Making Amends in Recovery
How Addiction Affects Relationships
Substance misuse and addiction affects more than just you—it impacts your relationships with friends, family, and other loved ones. Research indicates, for instance, that in families where there is a parent or caregiver with a substance use disorder, the clinical term for addiction, child development is impacted and there is a greater likelihood that the child will struggle with emotional, behavioral, or substance use problems.1
Additionally, substance use disorders can lead to poor communication, increased conflict, inconsistency, secrecy, financial and legal issues, and a lack of trust within the family, making it difficult for family members to build trusting relationships with others and complicating your relationship with them.1
What Does Making Amends Mean?
In recovery from addiction, there are different stages of relapse prevention, each of which involve personal growth and developmental milestones and all of which can increase the chances of sustained success in recovery. One of those is repairing the damage done by addiction, which includes confronting and mending the harm addiction caused to your confidence and self-esteem, employment, finances, and, of course, relationships.2
Mending relationships is Step 9 in Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-Step program.2 The step encourages you to make direct amends to those you have harmed, except when doing so would cause you or the other person injury.3
In AA, the 9th Step instructs you to make a list of the people you’ve harmed, reflect on each instance, and put yourself in the right mindset to proceed with making amends without delay, meaning doing it even if it scares you. Making amends requires you to take the full consequences for your past acts and to take responsibility for the well-being of others at the same time.4
How to Rebuild Relationships in Recovery
Rebuilding relationships with family, friends, and others within your circle is an important part of the repair stage of recovery but it’s not always easy. And unlike sustaining abstinence, which typically makes you feel better, confronting the damage you’ve done can make you feel temporarily worse.
Besides addressing the relationships that may have been harmed by addiction, you must overcome the guilt and negative self-labeling you may have placed on yourself during active addiction.
During this stage of recovery, you must continue working on yourself, which may include ongoing cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), participation in mutual-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, making self-care a priority, developing new healthy alternatives and hobbies to alcohol and drug use, and, of course, rebuilding relationships. For this, you need to learn to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable because owning up to the mistakes you made or the wrongs you committed against others during active addiction can be tough.2
Important Steps to Take While Making Amends and Rebuilding Relationships
There are a few things to consider as you begin the process of rebuilding relationships, including:2,3
- The manner in which you reach out. Not everyone may be ready for a face-to-face, sit-down heart-to-heart talk; boundaries need to be respected. Sometimes, the best way to initiate contact with someone who was negatively impacted by your addiction is over the phone or in a hand-written letter.
- Practice self-honesty. Take responsibility for your actions and be completely honest with the other person—unless, of course, your honesty is going to cause them unnecessary additional harm. Also, remember that this isn’t about anything they’ve done; it’s about what you’ve And, like sobriety, honesty should be part of your lifelong recovery journey.
- Let go of the past. Focus on the present and changing your old behavior patterns. You may have done things in the past that you consider unforgivable. However, to move forward, you must let go of the past. Remember that you are not your addiction and past behaviors do not define the present.
- Communicate effectively. Effective communication isn’t just about sharing. It also requires you to be a good listener. Participating in individual, couples’, or family therapy allows you to practice healthy communication and also encourages you to set healthy boundaries and respect others’ boundaries as well.
- Stay connected to your support system. Keep going to 12-Step or other mutual-help meetings, attending therapy sessions, and participating in other aspects of your relapse prevention plan. Leaning into these supports can help keep you grounded, connected, and committed to your long-term sobriety—and they can also help you through some of the more difficult aspects of recovery, like managing triggers and making amends.
- Be patient. Rebuilding trust takes time and effort. The process of making amends and repairing your relationships might take time and work, but it is worth it in the end.
How Does Making Amends and Repairing Relationships Help an Individual’s Recovery?
Evidence shows that having supportive relationships with caring family, partners, and friends proves to be helpful for individuals’ ability to abstain from substances and maintain sobriety. In fact, research indicates that fostering positive intimate relationships seems to be crucial for reaching long-term recovery from substance use.5
Finding Help for Addiction
If you’re not yet in recovery, help for active addiction is available. Overcoming a substance use disorder can be a long, sometimes frustrating process, but making the decision to break the cycle is an important first step.
If you’re ready to get help, call American Addiction Centers (AAC) at . Speak to one of our compassionate and knowledgeable admissions navigators, who can listen to your story, answer your questions, explain your options, verify your insurance (you can fill out the form above), and help you get started on your path to recovery.