Healthy Relationships in Early Recovery from Alcoholism

September 27, 2023 Martyn Armstrong

Forming healthy relationships in early recovery from alcoholism is tricky. If you go the route of inpatient treatment or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), you'll soon learn the phrase "people, places, and things." Much of that boils down to avoiding people from your active addiction to help you stay sober. So, how does someone new to recovery approach forming healthy relationships and avoid ones that may lead back to alcoholism and addiction?

Should People in Early Recovery Ditch Relationships with Family and Friends?

Forming healthier relationships in early recovery has plenty of gray areas. When I first heard about "people, places, and things" in AA, it felt somewhat off the mark. It makes sense to avoid people who might lure you back into active alcoholism. However, this advice came across as slightly unrealistic and at odds with how life actually works -- a theme that I found ran throughout AA. In my experience, most people I used to drink heavily with now fully support my current position. And it's possible to form different relationships with people from your past if they're supportive. 

There's a tendency in recovery to curl up like a hedgehog to block out the world. Protection becomes a bubble that addicts use to shield themselves fearfully from their past and anyone from it. But you'll eventually have to deal with people from your old life. 

My take is to be open and honest regarding your recovery. Learn to deal with a new reality where you don't drink, but others do. Certainly, end relationships that endanger you if the other person refuses to accept your recovery and other boundaries

Am Early-Recovery Healthy Relationship Checklist

As a blogger for Debunking Addiction at HealthyPlace, one of my aims has been to provide practical solutions or tips (not necessarily advice). Doing hands-on tasks like checklists reduces unwarranted speculation and grounds me in reality.

Before embarking on any relationship in recovery (old or new), ask yourself these questions:

  • Is [the other person] actively drinking or taking drugs unsociably/addictively? 
  • Are they aware of your alcoholism and are unsupportive of your decision to stop drinking or taking drugs?
  • Are they using alcohol or drugs around or near you?

Keep in mind that not everyone will be fully on board with or understand your decision to be sober. They might seem okay with it, only to start nudging you towards active alcoholism for "old time's sake" later. You need to know that this situation is dangerous, lay down your boundaries, and stick to them. 

On the flip side, it helps to avoid assumption and fear-based decisions. The people in your life require some adjustment time, too. Their experience of you is the old you -- allow them to spend some time with sober you, gradually if needs be.

The number one priority is staying sober. And if you answer yes to several points in the above checklist, chances are you're in an unhealthy relationship in early recovery that needs to be limited or ended. You must do whatever's necessary to remain sober, even if it means making tough decisions.

Healthier Relationships Begin with Your Inner Relationship in Early Recovery

Ultimately, the only relationship in early recovery needing immediate attention is your inner one. You'll never achieve more beneficial external companionship or kinship until you form a healthier relationship with yourself.

Begin to speak about and refer to yourself positively, even when it seems forced. In my previous posts, I talked about overloading shame and fear-based decisions, and it's worth using those short checklists now, too. 

I want to end this article with one suggestion: learn to forgive yourself

And I mean physically say the words or write them down about a moment where you've regressed or acted on a negative character trait. 

Don't suppress the feelings that come with this -- accept them and recommit to continuous self-development and growth

Form a healthier relationship with you -- the rest will become more intuitive. 

APA Reference
Armstrong, M. (2023, September 27). Healthy Relationships in Early Recovery from Alcoholism, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 22 from

Author: Martyn Armstrong

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