Social support is one of the most important functions of social relationships, and is a key component in the treatment and recovery process for patients with substance use problems. Many people come to treatment lacking vital resources for support and have difficulty maintaining important social relationships due to substance abuse. Having a strong social support system in place after recovery can provide these individuals with the support, love and friendship to achieve abstinence and lasting recovery.
Recovery from substance abuse includes the ability to abstain from alcohol, illicit drug use and taking non-prescribed medications, and to make healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being. This is just one dimension of support outlined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
It is also important that patients in recovery engage in meaningful activities, function as independent, members of society with a sense of purpose and have a safe and stable place to live (i.e. home) to reach their full potential. Family members, friends, counselors and peers can serve as emotional support and are beneficial for improving recovery outcomes, self-esteem and self-confidence for patients in recovery.
After treatment, stress is one of the major contributors to relapse—it leads to more severe and longer lasting symptoms and is a major reason why people use drugs or alcohol in the first place. Patients early in recovery may have difficulty coping with stress, which is a major reason why they benefit so much from having a strong, supportive social network consisting of family members, friends, peers, counselors and other trusted people to provide them with emotional support during times of hardship and stress.
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s 2014 Stress in America survey, people who receive emotional support have lower levels of stress and better outcomes compared to those without emotional support. Stress has a negative impact on emotional health and contributes to symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental illness, which can lead to more severe, longer-lasting psychiatric symptoms and contribute to relapse.
Increasing social support is instrumental for people in recovery, because these individuals can better cope with stressful events that may lead to relapse and can be useful for supporting patients transitioning back into their communities after treatment. Emotional support is important for helping people deal with problems and lack of emotional support and loneliness that can lead to a number of physical and mental health problems.
Social support can enhance psychological well-being and help individuals in recovery cope with stressful events and triggers that can make it more likely for them to relapse. It is well-known that social support acts as a buffer against stress, isolation and loneliness, and can be helpful for reducing the severity and frequency of psychiatric symptoms.
Social support can promote greater subjective well-being for patients in recovery by providing them with an enhanced sense of belongingness, purpose, safety, security and hope. Some of the psychological benefits of social support include improvements in self-esteem, feelings of empowerment, functioning, quality of life and recovery. Conversely, the absence of a supportive social network contributes to poorer treatment outcomes and recovery.
Social support is an important aspect of recovery from substance abuse, mental illness and co-occurring disorders. The Sovereign Health Group understands the importance of having a strong social network of support in recovery to achieve physical and emotional wellness and maintain long-term abstinence. Patients who receive behavioral treatment at Sovereign Health receive holistic and individualized treatment and continued care services as part of our dedication to support patients in their recovery.
Written by Amanda Habermann, M.S. clinical psychology, Sovereign Health Group writer