Social support is not the same as a support group. Support groups are structured managed meetings. A social support network is a circle of people who increase your sense of belonging, purpose, self-worth, and promote your positive mental and physical health. People with varied and strong social supports live longer (MayoClinic.com, 2005). Talking with a non-using friend over coffee can help you through difficult times. Your non using friends and social contacts can encourage you to stay free of drugs and alcohol and support you to manage stress and depression. They can also be there to celebrate your successes and you can be there to celebrate theirs. Sometimes, just knowing someone is there for you is enough to reduce stress and let you get on with living your new life.
Social support plays a critical role as a determinant of relapse. Positive social support is highly associated with reduced relapse and negative support with increased use (Marlatt, & Donovan, 2005). There is a high probability of your relapse if your network includes people with whom you have high levels of conflict and people who use. To reduce your relapse risk, you need to seek out people who will support you in your decision to stop drinking and using and avoid those people who will not support you.
Your social support network needs to include friends, colleagues, and acquaintances you can turn to for friendship or help in times of crisis. Make sure your life partner is supportive of your abstinence and life goals. Your network can help you achieve your life goals, if you find sufficient people who are able to provide:
- Emotional support.
- Some practical help.
- Share points of view with you (Fairbrother, 2004).
Using a blank piece of paper, take as long as it takes, and list all your family members, friends, work and school contacts. Remember to include your current family relationships that you have already assessed.
Step 1: Weed Out There are people in our lives that by their presence and their actions influence us to make decisions, take actions or view ourselves in ways that are self-harming and self-defeating. Strike these people from your list. First cross out the people who use. During the first few months following abstinence, it is imperative that you
limit or eliminate any contact with people who are actively using drugs or alcohol. Contact with people who use should be limited to a safe place and to when they are sober or free of drugs. These people typically have substances in their homes, on their person or have active contacts for accessing drugs and will continue to put you at risk of relapse.
Next review your list and cross out people who are physically or verbally abusive to you. Next, cross out people who may manipulate you. These are people who cause high stress in your life through their behaviors. Planning to stay away from people who may put you at risk is called problem avoidance. By practicing problem avoidance you will be keeping yourself safe.
Step 2: Family and Friend Support Now identify positive family, friends and contacts. Circle the names of the people who are able to provide positive support to you and who have the abilities and resources that match the type of support you need. Use your “Support Network Worksheet” at the end of this chapter and the following categories to help you clarify in your own mind the type of help individuals may be able to provide. Start your list now.
Emotional supporters are people who tell you they care about you, believe in you, and who think well of you. They help you to stay true to your goals and give you the opportunity to help them as well. They give you honest feedback, both positive and negative (Fairbrother, 2004).
Practical helpers are people who care enough to give you help with things like money, food, assistance with cooking or a safe place to stay. These people are capable of giving practical help because they have the resources themselves and they are willing to share them with you. They help you to meet your goals by giving support that directly keeps you on track. They are people who do not hold their help as ransom or expect particular behaviors from you. They are credible people whose help you see as valuable and dependable (Fairbrother, 2004).
People who are able to share different points of view need to be part of your network. These are people whose knowledge, information, and experience can help you to develop your life goals and find success (Fairbrother, 2004). These are people you can turn to in times of doubt, when making key decisions or solving particular problems. Think of the multiple skills you will need to succeed in all spheres of your life, relationships, physical and mental health, work and school, home and community, and communications. You will need credible, knowledgeable people who are willing to offer their honest opinion about how they view particular situations. They will be willing to tell you how they would choose to handle a situation and help you to make your own best decisions. Think of people like
your counselor, minister or even your neighbor.
Experts can give you factual information, and are people you turn to for quality information before you take action (Fairbrother, 2004). This area is particularly important when it comes to making decisions regarding your health, future goals or even your past experience of addiction. These people can be doctors, teachers . . . experts in any area you need help.
Make your own resource list of all the sources of information you can use to get additional facts to validate and plan for your life goals. These may include websites, government agencies, and organizations that have factual information available to you in your community.
It is now time to pick your best social support for each area. Try to have at least one person as a support in each of the four areas: emotional support, practical help, sharing points of view, and sharing information. If you have only one support person to cover all areas, eventually, they will burn out. It is easier to find people who have particular skills rather than looking for someone who can be everything for you.
Your current connections with your family, friends, and others can be improved and enriched to ensure they remain meaningful as you change and grow. Changing your connections with your family requires taking the time to plan in detail how you can relate to them differently and how you can have them see you differently. Think of areas in their lives where you can provide assistance or can recognize their strengths. Do they have interests that you can talk about or participate in that are not related to your old roles? Are there ways you can help them? Everyone needs helping people in their lives.
Our sense of dignity and self worth is reinforced when we can act as helping adults for others and practice compassion and caring. The risk of relapse is reduced for those who also engage in providing assistance to people in their support network as well as receiving assistance. Lending support to others is part of building your support network and it will increase your sense of personal value (Brooks, & Goldstein, 2004).
Look at relationships as opportunities to help you meet the variety of needs in your life and to provide help to other people. Creating vibrant relationships means ending some relationships, beginning new relationships, and improving others. All relationships require work. You will now want to challenge, change or renew many of your relationships.