A Step By Step Guide To Rebuilding Relationships During Rehabilitation And Recovery

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Addiction doesn’t just affect the physical body, it impacts the relationships between the user and the people around them. It is a family disease that spreads to everyone involved.


For people in recovery, relationships are important on the road to sobriety. The first couple of months after rehabilitation are the most difficult with 72.6% of patients relapsing within the first 90 days.

Having a support system can help keep a patient sober and accountable. Unfortunately, addiction can break down relationships that are needed for recovery.

Either through physical or mental means, addiction causes a person to behave in ways that aren’t typical of their character.

Rebuilding relationships is just one part of rehabilitation, some steps can be taken to go about fixing relationships the correct and healthy way.

How Addiction Affects Relationships

How Addiction Affects Relationships

When suffering from addiction, the personality can also change. It can turn negative and not reflect the user’s true feelings.

At the beginning of addiction, the changes in behaviour are subtle but can rapidly escalate, addicts are good at lying and saying that this change is an isolated incident.

Once in a cycle of addiction, it is hard to get out of it. An addict is not in complete control of what they say or do, the substance makes them completely reliant on it and not consider the people around them.

Common Relationships Affected By Addiction

The main relationships affected are the ones that are built before addiction, this includes family, friends, coworkers, and significant others.

If a person could see how substance abuse has affected the person they love, then they are more inclined to place blame or harbour resentment.

Parents’ reactions to addiction can greatly affect a patient’s recovery. They can be very understanding and willing to help, or bitter that the person they raised now relies on substances.

Not only are the interactions between people impacted, but others’ mental health can also be affected. Especially those who are close to the user when they are at the height of their addiction.

A study found that women in a relationship with an alcoholic were more likely to develop mood and anxiety disorders.

Unfortunately, people affected by someone else’s addiction may develop some form of PTSD that needs to be addressed separately.

How Are These Relationships Affected?

Addiction can lead to changes in behaviour that can create trust issues and fear. These issues can lead to guilt later in life that needs to be addressed in rehabilitation.

There are behavioural changes not just during addiction but also during withdrawal, rehabilitation, recovery, and sobriety.

A person’s routine and habits may also change while going through these stages. These parts of recovery need to be addressed separately and dealt with differently for each individual.

Loved ones may also excuse the user’s behaviour. A codependent lifestyle could be built where a caregiver enables the addiction or ruins their own life trying to ‘fix’ the addict.

Some family members may distance themselves from a person to avoid further hurt. Neither of these actions can support a person going through addiction.

Relationships can be affected by the person not going through addiction. Family members may believe that the best method to help someone is through a ‘tough love’ approach and not offer support from the beginning.

Other family members will try to help, these conflicting beliefs may cause strife in a household and lead to a toxic environment.

Turmoil in a family will lead an addict to lean heavier on substance abuse as they feel to blame for the arguments. When substance abuse gets consuming then issues with the law can happen.

Commonly this is through the buying of illegal substances, stealing, abuse, or destruction of property.

Damaging Behaviour

Behaviour changes in addicts are commonly found to be negative and lead to harmful actions. These behaviours include lying, saying hurtful things, and being absent from important events.

Actions can escalate to stealing, being unfaithful, and violence. While addiction can cause a person to act differently, it is not an excuse for their behaviour.

Addicts can use manipulative behaviour on loved ones to get resources to fuel their addiction. Substances can hinder a person’s ability to feel empathy or an understanding of consequences.

The drug or alcohol of choice becomes an all-consuming thought in the addict’s head.

How To Reconnect And Rebuild Relationships In Rehabilitation

How To Reconnect And Rebuild Relationships In Rehabilitation

Most relationships can be fixed with perseverance and a genuine want to rebuild.

Relationships that were damaged through addiction may have led to PTSD on both sides, when this has happened it is important to start the rebuilding process on neutral ground.

This neutral ground can be the rehabilitation centre, a therapist’s office, or even a public area like a park or cafe.

Be The First To Reach Out

It is recommended that patients are the ones to reach out first to show a desire to fix any damages and take accountability for their actions.

The fear of embarrassment or rejection is enough to stop people from reaching out but it is an important step in the recovery process.

It is found that social relationships are just as helpful in recovery as treatment is. The first communication can be with several methods such as a phone call, text message, or email.

Communication may need to stay this way until both parties are ready for in-person interaction. When starting life after addiction, a patient may be inclined to ignore the past in favour of focusing on the future.

This can be damaging in the long run as it doesn’t address the root of the addiction and creates a false idea of what recovery is.

Reaching out first to rebuild the relationship shows that the patient is trying to amend the past and is taking the appropriate steps during their rehabilitation process.

After reaching out during recovery, some people will not respond or respond negatively. A patient must be strong enough in themselves to be able to take this kind of news without destroying all the progress they’ve made in recovery.

This is why making amends is the 9th step of the ‘12 step programme’ in recovery and is only encouraged after substantial progress has been made.

A person may need time after being reached out to make contact. As long as they know the invitation is there then that could be enough to encourage them to think about reconciliation.

Apologise To Your Loved Ones

Apologise to your loved ones

Admitting guilt and remorse is not an easy step, but it is the first stage in rebuilding a broken relationship.

The key is to not put extra blame onto each other, apologies should be taken as a promise to fix any damage. Not just to fix what happened, but also what didn’t happen.

The best way to apologise is with the truth. Explaining everything at the beginning of reconciliation can help to remove any chance for surprises in the future. It can also help both parties to understand the feelings that each action has caused.

Even if a relationship is beyond repair and both sides are at fault, it is still important to apologise. Admitting one’s fault in the relationship is needed to pursue healthier relationships in the future.

If a patient doesn’t want to rebuild a relationship, apologising will help them to feel better about their recovery and also promotes healthier relationships in the future.

Be Open

Support goes 2 ways, if one person is closed off then the relationship can’t be rebuilt. It is not just up to the patient to be open, but it is also important for the people close to them to be open. Burying any feelings can be damaging and lead to further conflict.

Both parties need to be patient, impartial, and receptive to any conversation. Being open allows for a safer space to bring up any concerns. An example is to address any enabling or codependent behaviour which may have arisen during the recovery period.

Communication about issues is needed in every kind of relationship, not just the ones where addiction was involved. Having a safer space for communication can also lead to the root of the addiction.

Substance abuse doesn’t happen without reason and may have been sparked by a certain event or a person. Addressing this cause can help to mitigate it from happening again.

Express Your Gratitude

Rehabilitation is a healing process that not everyone is fortunate enough to go through. The people around the patient aren’t there to see all the progress that has already been made and are waiting for their turn to offer support.

It is important to thank them for waiting and being patient through the whole process. It is also important to thank the people who want to rebuild the relationship. Addiction can make a person seem unforgivable, but if someone can look past that and want to get to know the real person then that needs to be appreciated.

Accept That Relationships Have Changed

Relationships changing is not necessarily for the worst. Sometimes people come out stronger from an event and can grow together. These types of relationships need to be cherished as they are shown to stand the test of time.

Unfortunately, relationships can also be destroyed after addiction. It is pivotal that if this happens then all grievances are aired so that it is known what went wrong. Some relationships will continue to be broken after recovery, this is a natural part of healing and growing.

The relationship can also be broken by the patient. During the recovery process, it is common for patients to see which relationships are hindering their rehabilitation. Especially those still using substances that encourage relapsing or be detrimental to their recovery.

It is within a patient’s rights to remove themselves from any relationships they don’t want a part in.

Hear Your Loved Ones Out

Loved ones involved will have grievances and advice throughout the recovery process. They weren’t there during the initial rehabilitation and may not believe that recovery is possible. It is a long road to make some people believe that sobriety is achievable, and that can only be done through actions.

It is important to remember that everyone’s recovery process is different. This is not only for the patient, but the people around them. They also went through the addiction but as an observer and as someone who cares.

While they aren’t actively going through rehabilitation, it is still important to hear what they have to say. Their advice just has to be considered to show support and validate their experiences even if the patient doesn’t agree with what they say.

Actively Make Amends Starting In Rehabilitation

The earlier a relationship is addressed, the more time is available to start rebuilding it. Reaching out during rehabilitation can offer an additional support system and give a patient motivation during their recovery.

Amends is not just about apologising, it is about actions. This could be through supporting them through their issues or fixing physical damage like paying people back.

While making amends during rehabilitation is important, the process of recovering needs to be focused on first. Trying to rebuild relationships too fast will hinder recovery as the patient hasn’t learnt to focus on and love themselves first.

Set Reasonable Expectations

Set reasonable expectations

While goals are important for patients, having too many or unreasonable ones can be overwhelming. The early enthusiasm for a sober life can fade quickly when immediate results aren’t seen.

Having small and achievable goals allows the patient to make quicker progress and motivates them since they’re seeing visible results.

Science shows that addiction is a disease, statistically, alcohol addiction is roughly 50% inherited. This means that it has to be treated like any other disease and handled with patience and care.

While addiction is considered a disease, it doesn’t excuse the behaviour of the person while they were under the influence, it merely gives a reason.

Some people struggle to separate the disease from the person which hinders recovery. It is important to recognise that there is a person beyond their addiction.

Agree To Let Go And Move On From The Past

When it comes to moving on in a relationship, there should be forgiveness but not forgetting. Every challenge must be taken on together so that the relationship can grow stronger from it.

By agreeing to move on, it is not ignoring what happened. It is simply accepting that what happened is in the past and that the future is what needs to be the focus. The past cannot be changed and dwelling on it can be harmful to both sides of the relationship.

Attend Support Meetings Together

Attend support meetings

Rehabilitation meetings are not just for the patients. Attending meetings can help to create a mutual understanding of what the recovery process contains and how to build a relationship with someone going through it.

The meetings can offer advice on how to stay sober or deal with certain issues that arise during recovery.

There may be resistance to this idea. People who are not needed in the meetings may see it as meaningless to attend them. It is important to understand how both sides can benefit from support meetings.

There are support meetings specifically for people affected by addiction and can be a great stepping stone to mutual understanding.

Tips To Regaining Trust In Recovery

All relationships are built on trust, they are easy to break but harder to rebuild. There are ways to show commitment to a relationship and show a desire to fix it.

Trust comes from both sides in a relationship. While the patient needs to show they can be trusted, the loved one may need to relearn how to trust a person and show that they in turn can be trusted.

Maintain Sobriety

One of the hardest but most important parts of rebuilding a relationship is to stay sober. In a 2019 study, 100% of the people who previously had an alcohol addiction, but were in active recovery, said that their sobriety has led to a better relationship with their family.

Sobriety can be maintained through support from others and discipline from the patient. It is encouraged for patients to find a hobby that can be used as a substitution or distraction.

It is recommended that a patient stays sober for at least one year before trying to pursue a romantic relationship. This way they can find and love themselves before relearning to love someone else.

It is recommended that recovering addicts don’t enter romantic relationships with other recovering addicts, while common ground and understanding are there, they could inadvertently encourage negative behaviours during rehabilitation.

Maintaining sobriety can also help the patient get back onto the job market. Not only does a job provide a routine, but also allows them to meet new people.

Previously an addict’s relationships would have revolved around those that were there during the rehabilitation process, meeting new people allows for a relationship to be built without any negative past actions.

Consider Therapy

Consider therapy

There is a distinction between rehabilitation and therapy. Even after rehabilitation is finished, it is encouraged for the patient to take additional therapy.

Not only does it help to maintain sobriety, but it also shows a commitment to others that the patient desires to stay sober. Therapy offers advice on how to manage rehabilitation, and also provides a judgement-free zone to talk about any issues.

Living without the addiction can be challenging. People choose to take drugs or alcohol for several reasons and the thought of living without them is scary. Therapists can help a person adapt to a life without the support that addiction gives them.

The beginning stages of sobriety are the hardest and a therapist can help tackle any thoughts of relapsing. Therapy is not just for those in recovery, but also for family members and friends. Addiction can negatively impact people even if they aren’t the ones using substances.

A common therapy type for patients is CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). CBT helps to show how thoughts and feelings can affect one’s behaviour, the aim is to get a person out of a vicious cycle created by negative thoughts.

On top of recovery, CBT is also beneficial for helping with anxiety, depression, and insomnia. There are types of therapy that specify different relationships, such as family therapy and couples therapy.

By attending these people get a more tailored therapy session to their issues and what their relationship entails.

Make A Commitment To Being Trustworthy

Patients have to show their ability to be trusted. Words can only go so far, and most of the rebuilding has to be done through actions.

The main way to show trustworthiness is to be a part of a person’s life. Showing up when they ask, helping them out when needed, and repairing any broken promises. A recovering addict should also pay off any debts they may have to loved ones.

By paying a person back it shows how they are willing to fix their actions, it also shows that a ‘helpful’ action like lending money wasn’t forgotten.

Attending meetings and sessions is also an effective way to gain trust. While the patient is not obliged to say what goes on in those meetings, the knowledge that they are actively attending them can reassure loved ones that progress is being made.

Practice Communication Skills

Any time spent with addiction can completely change a person’s communication methods. Patients may need to learn new methods to converse with people that don’t involve addiction or support from substances. Support systems can be found in the community to help kick start the process.

Any self-deprecating language will also need to be unlearnt. When going through addiction, it is easy for the user to think negatively about themselves. During recovery, they need to establish a healthy mentality and learn how to set up any necessary boundaries.

These boundaries can be between the people the patient is close with, and also those who they have little interaction with.

Communication is also about listening, addiction is a self-centred disease so recovering from that is hard work. It can be as simple as maintaining eye contact and not interrupting, but these actions prove that the patient is willing to learn.

Patients want to show that not only are they listening, but also understand what the person is saying and feeling. Support systems will also teach patients how to deal with any disputes that may happen during a conversation.

Communication isn’t always positive and being able to have a negative conversation without resorting to previous coping mechanisms is pivotal for a patient’s recovery. The best strategy for these kinds of conversations is to change the topic or remove themselves from the conversation.

Consider Journalling

Journalling provides a physical way for a patient to see their progress. It can help to keep them motivated and have a clear line to their goals.

While it can keep a patient on the right track, it is also a good outlet for emotions. It can allow them to express what they’re feeling outside of therapy. Knowing their state of mind also allows a patient to understand the importance of self-care.

Self-care can produce healthy coping mechanisms and a calmer state of mind. Sometimes there are actions or feelings that a recovering addict doesn’t want to share with their family or friends.

A journal will provide an outlet for these thoughts so that when the time is right they can be appropriately expressed.

Stay Active In Your Loved One’s Lives

Stay active in your loved ones

It may seem simple, but staying in contact with people and keeping promises goes a long way toward creating a stable relationship. This includes making time for one another and taking an interest in each other’s hobbies.

During the initial stages of recovery, the patient will need to attend a lot of meetings and sessions and may not be able to set aside a lot of time for rebuilding relationships. The importance of these meetings will need to be understood and there is always time to heal after rehabilitation.

Family and friends are encouraged to participate in healing activities, not only to help rebuild a relationship but to show support for the person in recovery.

As for romantic relationships, if it was established before the addiction started then the relationship has to be rebuilt from the beginning.

That includes creating a friendship before anything romantic. Addiction and rehabilitation can change a person’s mindset and a romantic relationship may not be what they desire.

Prepare For Resilience

It is important to understand that other people can’t be controlled. They will have their own opinions that will take work to be proved wrong. People in recovery will face opposition and will need to stay strong and overcome it.

Patients had rehabilitation and therapy to heal, relationships need that same time. It cannot happen overnight and people will need to be shown evidence of change.

Relationships made during addiction may be resistant to rehabilitation because they’re worried that the person they know will be changed. It is up to the patient to show that the person they are becoming is their true self and that they are stronger and better when maintaining sobriety.

Be Patient

Healing relationships takes time. If it is rushed then it can cause a larger break that cannot be fixed. Something as important as a relationship will need to be tackled one step at a time and treated with care.

Some family members or friends will also need time to accept the change. Sometimes people have been trying to help the patient for many years without any success, and the idea of them making actual progress can be unbelievable.

Forgive Yourself First

Forgive yourself first

It is easier to forgive those who have forgiven themselves first, the recovery process starts from within. Those not recovering from addiction may also need to forgive themselves for healing. During recovery, a person may find that they were inadvertently encouraging the addiction with their actions.

While forgiving oneself is important, it is just as important to not forget. Learning from mistakes is a key point in growing a relationship and improving mental health. A patient must have accountability for their actions and an understanding of how they might have impacted the future.

Unfortunately, substance use is becoming more common. The 2018/19 Crime Survey found that roughly 1 in 11 adults has taken a drug in the past year in the UK.

These high figures are why forgiveness is so important when it comes to recovery from substance abuse as it shows anyone can be affected by addiction.

Change For Yourself

Relationships are needed for support and progress as a person, but rehabilitation is always the patient’s top priority. Not just to stop addiction, but also to help their mentality and emotions.

Recovery is a long and slow process. The result is very rewarding but keeping up the motivation to get it is hard. Every step has to be celebrated, no matter how small it may seem.

Many self-help books can help a patient understand not only the recovery process but what they want their life to be. People rehabilitating from addiction don’t see their life beyond recovering, but there is a whole world to be explored and recovery is just one part of it.


Recovery is a lifelong process, relationships will be created and others will be broken. Both are needed to grow from addiction. As long as a person is focusing on recovery, then relationships will rebuild naturally over time.

The path to rebuilding lost relationships starts small, the desire to have a positive connection with people must come from within. With enough hard work and perseverance then a relationship can be stronger after addiction than it was before.

While rebuilding relationships is important, creating healthy and lasting relationships post-rehabilitation is just as necessary.

People are constantly growing and changing, this means that any relationship with that person will also need to adapt. This natural growth is true to relationships in and out of addiction.

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