One of the biggest mistakes people make early on in their recovery is underestimating the power of the group. Our culture is one that values personal independence and free will. This often leads us to overestimate our ability to handle a change in our lives even when with a group of others. For many, the group may not even suggest using, but a person in recovery will suddenly find themselves returning to past patterns of use.

Human beings are social creatures. Basic social psychology and sociological studies on groups show that people often change when they are with a group of people. Decisions are made differently, and we even have potential to lose touch of our values. In extreme situations, we can see violent events such as riots. On a smaller, more typical scale, however, people may change their individual decisions as to not cause problems in the group.

If you think about this in situations that are not related to alcohol or drugs, it can further help to illustrate group dynamics. Think about times when you thought about trying to lose weight, but went to dinner with friends, and gave up your diet plans. Maybe you planned on exercising more often, but you are asked by a couple of friends to go over to their house instead. Making decisions of whether or not to use can be similar, but even more intense than this when the drug is used in a social setting.

To overcome the group, I remind people to embrace their instinct to change their behavior when in a social setting. It is when people tell themselves that the group will not be a barrier that they often struggle the most. Accepting that social influence exists from the group is not weakness. If you recognize this, you can at least make a plan to deal with it, which is better than the alternative of underestimating and doing something that doesn’t fit with your goals.

The next step is to create a plan of how you can deal with the group. Without a plan, you will not know how to deal with social pressures as they arise. With a plan, you might not always succeed, but you will have something to amend to be more successful the next time you are confronted with this. Acceptance and planning are two of the biggest keys to making a major change.

In recovery, people often do not take social situations into consideration. This can lead to frustration or problems down the road when a person is trying to maintain sobriety. Rather than discount this pressure, it is better to accept it. Then you can create a plan on how you will go about overcoming social pressures in the future.