Can I Stay Friends With People Who Use Drugs and Alcohol?

If you’re new to sobriety, it’s generally a good idea to end friendships that involve substance abuse.

People who are recovering from addiction have to be intentional about protecting their sobriety. Often, this means they must cut ties with old drug-using buddies. Otherwise, continuing to spend time with friends who use drugs or alcohol could put them in dangerous situations that may trigger a relapse.

Letting go of friends who are using can be a very difficult process, but if you’re recovering from addiction, your sobriety should be your top priority. Let’s take a closer look at why ending harmful friendships is important, tips for how to do it, and the benefits of establishing supportive social connections in recovery.

Related post: 8 Fundamental Factors In Long-Term Sobriety

Ending Harmful Friendships: Is It Necessary?

Although it’s not a requirement for newly sober people, it’s generally a good idea to end friendships that involve substance abuse. Why? Because, to put it simply, those people put your sobriety at risk. At the very least, you should recognize that spending time with particular friends who still abuse drugs and alcohol may trigger thoughts and emotions that could cause you to relapse.

A large body of research indicates the attitudes of a person’s supportive network, regarding substance abuse and recovery, are a good predictor of future substance use.1 Meaning, if a person’s close friends and family are supportive of your sobriety, you’re less likely to abuse substances. Conversely, if your close friends and family don’t think a life of sobriety is important, you may be more likely to adopt a similar mindset and give into cravings or triggers and use again.

Additionally, having social support from family and friends has been consistently found to provide positive outcomes in sobriety. For example, friends, family members, or children who do not condone your substance abuse may create boundaries for themselves and stop spending time with you if you continue to use. These negative consequences of substance abuse may provide motivation for you to stay sober, because you don’t want to compromise those important relationships and risk losing them.2,3

Of course, ending a relationship is never easy, especially if it’s a lifelong friendship that you’ve carried through many stages of life. However, you should recognize the potential harm it could cause and the resulting fallout, as well as your commitment to sobriety. Ultimately, your life depends on your commitment to sobriety and nothing is more important than that.

Risks of Maintaining Harmful Friendships in Recovery

As mentioned above, once you get sober, it’s not a requirement to end relationships with drug-using friends or family members. Regardless, you should recognize the risks of choosing to keep them in your life.

  • Relapse: If you continue to maintain close friendships with people who are using, relapse will always be a risk. By maintaining these friendships, you’re more likely to find yourself in difficult situations that could cause you to compromise.
  • Poor mental health: Trying to maintain potentially damaging relationships can cause a lot of stress. Dealing with peer pressure, negativity, and other things that undermine your sobriety may contribute to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. They might also make it easier to compromise your values and turn your back on your commitment to recovery.
  • Lack of support in sobriety: Friends with active substance use disorders won’t share your new mindset about sobriety or life in general. Therefore, they may encourage you to return to your old, drug-using habits.
  • Difficulties adjusting to sobriety: People in recovery and those actively using will have different lifestyles and priorities. For example, friends with active substance abuse problems are likely to spend much of their free time drinking or using drugs. If you choose to continue spending time with them, you’ll be subjected to this too, which will make it difficult for you to establish new hobbies and ways to spend your free time that don’t involve drugs or alcohol.

How to End Friendships With People Who Use Drugs and Alcohol

Once you get sober, you may recognize that certain relationships in your life need to end. Doing so won’t be easy, but it’s a critical part of protecting your sobriety. Here are a few tips that may help you through the process.

  • Be honest and upfront. If you run into old drug-using friends, be honest and tell them about your new commitment to sobriety and how much it means to you. Let them know that you’re on a new path now and you don’t do the same things you used to do. This should be a clear signal to them that you’re not interested in getting drunk or high with them anymore. 
  • Talk to the person directly about why you cannot be friends anymore. Some relationships may need more of a direct approach. In this case, you may need to sit down with someone and explain to them why you do not want to continue the relationship any more. It’s important to be respectful and courteous while also being honest about how you feel. Although you can’t control their response, you can focus on communicating clearly, respectfully, and honestly, knowing that you’re doing what’s best for you.
  • Let it fizzle out gradually. For a less confrontational approach, you can also just let old friendships fizzle out with time. By not interacting with someone regularly and turning down invitations to go out, the relationship will eventually burn out and turn into more of an acquaintance. This is a natural consequence due to your habits and lifestyle changing.

Every situation is different, but depending on the nature of the relationship, you may need to break things off with a significant other or even a family member. This process can be incredibly difficult but it’s often necessary to safeguard your sobriety.

It’s not always possible to avoid or end relationships with people who use drugs and alcohol. (for example, family members that you may see at holiday get togethers or family events) The best way to control the situation is to control the ways in which you interact with them. Determine the setting of the interaction (aka in public at a coffee shop instead of at someone’s house where they’re more likely to use drugs and offer them to you) Or, you can bring along a friend who does support your sobriety as an accountability buddy

Why Is Spending Time With Sober Friends Important?

As you end old, harmful relationships, it’s also critical to develop new, healthy friendships with other sober people. These types of friendships are absolutely necessary to maintaining a long-lasting and fulfilling life in recovery. Below are the main reasons you should spend time with sober friends, even if you don’t consider yourself to be a “social butterfly.”

  • Sober friends provide social support, encouragement, and motivation.
  • They can give you helpful and reliable advice based on their own experiences with addiction, treatment, and recovery.
  • They are more likely to share a similar lifestyle and also prioritize sobriety, holistic wellness, and healthy relationships.
  • These relationships will help you feel less alone, as loneliness is a big trigger for relapse.
  • They will help you get out and try new things, which will boost your confidence and self-esteem.
  • They can support you as you overcome feelings of vulnerability and anxiety in the early stages of sobriety.
  • Spending time with sober friends will fill your time with valuable things. (You’re more likely to head to the bar with your old drinking buddies if you have nothing else to do.)

Related post: How to Make New Sober Friends in Sober Living: A Guide to Sober Friendship

Establish a New Sober Life For Yourself at Eudaimonia Recovery Homes

Creating new friendships and leaving harmful ones behind is easier when you’re living in a supportive, sober environment. At Eudaimonia Recovery Homes, our sober living homes and apartments are intentionally designed to give men, women, and LGBTQ+ individuals in recovery the best chance at success in recovery after rehab. 

All our residents are required to attend local support group meetings, which increases opportunities to connect with other sober individuals. Additionally, residents have weekly house meetings and group events to support social and fun sober activities. We also offer certified peer recovery support programming, which pairs each resident with a certified peer recovery support specialist to help them adjust to sober life outside of rehab and address relapse triggers and risks early to prevent lapses.

If you’d like more information about our sober living homes in Austin, Houston, and Colorado Springs or you’d like details on our recovery support services, please call (888) 424-4029 today to speak with an admissions representative.


  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8387616/ 
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1852519/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18425655/ 

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