Social connections and quality of life in recovery
Treatment for a substance use disorder can be challenging, whether residential or outpatient. Having a social network that provides emotional and functional support and that specifically supports abstinence can be vital to staying in treatment.
More than 500 adults in Norway participated in the national NorComt study and were interviewed once when they began treatment and again one year later. One hundred of them answered an extra questionnaire one year later that focused on quality of life. Most were still in treatment after one year, and nearly all had substantially reduced their substance use.
More abstinent networks after one year
Just over half said they now had an abstinent social network, compared to 32% when they entered the study. Similarly, 50% reported at least "good" quality of life, compared to 10% one year earlier.
Poor quality of life was strongly related to lacking various types of social contact, such as being unemployed and not in school/training (reported by seven of ten) and having no social network at all (reported by two of ten). Poor quality of life was also related to being depressed, of which nearly six of ten reported clinically concerning symptoms.
Several health-related variables also contributed to poorer quality of life, such as smoking, not exercising, and being dissatisfied with one's weight.
Treatment needs to focus on building healthy networks
What is promising is that most of these components can and should be addressed in treatment, particularly depression, smoking, and exercise. It is harder, however, to help adults build new social networks. But it is not impossible: specific interventions such as “social network mapping” have been developed to help participants brainstorm who they have in their lives who will support them in treatment, and how they can connect with new people to help them.
Having people around you who use substances is a clear risk factor for using substances yourself. It makes sense that the process of recovery is even harder if you don't have people who can support you in various ways: anything from refraining to offering you alcohol at dinner or watering your plants while you’re in checked in to the hospital, to simply saying that they’re proud of your for going to treatment.