? You have to see the ugliness to restore the original beauty. It is not part of the healing process however to be on the receiving end of harsh words that attack your self-esteem (What Is Verbal Abuse?). If that occurs, you are likely better off severing ties completely.

We can learn a lot about ourselves and our disease of alcohol addiction by watching sober friends relapse. However, placing ourselves on a higher moral compass for having maintained sobriety does not protect us from the grasp of addiction. Instead, use this as a reminder to go back to the basics of how you stay sober one day at a time.

Photo by licensed as CC BY-SA 3.0.

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APA Reference
Doyle, B. (2016, August 4). Sobriety: Watching Your Friends Relapse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 14 from

Author: Becky Doyle

David Roppo
April, 20 2017 at 12:16 pm

Relationships do play a role in maintaining sobriety. I think it is important to take a relationship inventory, although that doesn't just end with severing relationships with drinking buddies. I believe it is also important to acknowledge toxic behavior and either set boundaries or sever those relationships.

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