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The Best Way to Reconnect with Old Friends After Drug Rehabilitation

Before I worked in addiction treatment, I went through my own process of recovery. One of the things I found hardest when leaving rehab was rebuilding my social circle. I wanted to reconnect with old friends, but I didn’t know how.

I had alienated many close friends while addicted to drugs. Some of them I had lied to and betrayed in numerous other ways. Others I’d simply ‘ghosted’, letting them down by canceling plans or just not showing up.

I also struggled with those who I hadn’t hurt. I was learning to feel proud of my recovery journey, but I still feared that others would see it differently. What if I met up with someone I cared for and they looked at me with pity or even contempt.

Reconnect with Old Friends after Drug Rehabilitation

Unfortunately, the friends who I could have most easily approached were those who I’d met through substance use. They were still in the throes of addiction, using drugs regularly and hanging out in unhealthy environments. Reconnecting with them would have made relapse entirely more likely.

But I needed the support of friends and I still loved those who’d journeyed with me in the past. It took time to heal relationships, but at the end of the day, I found a way forward.

Here is how you can reconnect with old friends after drug rehabilitation.

The Importance of Friendships After Rehab

Why is it important to reconnect with friends after leaving rehab? What’s wrong with taking time to settle back into normal life before building your social circle?

The reality is that loneliness is a major factor in mental illness and addiction. For many people, substances become a way of numbing out that sense of isolation. People with social anxiety may have started using substances to help them lose their inhibitions and meet people.

This is why group therapy is so important in rehab, and support groups are recommended after leaving rehab.

New friendships are incredibly helpful, but old friendships can give you a sense of stability, especially if these are people who helped support you in the past.

It’s not always possible to heal old relationships, but at the very least you should try to get closure. It can help you move on, both from chasing lost causes and from the sense of shame you may be holding onto.

Identify Your Relationship Priorities

Start by identifying which relationships are most important to you to repair. Be brutally honest with yourself. These should be people you actually want to be friends with, rather than those you feel a duty towards.

Once you’ve identified those who are your priorities, you can go about it in two ways. Some people prefer to get the most anxiety-inducing interactions out of the way and start with the people they feel most connected to.

Others, however, may want to start with those who will be easier to mourn if there is no way to heal the relationship. Consider your own personality. If you suffer a major disappointment early on, how difficult will it be to continue the process?

Examine The Impact of Your Substance Use

Before reaching out to your friends, you need to do an honest assessment of how much your substance use hurt them. This may take some deep self-reflection. Put yourself in their shoes and consider how you would feel if they had treated you the way you treated them.

Only when you’ve done this can you acknowledge your actions and apologize to them in a way they will appreciate.

Also, remember that you may not know about some of the ways you hurt them, including the impact your pain had on them. They may take a while to heal, and you need to be aware of this if they ask for more time.

Reach Out… Gently

You may feel the urge to reach out with the intention of seeing them as soon as possible. The tension might feel difficult to manage. However, it is best to be gentle in your approach.

Keep in mind that your apologies are primarily for their sake. If it seems like you’re just doing it to be forgiven, you will come across as disingenuous. As such, give them every chance to say no to a proposed phone call or meeting.

Acknowledge in your initial message that you know you’ve hurt them and that you have been working on yourself in rehab. Explain that you want to speak openly about the past.

Once they have shown a willingness to engage, you can start making plans.

Prepare Emotionally

Before speaking to them over the phone or in person, it is crucial that you prepare emotionally. This is because the conversation will bring up difficult feelings, which may make you defensive. You may experience the urge to push back or to withdraw. When you start the conversation, keep in mind that the best course of action is to note those urges and not act on them.

You also need to be prepared to protect your self-esteem. Your friend has not seen just how hard you’ve been working. Their reaction to you may bring up a sense of shame. This is normal, but it is important to remind yourself that feelings are not facts. You can feel shame without taking on its messaging. Ultimately, you should remain proud of what you have achieved.

Be Ready for Setbacks

Not all of your attempts to reconnect will go as planned. You might be reactive in the moment and say things you regret. Your friend might not understand your progress – or even undermine it. You might find that a relationship is unsalvageable.

These setbacks are tough to accept, but acceptance is crucial. No one is perfect, and that goes for both you and the friend. If you reacted badly this time, you can learn from your mistakes. If they are not open to you now, they may be in the future.

And if they undermine your recovery journey, you may need to accept that they are not going to be a positive influence in your life. Sometimes, closure is more important than trying to save an unhealthy relationship.


Reconnecting with old friends after leaving drug rehab is difficult. However, there are ways to go about it that validate your friends’ feelings without invalidating your own experience. Not all relationships are salvageable, but if you shy away from reaching out, you end up in a state of limbo, neither receiving the benefits of friendship nor experiencing necessary closure.

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