Interpersonal relationships during addiction and recovery: A qualitative exploration of the views of clients in therapeutic community

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

Aims: To explore the perceptions of former drug users in treatment on interpersonal problems and relationships during periods of drug use, addiction and treatment.

Setting: Long-term, drug-free residential programme based on the principles of therapeutic community.

Participants: Nine males and 1 female client, aged 18-36 years (mean: 25.9), were involved in the study and the length of their stay in the residential programme was 2-35 months (mean: 9.9).

Design: Semi-structured interviews focusing on their relationships before and during the treatment were conducted and recorded with all of the clients. The main steps of the descriptive-interpretive data analysis (Elliott & Timuľák, 2005) were development of domains, identification of core ideas, key concepts and categories based on the similarities between the core ideas from individual transcripts. The analysis was then audited by an external auditor with experience of both qualitative research and addiction treatment.

Findings: The most frequently reported changes concerned the interplay between investment into relationships and a need to obtain the drugs (re-prioritizing, barriers, time constraints, coping with interpersonal distress), family and peer groups (lack of emotional expression, role models, peer drug use), support/ help with treatment (friends and family), helping relationships with fellow clients/ therapists (openness, trust and honesty).

Conclusions: The results of our exploratory study indicate that the changes occurring in drug users’ interpersonal functioning may not be fully attributed to their lack of interest in social relationships. Addiction professionals need to be aware of the conflicting priorities that prevent drug users from engaging in and maintaining the relationships within their established social networks.

Keywords: addiction, drug-free therapeutic community, interpersonal problems, qualitative interviews


References and notes

Elliott, R., & Timuľák, L. (2005). Descriptive and interpretative approaches to qualitative research. In: J.Miles, P. Gilbert, (Eds.) A Handbook of research methods in clinical and health psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


1Author is a Stage 2 PhD student at Trnava University in Slovakia and a Research assistant at University College Dublin.


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Dr. Jan Klimas