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Toxic People: Cleaning Up your Friends List in Recovery

If you want to stay stuck, be unhappy, enjoy hours of dread and misery… by all means do not change toxic people, places and things when you get sober. It may seem mean to cut some people out of your life, but it’s a necessary evil in your early recovery.

Toxic people are draining, and they’ll suck the life out of you. I can remember being newly sober, fresh out of rehab at home, and family telling me I’ll never stay sober, “people don’t change.” I guess now, at 10 years sober, I can say they were very wrong.

Face the Hardships

Some days in early recovery it’s tough just to make it through the day without having a meltdown or mental break, the last thing you need is someone bringing you down with defeatist talk and negativity. Whatever happens, do not give up on yourself.

It’s our natural response. “If I have to put up with all these people and their chaos and drama, I might as well drink and use.” I can tell you those feelings are real, they’re common, and most of us will be thinking/feeling the exact same thing at some point in our recovery. But still, don’t use, don’t pick up, don’t drink. This too shall pass. Soon you will learn, that you don’t necessarily have to put up with people who bring chaos and drama. And soon, you can be well-versed in a program of recovery that helps you deal with toxic people who bring chaos and drama, in a way that keeps your sanity intact.

The Purge

Some of the people that you have to stop hanging out with will be obvious. Let’s start with your dealer and your bartender. Although I’m sure you two are very close, and have a bond or an emotional connection, you need to sever this relationship. They will get over it, they’ll be fine. Most of them don’t even know your name, let alone care about you in any way. Also, this being an obvious choice and easy to make, it’s a baby step in the work you’ll have to do.

Then, there’s the drinking buddies or using buddies. This is an obvious purge. If your only connection with someone is you drank with them at the bar or you used to get high together, continuing that relationship will only lead to failure. Besides, you’ve heard all of their lame stories and tall-tales and lies. You could go back to that bar in five years and the same people will be on the same stools drinking the same drinks and talking about the same things. It’s boring, stop being boring.


This can get dicey. Most relationships have history and are complicated; severing ties can upset the balance of power. It’s kind of like NATO. Belgium might be really crappy, but they are part of the alliance. Sometimes you just have to say screw Belgium. So, start with the people everyone can agree are crazy and awful. Crazy Aunt Mary who always ruins Thanksgiving is a good start.

Social media

Early recovery is a great excuse to cull the heard. Start with the snooze feature. You can now snooze people for a month. Start with snoozing 50 or so. At 30 days sober, this is a bad time for you to be exposing yourself on social media anyway, take a pause.

The Cleansing

Today and every day forward is your opportunity to set healthy limits and boundaries in all your relationships. The easiest way to start is financially. Don’t lend out any money for a while. You don’t have to pay for your cousin’s cellphone bill and get everyone on your Netflix account. Toxic people can be lurking everywhere, including your HBO GO account. Start fresh. Start anew. Now that that’s under your belt, you’re not required to keep taking crap from a relative because you’re related. Put everyone on notice, there’s a new sheriff in town and things are going to be different. And a newer, kinder and gentler you is here to build healthy bonds and have lasting relationships.

Renew Healthy Relationships

If you’re like most addicts and alcoholics, there are a lot of people— for whatever reason- you aren’t in touch with anymore. Without toxic people in your life, you’ll have more time to focus on the healthy ones. Reach out and renew the positive relationships. Reach out to an old friend who’s sober too. Call up a childhood friend or a college buddy. If you’ve had a strained relationship with someone you really care about, this is a perfect time to contact them with a fresh outlook on life and the future. The conversation can be as simple as “Hey Bob I’m sorry about the past, and I’ve missed you, how about we get a cup of coffee and start fresh?” This isn’t a 9th step, it’s just a start. The beauty of it is, right now you have this poor relationship with Bob that is a thorn in your side and might even be embarrassing, you make a call and you have a 50/50 chance it will do nothing but improve.

A few simple actions right now and a great deal of pain and misery can be avoided. Make the change, improve your life.

Reach Out

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, please reach out to us at 877-RECOVERY or 877-732-6837. Our admissions coordinators are here to listen and help, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because We Care.

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