The Common Advice That Made Staying Sober So Hard For Me

This common sobriety advice doesn't work for everyone.

friend group on couch PintoArt/ Shutterstock

"You realize if you want to go clean, you have to stop hanging out with your friends, right?" the counselor asked me.

I was 20, and I was getting really tired of people telling me what to do.

"Well then, that’s not going to happen," I said. "Those are my only friends. I’m not like you, who can go up to any Joe Schmo and befriend them. People don’t like me. They think I’m weird."

"If you don’t stop hanging out with them, you’re going to die," he said. "People will love you, you just have to keep trying."


"Okay, I’ll make sure to pick out a funeral parlor," I replied as I walked out the door. 20 minutes later, I was on the train to Union Square, ready to get picked up by my homies.

It was one of many times I tried to seek help for addiction, and it was also one of many times I had to use my inner monologue to talk myself down from throat-punching the preachy little s*** across from me.

When I look back at these times from a sober perspective, this type of advice really didn’t help.


I think there is a point in every addict’s life where there is going to be a moron with a holier-than-thou attitude giving them advice that was never asked for nor needed.

Such is the case with me — in fact, it’s a very common issue I ran into.

It’s also one of the most hurtful things I experienced going sober.

The counselor would tut-tut me for hanging out with party promoters, drug dealers, and homeless people. Then they’d ask me if I hung out with "normal people" and tell me to chase them. And repeatedly, I’d have to tell them that I tried, but they treated me like crap.

Then, the counselor would pause and tell me to stop hanging out with the only support network I had. Then I’d ask them who to lean on, knowing that no one mainstream wants to deal with a recovering addict.


They’d give me a blank stare, blink, then say "Keep trying."

More often than not, this circular logic they shat out would make me feel angry at them. Like, they didn’t listen. In fact, they didn’t care; that talk was more about them than me. It’s amazing how they made my recovery about them, right?

In many cases, I’d run off to relapse immediately after hearing this crap. And yes, I did it out of a weird self-destructive spite. Good going, counselors. You sure helped me. 

RELATED: 35 Addiction Recovery Quotes To Give You The Mental Strength To Continue Moving Forward

Guess what: I’m sober and drug-free now, and I still roll with the same people.


Believe it or not, that advice was often the most venomous stuff I’ve seen people who "help" people do.

Contrary to popular belief, a lot of hard drug addicts understand when people want to get clean and also respect it.

Shocker, right?

It’s been at least five years since I last heard someone urge me to drop the people who were with me through thick and thin. It’s been over six months since I drank or used any hard drugs.

Oh, and it’s been years since I even bothered trying to talk to or befriend anyone who appeared mainstream. There are only so many rejections one can take until you realize you’re not wanted in certain circles.

Wilder still, I did it without any professional help or Al-Anon groups. After regularly asking for help and support from them and the groups that allegedly help addicts, I didn’t really get anything. So, I stopped asking.


Guess who were the people cheering me on when I decided to quit drinking and using? Yep, the very people my drug and alcohol counselors told me to leave. They are my support system, drug use be damned.

RELATED: Recovering Addict Shares The Devastating Before And After Photos Of Drug Addiction

If you can’t tell, I think the idea of telling people to walk away from friends is horrible.

Your real friends are going to be there for you while you get clean, even if they use.

In fact, a friend of mine who is a heroin addict was the one who flushed a bag of coke down the toilet because I was tempted to do some.

Don’t ever bail on a friend like that. Someone who cares that much is rare to find!


People who can’t stand seeing you healthier are going to be the ones who you have to walk away from. Those aren’t your friends, and only you can figure out who those people are.

If I listened to the pompous advisors in counseling, I’d have walked away from my real friends and probably shot myself by now.

There is always going to be the risk of everyone drifting apart. In many situations, it’s because the person in recovery simply can’t figure out how to enjoy themselves at a bar or club without booze or drugs — and their friends can’t figure out where else to meet them at. It happens.

But, can we please not assume that every hard user and drinker is going to destroy your life just by being in it? Please? That kind of attitude does nothing but hurt the very people you’re supposed to help.


In reality, recovery is never a one-size-fits-all thing.

The biggest problem I had with addiction counseling and common advice is that it didn’t work for me.

In fact, listening to most "solid" advice about getting a degree and to keep trying for clean-cut friends pushed me to drug myself and drink.

When I’d try to explain that to people, my concerns were swept under the rug and I was talked down to in a condescending tone. That’s a great way to prove to an addict that you really don’t care about them and that you just like patting yourself on the back.

The truth is that every single drug user has a different path to sobriety — and that’s if they ever choose to take that step. 


People need to stop assuming that what worked for them will work for others, and they also need to stop thinking that every user is a brain-dead junkie.

Most drug users know when their habit’s getting out of control, and they also know what they need to do to stop. They’re not stupid. They need people to listen to them and at times, help them avoid the things that trigger them to use.

RELATED: What It's Really Like To Be Married To A Drug Addict


Here’s my advice to anyone struggling with addiction.

Look for friends who will take your drugs away so you can stay clean. Look for friends who will talk to you and keep you company while you detox.

Those are your friends, even if they themselves are addicts.

What worked for me, though, might not work for you. But, if you listen to your heart and really take the time to figure out what you need, you’ll be able to figure out the best way to stay clean.

If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, there are resources to get help.

The process of recovery is not linear, but the first step to getting better is asking for help. For more information, referrals to local treatment facilities and support groups, and relevant links, visit SAMHSA’s website. If you’d like to join a recovery support group, you can locate the nearest Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings near you. Or you can call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-799-7233, which is a free 24/7 confidential information service in both English and Spanish. For TTY, or if you’re unable to speak safely, call 1-800-487-4889.


RELATED: The 5 Excruciating Stages Of Loving An Addict (As Told By His Ex)

Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer whose work has been featured in Yahoo, BRIDES, Your Daily Dish, Newtheory Magazine, and others.