Recognizing When It’s Time to Let Go of Harmful Relationships

Young woman thinks

An essential aspect of getting sober is learning how to recognize the people in your life that negatively influence you. If you have an addiction, the chances are that there are at least a few people in your life that are bringing you down. While it may not be easy to look at the people in your life and decide they should no longer be there, it is an essential part of staying sober. It is much harder to maintain a sober lifestyle when surrounded by people who want you to fail.

While each situation is different, there are common factors to be considered when examining people in your life. Here are a few red flags to look out for that may indicate it is time to detach from someone.

1. They are not supportive of your sobriety.

For anyone in addiction recovery, the people closest to you must be supportive of your sobriety. When it comes to sobriety, there is so much more at stake than just “staying sober.” Addiction can ruin a person’s entire life, which makes it so important that people in recovery stay sober. When someone doesn’t respect your sobriety, that means they also do not respect you as a person; they do not respect your family or your life. Someone who does not care about these things is not your friend and is not someone who will positively impact your life.

2. They do not respect your boundaries.

When we first get sober, we must build up and learn to maintain healthy boundaries. Good boundaries maintain our sobriety. However, it may take a while for other people to understand that we have these new boundaries. Therefore, it is crucial to grant people grace during this transition period. If a person is constantly stomping on your limits and disrespecting them time and time again, then it may be time to distance yourself from that person. While we all deserve second chances, people who are unwilling to change will never do so unless they realize there are consequences to their actions.

3. They make you feel bad about yourself.

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It is not unusual to have spent time around people that made you feel bad about yourself and your life. The negativity often wasn’t overt; otherwise, you would have caught on sooner and probably wouldn’t have spent time with them. The infractions can be subtle and build upon each other over time. A jab here, along with a degrading joke once in a while, may seem small at first. However, small things that seem insignificant can slowly build up and cause people to feel bad about themselves. Be more aware of these things and do not allow the little things to pile up unchecked.

4. They take more than they give.

Some people are energy vampires. It is good to be there for your friends and be a shoulder to cry on but, there is a point where it can become unhealthy. When a person constantly calls you for help and doesn’t take any of your advice, it becomes challenging to deal with over time. It is essential to be there for your friends, but when your friend is constantly draining you of all of your energy, it may be time to consider putting in some limits for your own sanity.

5. They speak negatively of positive things in your life.

Some people have a hard time with the success of others. They may make snide comments about things you are excited about in your life. They may play it off as a joke, but it can be rooted in jealousy. Sometimes there are people who we think are friends that do not want the best for us. They don’t want us to get better because then they will feel bad about themselves. While we hope they learn to improve their own lives, that doesn’t mean you should allow them to continue trying to drag you down to their level.

6. They cause you to second guess your sobriety.

Drugie friends

Sometimes people will make comments here and here to try and make you second guess your sobriety. The negative influence may not be done intentionally but comments such as “you weren’t that bad” or “I bet you’d be able to drink again if you tried” are destructive. If you have a friend who says these things, the first step would be to let them know how those sorts of comments make you feel and ask them not to do it anymore. If they continue to do so after that, then it may be time to assess the relationship.

7. They expect too much of you.

Some people want you to be available to them at all times. To answer every call, respond to every text quickly, and help out when needed. While it would be friendly to all do this, the reality is that it is not realistic. It is good to help out your friends when you can, but you can’t be on call for someone 24/7. Doing this is not healthy. If you have someone in your life that demands too much of your time and attention, it would be wise to let them know why this isn’t possible. If they don’t seem to understand or are unwilling to change, it is okay to start limiting your time with them.

Intoxicated women

8. They exhibit toxic habits and behaviors.

Some people are always gossiping, being negative, creating problems, and refusing to accept responsibility for their actions. While we all do these things from time to time, someone that is toxic will do them regularly and be unaware of their negative behavior. Then, when confronted with it, they become defensive and refuse to change. People like this are challenging to be around for long periods. Therefore, limit your interactions with anyone who continually displays these types of behaviors.

9. You do not enjoy being around them.

If there is someone that you do not enjoy spending time with, you have every right to limit the amount of time you spend with them. There may be family obligations you have to fulfill from time to time, but you do not have to be best friends with someone you don’t like. As long as you are respectful, it is okay to feel this way.

Bad relationships

10. They are abusive towards you or others.

If someone is ever abusive towards you or someone else, this is a major red flag that they should not be in your life. If you are in a dangerous situation or an abusive relationship and are unsure of how to get out, seek professional help right away. There is never any excuse for abuse, and it is never okay.

It is important to remember that it is ultimately up to you who you decide to allow in your life and who you decide to keep away. The people we choose to surround ourselves with will directly impact our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We must learn to recognize when someone is bringing us down and handle the situation before things get out of control.

Reviewed by Matt Hawk, BS, CADC-II, ICADC



After overcoming her own addiction in 2012 Julie went on to become certified as an addiction counselor in order to help others achieve a life of recovery. She worked in the addiction field for 8 years and now uses both her personal and professional experiences with addiction as an influence for her writing.