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Understanding the Importance of Social Support in Recovery

Kayla Gill
 January 25th, 2024|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • Social support reduces stress boosting, mental health and physical health.
  • It helps recovery by improving treatment engagement and reducing relapse risk.
  • These connections can motivate you and hold you accountable to your lifestyle changes.

Life gets tough at times, and facing a challenge like addiction alone can feel harder than it needs to. That’s where social support comes in. 

This life-changing tool can help you manage stress, achieve better recovery outcomes, and enjoy the process more along the way. Here’s how you can make it a part of your journey, and reap the rewards of social support in recovery.

What Is Social Support?

The American Psychological Association defines social support1 as “the provision of assistance or comfort to others, typically to help them cope with biological, psychological, and social stressors.”

This can look like giving advice, helping out with tasks, assisting financially, or being there for someone in a way that makes them feel better emotionally. It can come from various sources: 

  • Peer support in rehab and group therapy 
  • 12-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Al-Anon
  • Non-12-Step support groups like SMART Recovery, Women for Sobriety, or LifeRing Secular Recovery
  • Family and friends who are supportive of your healing process 

Social support helps you cope with stress, and recovery is undoubtedly stressful at times. Here’s why it’s important to develop—and engage with—this invaluable resource throughout your recovery.  

7 Benefits of Social Support in Recovery

The importance of social support in addiction recovery can’t be overstated. Here are 7 ways having healthy connections can fill your journey with more joy: 

1. Positive Impact on Mental Health

In times of hardship, it’s social support that lifts us back up. Beyond that, it can even help us shift from surviving to thriving. When we feel loved, understood, and cared for, we bloom.   

Research supports the link between social support and mental health.2 One study finds that “positive social communication with family members and friends reduces anxiety and develops the feeling of security. People with more positive ethnical social relations and higher social support enjoy more efficient communication skills, which directs them away from depression and other mental problems…

social support as a protector against stress in a way that it largely affects social health and performance.”

Poor social support, on the other hand, is linked to a higher risk of mental health conditions3 like anxiety and depression.

2. Better Engagement in Treatment

Recovery is a huge life change, and social support can make it easier to achieve your goals. “If your social connections do not support you, it can make success much more difficult,” says psychosocial rehabilitation specialist Kendra Cherry, MSEd. But, “If your friends and family offer support and encouragement,4 you may find achieving your goal much more possible.”  

Research shows that social support in addiction recovery can help people get into addiction treatment5 and increase their engagement in rehab programs. This could be due in part to the role of denial as an intrinsic part of addiction, which means loved ones often play a key role in getting people the care they need. 

3. Supports Long-Term Recovery

There’s a reason why rehabs place so much focus on building a strong support system as part of continuing care and life after treatment. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines recovery as being holistic,6 stating that it “addresses the whole person and their community, and is supported by peers, friends, and family members.” 

During early recovery, you’ll be integrating a lot of lifestyle changes, and a good network of friends and family encourages healthy choices and behaviors. Recovery is a lifestyle—and you need people who support that lifestyle. Surrounding yourself with examples of people living healthy lives makes it much easier to envision yourself doing the same.

Real friends want the best for you, and support your commitment to a path that’s in your best interest.

4. Reduced Risk of Relapse

Identifying the people in your support system is a vital part of relapse prevention planning. Having a trusted circle of people who believe in you and offer non-judgmental support provides a safety net when you face challenges or setbacks. This sense of security in times of need can significantly reduce your chances of backsliding.

Research consistently shows that social support is a key factor in preventing relapse.7 One study of rehab graduates found that “Clients with positive family relationships post-discharge were less likely to relapse than clients without such relationships. Clients who reported negative activities by all or most friends in the post-discharge period were three and one-half times more likely to relapse than clients who did not.” 

Just as it’s important to remove yourself from the social situations that prompted your addiction, 

it’s important to surround yourself with people who support your healthy choices. 

5. Motivation and Accountability 

Like any long-term goal, recovery requires consistent work. And we don’t always feel like doing the things that are good for us. This is where accountability comes in, and why programs like AA focus so much on social systems that hold each other accountable.

None of us can do this alone,” says AA member Judy G. “We need to be accountable to each other to stay sober8 in mind, body and spirit.”

Regularly meeting with your sponsor, sober coach, and sober peers can help you track your progress and stay motivated toward your goals. And that’s especially useful in early recovery, when life in sobriety can feel overwhelming. 

6. Enhanced Coping Skills

Addictions are often developed as a result of using certain behaviors, alcohol, or drugs to cope with underlying issues. As such, learning how to cope with life’s inevitable challenges in helpful ways is a huge part of success in recovery—and life in general. 

Social support is, in itself, a healthy coping strategy, and it plays a major role in determining your quality of life.9

Having loved ones you can rely on in times of need eases suffering. Researchers on the effects of social support on coping with stress10 say, “Social support is the most vital psychosocial protective resource, where effective coping can reduce stress levels and prevent individuals from experiencing more severe psychological distress.”

7. Improved Physical Health

The positive emotional and psychological effects of social support can also translate into better physical health. Reduced stress and healthier lifestyle choices made within a supportive community all contribute to a better mind, body, and spirit.

Stress can have serious health consequences, from compromised immunity to increased risk of heart disease. And because social support reduces stress, it also reduces the risk of stress-related illness. 

In fact, social support is one of the most important indicators of longevity.11 Studies show consistent evidence “on three neurobiological pathways that link social support with health and longevity: the autonomic nervous system, the neuroendocrine system, and the immune system.” Just as being stuck in a state of fight-or-flight has negative impacts on these systems, the safety we feel as a result of our social networks reduces those impacts—and the risk of disease and mortality. 

Find a Rehab Center for Your Journey to Recovery

Recovery isn’t just about abstaining from substances or managing symptoms; it’s about creating a life in which you feel happy, healthy, and well. And social support is a vital aspect of that. Your loved ones can help motivate you to get into treatment, and be a fulfilling part of your life in long-term recovery. Recovery also provides opportunities to make new connections and make that network even stronger. 

If your goal is to overcome an addiction, rehab can be a great place to start. Social support is a central aspect of residential treatment, as peers provide camaraderie and community in group therapy and throughout your treatment experience. 

To speak with rehab admissions counselors directly, look for treatment centers that meet your needs and reach out to someone today.

Frequently Asked Questions About Social Support in Recovery 

How does social support impact mental health in addiction recovery?

Research shows that positive social communication reduces anxiety, enhances communication skills, and acts as a protector against stress. Poor social support is linked to a higher risk of mental health conditions, making healthy connections crucial for emotional well-being during recovery.

What are the benefits of social support in addiction recovery?

Social support offers numerous benefits in addiction recovery, including better mental health, better engagement in treatment, motivation, accountability, enhanced coping skills, reduced risk of relapse, and improved physical health. Building a strong support system is integral to the holistic approach of recovery, providing a foundation for a fulfilling and healthy life.

Why is social support important in preventing relapse during addiction recovery?

Social support helps prevent relapse because it provides a safety net when you face challenges or setbacks. Trusted connections reduce your risk of relapse by providing non-judgmental support and a sense of security when you need it most. Research consistently shows that positive family relationships and supportive social circles are closely tied to successful recovery outcomes.

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