Addictions tend to interfere with relationships, and the inability to get and maintain healthy relationships makes recovery much harder. Fortunately, the Twelve-Step fellowships provide a way to alleviate this problem by working on recovery through relationships with other addicts and with a Higher Power.

When you hear the word relationships, you usually think about the significant people in your life — your family, friends, and coworkers. We want to broaden the idea a little to include not only other people but your relationship to yourself and to your Higher Power, and to the things that matter to you. Spirituality actually has to do with the nature or the spirit of your interactions in these areas of your life.

The first area to look at is how you relate to yourself. How do you think and feel and how do you act toward yourself? Addicts typically suffer from many negatives in this area. Addiction makes people self-centered, but that usually takes the form of fears, self-pity, resentment, and an attitude either that the world outside should conform to their wishes, or that they are inadequate, don’t deserve the good things in life, and should conform to the wishes of others.

People sometimes assume the role of someone who wants to run the whole show. Rather than reflecting real grandiosity, this performance often hides deeper levels of feelings of insecurity and lack of self-worth that may be disguised in a variety of ways.

This behavior can result in looking to other people for security and satisfaction, as is typical with a people-pleaser. This could backfire when such people resist or refuse to behave or to react as you would like them to, so you become resentful.

You may even be paradoxically grandiose in believing you are the “worst whatever” that ever existed. Or maybe you feel you are the most self-sacrificing caretaker alive. There is a tendency to be all-or-nothing in addictive thinking.

Background Influence

People come into recovery with diverse backgrounds ranging from severe abuse to mildly dysfunctional homes. It may be necessary to rethink your self-worth and build a better foundation for yourself by changing your attitudes and feelings and behaving lovingly toward yourself.

OK Corral

How you relate to other people is also likely to have some basis in early learning experiences. One model for looking at this is called the OK Corral in Transactional Analysis. In an oversimplification, the position taken toward others can be one of four:

  • I’m not OK; you’re OK — in this position, you tend to be depressed, thinking others are superior.
  • I’m OK; you’re not OK — here you tend to be paranoid, thinking others are out to get you.
  • I’m not OK; you’re not OK — you tend to be suicidal, thinking no one is worthwhile.
  • I’m OK; you’re OK — you feel positive about yourself and others in general and can get on with what life is all about.

Your position in the OK Corral may change when you are at work, at home, or in social situations.

The Rescue Triangle

The rescue triangle is a model, also from Transactional Analysis, that can be used to describe how addicts who find themselves in dysfunctional relationships may relate to others.

When people grow up not learning how to get their needs met in a healthy way, nor how to get the strokes they need to develop healthy self-esteem, they learn other ways to relate to people to try to feel OK about themselves. This results in a game where each person plays a role, like that of victim, persecutor, or rescuer.

The persecutor’s position is “I am better than you, you are inferior.” Persecutors find victims to put down and criticize. The rescuer’s position is “I know more than you, you are inadequate.” The victim’s position is “I am weak, I am inferior.” A victim may seek either a persecutor or a rescuer (or both) to relate to. Whichever way, he reinforces his position that he is helpless, weak, or inferior.

Need Rescue Triangle graphic.

Sometimes in the same relationship people will switch positions to keep the excitement going. This is a typical pattern for what some might call relationship addiction. If one decides to recover and learn to relate in healthy, intimate ways, the game is over, and the relationship will have to change.


Friendships are a very important type of relationship. You may or may not be skilled at making, keeping, or being a friend. But these skills can be learned. Remember, to be a real friend you need to feel you have something to offer, which is related to your self-esteem. YOU are the best gift you ever have to offer.

Not every friendship is balanced in terms of giving and receiving. Friendships can be horizontal or vertical, or some variation between. For example, in horizontal relationships you receive as much as you give. Your needs are met and you make a priority out of meeting your friend’s needs. That feels good!

Sometimes you may just receive. For example, in early recovery you will have a sponsor from whom you mainly receive. It is supposed to be that way! Paradoxically, in giving, a sponsor does receive.

You may have some friends to whom you give a little more than you receive, or vice versa. What is important is to have a way to look at your relationships to figure out what might be working and what needs to change. You will burn out and become resentful if you are the only one who gives to the relationship.

Relationships with other people involve communication. Again, there are many people who have created models to describe how people communicate. In Transactional Analysis, they say our interactions are for exchanging strokes, which can be warm fuzzies (positive strokes) or cold pricklies (negative strokes) (Steiner, 1977).

John Powell, in Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? (1969), has a model for communication that includes levels that involve cliches, facts, ideas and judgments, emotions (gut level), and peak communication, which is absolute openness and honesty. Not all communication needs to be of the peak kind, or intensely intimate, but there is real value in having the self-esteem and courage to develop a few special relationships. In these you are loved unconditionally and reveal yourself openly so you can grow into your full potential.

Higher Power

A critical factor in recovery is how you can relate to and use a Higher Power that is greater than your disease. The Big Book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and many other sources are available to help you understand and develop such a relationship. Your relationship with your Higher Power will set the stage for your relationship with others and with yourself.

For example, if you see your Higher Power as loving and caring, you will View other relationships in the same way. The Twelve Steps are the best tools we know for developing a recovery program that leads to satisfaction in all relationships in your life.


There are, of course, other models available for looking at relationships. Recovery literature abounds with them. Take from each model that which fits your experience and that you find useful, rather than trying to fit yourself into any one model. There is much available to help with your journey.

Relationships, see also: Abstinence, Abuse, Adolescents, Amends, Assertiveness, Attitudes, Behavior, Children of addicts, Codependency, Control, Detachment, Emotional aspects, Enabling, Family, Family of origin, Feelings, Forgiveness, Humor & fun, Incest, Intimacy, Love & caring, Moderation, Power, Recovery, Resentments, Sabotage of recovery, Self-image, Sex, Survival roles, Trust.

Updated 11 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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