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Creating Boundaries to Stay Sober in the Face of Peer Pressure

If you are in recovery from addiction, you know that being sober does not mean you never think of using. In reality, you experience urges and cravings that you must overcome. Sometimes these happen frequently and with intensity, while other times they are just passing thoughts. Much of treatment was spent learning to cope with these thoughts and urges without relapsing. 

You also spent time identifying the triggers that might threaten your sobriety. Merely seeing certain places and people can cause you to struggle with urges. It is important to identify these triggers and avoid them when possible. Unfortunately, they cannot always be avoided. This is especially the case in our society that glamorizes substance use and seeks to include it in every social gathering. You might feel like the only way to maintain a social life is to give in and have a drink, but being sober is not mutually exclusive with positive social relationships.

Remembering That “Fun” Will Look Different While Sober

Before treatment, your definition of “fun” most likely included substance use to some extent. You may have frequented places that served alcohol, such as bars and clubs. Many of your friends may have also used substances with you during many of your interactions. Your addiction likely took a darker turn as you neared treatment. Regardless of this, it may still be hard to shake that positive association.

Part of recovery is redefining fun. Early on, you may bargain with yourself that you can have “just one drink” because you are attending a special occasion. If you are spending time with old friends, you may want to fit in with them like you used to. It can be easy to romanticize the past once you have gained distance from it. Rose-colored glasses may hit, and you’ll start to think your addiction was not all that bad. Slipping back into this mindset can bring you close to relapse. It is important to keep in mind that substance use will not be “fun” like it used to be and that this is your opportunity to find new avenues for recreation.

Setting Sober Boundaries

One of the keys to creating a life that is both free from substances and fun is finding people to share it with. Relationships take a different type of work when you are in recovery. You need to be vigilant about maintaining healthy boundaries that protect against negative social influence. Setting boundaries involves establishing clear expectations for relationships. 

In order to create boundaries, you should first take an assessment of your own needs. Then you should determine how you can meet those needs in the context of your relationship with others. An example of a healthy boundary in recovery is not attending any social gatherings with alcohol. You may also assert that no one in attendance at the gathering is under the influence of substances. These are the stipulations that will help you attend the gathering while being mindful of your recovery. Communicate your boundary clearly and directly.

Boundaries can feel controlling or selfish if you are not used to asserting yourself. In reality, if someone does not agree with the expectations you have set, they do not need to attend your gathering. Additionally, if they do not agree, you can decide not to attend their events. Just as others need to respect your boundaries, you need to respect your own. Stay strong in your convictions. If you give in to please others, you’ll show them that you’re not serious about your expectations. It also potentially compromises your boundaries.

Reassessing Relationships 

Some people will respond enthusiastically to your boundaries. Their relationship with you means more to them than their relationship with alcohol. These are great people to have in your corner as you explore social scenarios while sober. 

On the other hand, other people will see your boundaries as unreasonable. They might encourage you to just have a drink and see how you feel. Additionally, they may ridicule you for not being as “fun” as you once were. As hard as it may be to let them go, these are people you can live without. 

Truly supportive people will understand the reasons you are sober. For these people, making adjustments and finding new ways to have fun is simply something they are willing to do because they value your friendship. It is possible you may not be able to find these people in your existing friend group, and some exploring might be necessary. 

Making New Friends

When meeting new people, it is best to be upfront about your sobriety. Now is the time to be picky. For example, if a new friend suggests meeting at a bar, you can suggest meeting at the coffee shop instead. If they want to go to a place you associate with your previous substance use, you can offer another place they might like based on their initial suggestion. By asserting your needs from the beginning, you can ensure that you are finding people who will not challenge your sobriety. Relationships that begin with healthy boundaries have the best chance of being fulfilling for both people.

It can also be helpful to seek out peers in recovery as you are reconstructing your social life. Spending time in a community dedicated to maintaining sobriety can remind you of your goals. It may help you feel less alone in your journey. Moreover, it can provide a sense of connection and belonging with others without running the risk of peer pressure. You can find these communities in your treatment center’s alumni group or support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, or Recovery Dharma.

Early recovery is a time of many changes. As you leave treatment and step back into your everyday life, there are many challenges to navigate. One important area of your life that might look different is your social life. Setting boundaries is an important safeguard against being pulled back into bad habits. Sage Recovery recognizes the difficulty of this task and is dedicated to helping you. We offer a variety of residential and outpatient treatment options to meet your mental health and substance abuse needs. We continue to support you after discharge through regular alumni groups. When you trust Sage Recovery with your care, you will never walk alone. Call us at (512) 306-1394 to learn more today.