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The Fifth Dimension of Recovery: Social

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

Addiction is an isolating disease that wants us to be alone, and in recovery we must find ways to connect with others to counteract this tendency. According to Drs. Rob Whitley and Robert E. Drake in their article Recovery: A Dimensional Approach “social recovery involves establishing and maintaining rewarding relations with family, friends, peers, and significant others.”

Unfortunately, not everyone enters recovery with family or friends that support them. Some of us have isolated ourselves from everyone that cares about us, or in our addiction we may have lost the trust of our loved ones, leading them to cut us out of their lives completely. If you’ve been cut out from your loved ones' lives, it’s important to remember that it takes time to rebuild trust. We did not lose trust overnight and we cannot expect to regain trust overnight either. As we work on ourselves and stay committed to recovery, others will begin to see the changes within us. We need to lead with our actions rather than with our words.

In explaining social recovery, Whitley and Drake say that it “refers to such factors as engaging in rewarding social activity (for example, sports), actual and felt community integration, and active citizenship.”

Following is a list of places where you can find social support, and activities that you can participate in that will broaden your social circle.

  • Support group meetings: It can be extremely helpful to talk to someone else who understands what you are experiencing. In support groups you will meet people in recovery who have been where you are, this may help you to feel less alone and more hopeful. Many individuals benefit from attending support groups and making connections within the meetings.

  • Recovery events: Many support groups plan monthly events. These can include picnics, dances, and sporting events or conferences. Recovery events will give you an opportunity to meet new people and participate in fun, sober activities.

  • Exercise class / group workout: Working out is not only great for your mind and body, but it also provides a place to meet like-minded people. Examples of popular workouts that can be done socially include: yoga, CrossFit, spinning, and Zumba. Individuals who work out are generally interested in taking care of their body and living a healthier lifestyle.

  • Recovery Community Organizations (RCO): RCOs (also known as Recovery Community Centers) are non-profit organizations that offer a variety of recovery support services. RCOs are often staffed by people in recovery, and they provide an opportunity to connect to support services, meet new people, and take part in recovery activities.

  • Community college: Whether you want to start or finish a degree, gain a certification, or learn a new skill like photography, enrolling in a class will give you an opportunity to meet new, interesting people.

  • Volunteer: Volunteering at your local RCO, homeless shelter, school, church, or non-profit is an excellent way to expand your social circle and to meet like-minded people. As an added bonus, volunteering not only gives us the opportunity to meet new people but it also offers us the opportunity to give back and to make a difference within our community.

  • Social media groups: There are many social media groups that focus on people in recovery. Like support groups, many of these groups organize events and offer excellent opportunities for engaging with other people in recovery. Some of these groups are tailored for specific individuals, for example young people in recovery. Joining one of these groups can help you connect with people with similar interests, whether they live in your area or in a different country.

Everyone has experienced isolation and disconnection over the past year and a half due to COVID-19. Many of the activities and social outings that we may have regularly engaged in were canceled or postponed indefinitely. This has challenged us to think outside the box about how we can connect with others.

Following are some suggestions about how you can safely connect with others during the pandemic:

  • Plan a coffee or dinner date with a friend over FaceTime,Skype or Zoom.

  • Plan a game night and stream a game like Jack Box on Zoom.

  • Take a socially-distanced walk in a park.

  • Join a recovery app where you can talk to others in recovery.

  • Attend a virtual recovery meeting.

If you are struggling with your relationships with family and friends, or with making connections with others, please seek out the help of a social worker, counselor, or spiritual leader. If you need help finding a professional, reach out to us at the Addiction Policy Forum Helpline 833-301-4357.

Complete the following worksheet to evaluate your social dimension of recovery.

There are five dimensions of recovery and over the past few weeks I have covered the first four dimensions: clinical, physical, functional, and existential. This post focuses on the fifth and final dimension of recovery, social.

If you’d like to learn more about the five dimensions of recovery, read this article by Dr. Rob Whitley and Dr. Robert E. Drake.

Download our Social Dimension of Recovery Worksheet:

Social Dimension of Recovery Worksheet
Download DOCX • 13KB


[1] Recovery: A Dimensional Approach, 2010.

Kayla Zawislak is the Lead Engagement Specialist at the Addiction Policy Forum. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work, and is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor.


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