The Impact of Toxic Relationships In Recovery

Toxic habits like drug and alcohol addiction tend to attract toxic people. When you’re using, you may not be aware of the toxic relationships that are closest to you. Even non-addicts get sucked into emotionally destructive relationships.

This article discusses the pitfalls of toxic relationships in drug and alcohol recovery, how to avoid them, how to recognize them, how to get out of them, and how to recover.

How Toxic Relationships Start in the First Place

In the psychology of relationships, like attracts like. A common thread among addicted individuals is a turbulent family background. Drug and alcohol addiction can stunt emotional development and lead to poor coping skills. You repeat what you know, and before you realize it, you’re in a stormy relationship surrounded by negative people. These relationships can easily threaten alcohol and drug recovery.

Don’t be too hard on yourself! Your predisposition to unhealthy relationships is part of a well-documented phenomenon called assortative mating. It’s the natural process of selecting friends and partners who are similar to yourself.

How to Identify Toxic Relationships In Recovery

The first step towards weeding out toxic relationships is to identify them. How does that person make you feel? Do they help you feel more positive or negative? You’re going to need all the positivity you can get throughout alcohol and drug recovery, and there’s no room for negative deadweight.

Do they take part in destructive activities, like doing a lot of drugs, drinking frequently, and hanging out with the wrong crowd? Other toxic behaviors include stirring up excess drama, self-centeredness, and violating personal boundaries.

To simplify the process of identifying toxic people, see if you can categorize them into one of these five categories: Narcissist (self-absorbed), Underminer (back-stabbing, deceptive), Chronic Downer (depressed, negative), Flake (unreliable), or Critic (judgemental).

Keep a log of how your emotions change when you’re around them. After a few weeks of logging, their impact will be obvious. Making a record of your feelings makes it easier to decide to exit the relationship. The decision will already be on paper and more difficult to ignore.

How to End a Toxic Relationship

Addiction is a toxic habit that can feel impossible to break. Toxic relationships can be equally hard to end. You have to value your survival and ultimate happiness above all else. As you grow into the person you’re becoming, you’ll need to shed old relationships like a snake sheds its skin. You don’t have to stop loving the person, but you may very well need to stop seeing them.

There’s no easy way to end an intimate friendship or romantic relationship, just like there’s no easy way to get clean and sober. Chances are, it’s going to hurt. Keep in mind that your decision to end the relationship could be the wake-up call they need. When you run into them years down the line, they may thank you for inspiring them to turn a pivotal corner in their life.

How to Recover From a Toxic Relationship

In the aftermath of ending a toxic relationship, it’s important to surround yourself with positive friends. Positivity is contagious. You’ll need to soak up all the good energy you can in the wake a painful breakup.

Allow yourself to rest. In the midst of great change, having time to reflect is critical. Give your emotional equilibrium time to adjust. Build some alone time into your weekly routine. Fill that time with exploring things that interest you. Connect with productive activities. When it’s time to build new relationships, you’ll have positive interests to bond over.

Evaluating New Relationships In Recovery

According to Linda E. Weinberger, professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, idealization blinds people to the “red flags” of toxic relationships. You’re drawn to partners due to unconscious or semi-conscious drives that are influenced by cultural and biological forces.

Ask yourself a few simple questions to determine if a new friend will make a positive impact on your alcohol and drug recovery.

Do you feel more stressed around them?
Do you feel needy for their affirmation?
Do you feel manipulated or controlled in any way? Do they come across as jealous or possessive? Are they involved in destructive relationships?
Do they lack productive goals?

If the answer to these questions is a giant “NO,” then they may be a good candidate for a new relationship.

The Effects of Toxic Relationships on Health

When you’re in the midst of a toxic relationship, the adverse effects may be obvious to everyone but you. Toxic relationships can make you distrust the voice inside your head that points out red flags.

Toxic relationships elevate stress hormones. The constant tension from the relationship can keep the body’s fight-or-flight response engaged continuously. This may lead to chronic fatigue, a weakened immune system, poor digestive health, and hormonal imbalances.

The Whitehall II study was a landmark body of research on the effects of toxic relationships on stress and health. Researchers analyzed more than 10,000 people over the course of 12 years. They found that people who stay in negative relationships have an increased risk of dying from strokes and heart attacks. The effects have to do with a mechanism in the body called the CTRA (conserved transcriptional response to adversity). The CTRA is overactive in people who stay in toxic relationships, leading to increased inflammation and low immunity.

Other research has found that hostile relationships can even slow the healing of wounds.

Final Thoughts on Toxic Relationships and Recovery

Toxic relationships can be challenging to identify. It’s critical to your drug and alcohol recovery that you end toxic relationships and replace them with positive ones. Recovery is a time of dramatic change. Not everyone who you’ve bonded with during addiction will be a healthy presence as you move forward. Make a log of how the people closest to you make you feel. If their impact is thoroughly negative, they’ll have to go. Your health and recovery are at stake.

If you or someone you love is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, Stonewall Institute Treatment Center is happy to answer any questions you may have. Call us today at 602-535 6468 or email us at

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