Who Stands By Recovering Drug Users?
The quality of our individual and group ties can significantly alter our chances of maintaining a sense of well-being and contributing to society. In a study published in May 2014 in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, a research team from two U.S. institutions assessed the types of social connections that are commonly maintained by people recovering from serious drug problems. These researchers found that people who maintain ties with recovering drug users frequently share specific characteristics.
Social connections operate on a number of levels, ranging from the close ties found between personal friends or family members to the looser associations found between people who share such things as hobbies, social routines, religious beliefs or political points of view. As a rule, humans rely on their social connections for three basic benefits: emotional support on a daily basis and during times of unusual stress, material support on a daily basis or during times of particular need, and the sharing of information that can improve daily life or help a person gain specific advantages or avoid specific problems. Social scientists often refer to social connections as social networks, although this word choice may seem strange to a generation raised on Facebook and other social media platforms. For any given individual, a social network can vary substantially both in size and the variety of social connections it contains. As a rule, resilient networks capable of providing flexible support have a fairly large and diverse number of connections.
By definition, people affected by diagnosable problems with drug abuse or drug addiction experience problems that reduce their ability to function in everyday life, including such things as highly drug-oriented behavior, drug use cravings, loss of control over the amount of drugs consumed and the forsaking of obligations in favor of drug-related activity. In many individuals, the impact of these problems is quite severe, or even debilitating. During the recovery process, all people with serious drug issues must take a number of steps to establish a drug-free lifestyle, maintain that lifestyle over time and successfully avoid a relapse back into active drug use. Like any person in crisis, a recovering drug user will inevitably benefit from strong, positive social connections that provide reliable emotional, material and informational support.
Which People Maintain Connections?
In the study published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, researchers from DePaul University and the Oregon Research Institute used an assessment of 270 adults to help determine which people typically maintain social connections with individuals recovering from serious drug problems. All of these adults had received legal sanction for a drug offense and completed participation in a primary drug treatment program. Some of the participants were on their way to additional involvement in a long-term residential care program, while others were on their way to involvement in an outpatient maintenance or aftercare program. Each study participant used a tool called the Important Person Inventory to identify the members of his or her social network. Six months later, the researchers conducted an analysis to determine which people still formed part of any given individual’s previously identified network.
After completing their analysis, the researchers found that people with certain characteristics have the highest chances of staying socially connected to recovering drug users. These characteristics include being a blood relative of the person going through the recovery process, being a member of a relatively small social support network, maintaining a drug-free lifestyle and maintaining a relatively consistent level of contact with a recovering drug user.
Establishing Effective Support Networks
Interestingly, the authors of the study published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse concluded that people who drink alcohol or have a history of criminal behavior are neither more nor less likely than others to stay in the social network of a recovering drug user. The authors note that it’s critical to understand which types of people will likely remain involved in the lives of individuals going through the recovery process. They also note the importance of determining how much the changing nature of a recovering drug user’s social network supports his or her chances of maintaining a drug-free lifestyle.
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