Negative Social Experiences and Sobriety

Negative Social Experiences and Sobriety, Avoidance-coping, red wooden pegs representing people surrounding one blue one

By Cristina Utti MFA, MA

Twelve-step programs are full of slogans for recovery and daily living. Among these sayings is “people, places, and things.” It is vital for someone in recovery to be mindful of the people, places, and things that affect them negatively.

A study conducted in a southwestern collegiate recovery community required 55 college students in addiction recovery to submit reports every day about any negative experiences that occurred that day as well as any cravings they felt. The participants all were twelve-step group members who applied the twelve-step literature and program to their daily lives. More than 90% of them attended five meetings per week and had a sponsor.

The negative experiences tracked came from the Test of Negative Social Exchanges (TENSE; Ruelman & Karoly, 1991), based upon four types of experiences: hostility/impatience, insensitivity, interference, and ridicule. These experiences were then measured along with whether the individual felt cravings and how they coped with the cravings.

The study found that among young adults in recovery, negative social experiences are a good predictor of day-to-day cravings and that cravings among young adults vary more between days than between persons. Avoidance-coping (isolating, avoiding people, etc.) was a direct reaction to negative social situations and was associated with cravings. Although the participants had a low rate of relapse, this study exemplified how negative outside experiences have a direct effect on cravings and isolation. This just goes to show that the slogans in twelve-step programs have been put in place for good reasons!

Do you have the hope, resilience, and readiness to change? Contact the Ranch at Dove Tree today to get started on the road to recovery. 806.307.2003.


Cleveland, H. Harrington and Harris, Kitty S. “The role of coping in moderating within-day associations between negative triggers and substance use cravings: A daily diary investigation.”