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Relapse Prevention
with John Leadem, LCSW & Shawn Leadem, LCSW

Getting Sober in an Unsympathetic or Unsupportive Environment

blame-figuresDisclaimer: there is never a good justification for relapse. Deciding to take the word “blame” out of your vocabulary may turn out to be the most important decision you make before finally experiencing the joys of life long sobriety. All the excuses for why you decide to relapse are really just that: excuses.

With this disclaimer in mind, here are some very important words of caution to those trying to get sober in an unsympathetic or unsupportive environment.

Your planning efforts for stabilizing your recovery must always consider the environment that you are getting sober in. This is because the level of support available to you may have a negative or positive impact on how you meet the challenges of early recovery. Again – please do not mistake this caution or the recommendations below to mean that you can only get and maintain sobriety in the most optimal environment for you. We can and do get and maintain sobriety in the worst and best of times, places, and circumstances.

The physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges endured by those we love and are emotionally engaged with are usually quite significant. It may take some time to address the fractured structure of our relationships. Some of our loved ones or friends might never heal, and that is tragic, but many seemingly lost relationships have been mended in the course of recovery for countless others before you.

However, every relapse into active addiction reduces the likelihood of that healing and reconciliation. The swath of the addiction’s destruction can be wide and deep, and a declaration of abstinence and a promise to change is not necessarily going to alter the minds and the hearts of the people who have shared in your tragic unmanageability of body, mind, and spirit.

The environment that you are getting sober in may not be supportive or safe for you in the early days. If you believe that you are trying to get sober in an unsympathetic or unsupportive environment consider the following when you are just developing stabilization in your recovery and sobriety:

  • If your family and friends have withdrawn from you, do not force yourself on them, as you are likely to threaten their security and people can behave poorly when they feel threatened.
  • If your current living environment includes other active addicts, consider a temporary change in your living arrangements until you are stable, especially if the other parties involved are unwilling to abstain from their addictive behavior after you have presented your request.
  • Secure help from members of your support group to establish a clean house. It is usually safer to keep all prospective drugs of choice outside of your living environment. We understand that you can easily leave the home to secure your drug of choice but your immediate surroundings should be free of opportunities to relapse if possible.
  • Be careful not to remain in an environment that you find physically threatening. It is wise to secure a safe house prior to a time that you might need it. If there is a threat of physical abuse or anyone is behaving in a way that you find dangerous to them or others – get safe and call the police.
  • If someone in your inner circle of family or friends begins to inquire about your recovery behaviors invite him or her to attend a therapy session with you. You can also provide him or her with the contacts he or she will need in order to obtain information about your addiction or help for his or her problems from a professional who is experienced in the treatment of addiction as a primary illness.

While the environment that you are restarting or initiating your recovery in may not be supportive at the moment, it can change. The people in your life may have no reason to trust you, your commitment to recovery, or the changes you are making at the present time but they are likely to feel differently in the weeks and months to come.

On the other hand, some relationships may never heal. But we have found that more times than not, the emotional, behavioral, and spiritual changes that we make in our recovery have become a source of attraction to those who had previously lost trust in us.

Please share with us some of your own experiences or  thoughts on this subject. We would love to know what you have found to be beneficial or where you may have struggled. Please do not leave any comments below that may be reportable – that is, please do not disclose in your comments items that may indicate risk of suicide, homicide, or any other reportable abuse. This blog is meant for educational purposes only and should not be used as personal therapy. If you are suffering with suicidal thoughts or are in danger of being harmed please call 911 immediately.

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Getting Sober in an Unsympathetic or Unsupportive Environment

John Leadem, MSW, LCSW and Shawn Leadem, MSW, LCSW

Both John and Shawn Leadem are Licensed Clinical Social Workers in private practice in Toms River, New Jersey.

John has recently celebrated his 45th year in recovery and believes that “service to others is the cornerstone of spiritual maturity.” His professional service to addicted individuals and their families has included the development and direction of addiction treatment services in a full array of modalities from half-way houses to large residential treatment facilities over the past 44 years.

Shawn's lifelong exposure to the recovery culture and his personal recovery experience has left him with a deep personal empathy for the social and emotional suffering endured by others and a strong faith in a person’s ability to change. He has received his certification as a Sexual Addiction Therapist and as a Multiple Addictions Therapist by the International Institute for Trauma & Addiction Professionals.

Together, John and Shawn have co-authored and brought their unique treatment model of relapse prevention, An Ounce of Prevention: A Course in Relapse Prevention, to residential treatment centers across the United States, they have trained therapists at numerous national and international conferences, and most recently have trained many EAP programs associated with many State Unions.

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APA Reference
Shawn Leadem, J. (2017). Getting Sober in an Unsympathetic or Unsupportive Environment. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 23, 2019, from


Last updated: 22 Jun 2017
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