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How a Negative Contract Can Derail Recovery From Addiction

by | Last updated Jul 20, 2021 at 3:26PM | Published on Apr 8, 2020 | Drug Addiction


Negative contracts are secrets that two or more individuals in recovery decide to keep for one another. They may be as minor as shoplifting something from the grocery store or as severe as a relapse. But no matter the severity, holding a negative contract can derail recovery at any stage.

When a Secret Becomes a Negative Contract

Sometimes, keeping someone’s confidence is essential. Generally, sharing intimate emotions, vulnerable feelings, and experiences are a part of building relationships. But there’s a big difference between keeping someone’s trust and holding a negative contract.

It means that you’re keeping a secret about someone’s behavior that could impact their sobriety. Examples include:

  • Helping a peer in treatment hide theft, communication with using friends, or high-risk behaviors from staff
  • Knowing that someone has relapsed, or is about to, and not getting help from someone
  • Helping a peer hide contraband, like a phone, substances, or money in treatment
  • Agreeing not to “tell on” a peer if they will hold your secrets for you

Some of this might not seem like a “big deal.” For example, what is the harm in a roommate in my drug rehab center having a little extra cash that the staff doesn’t know they possess? The truth is that seemingly small secrets, like this example, can snowball into a relapse.

The Risks of Secrets in Recovery

When you agree to hold a negative contract, what’s happening is that you’re committing dishonesty. A considerable part of recovery is learning to live honestly. Honesty takes practice. Being honest about the “small stuff” is a great way to become comfortable with being open about more significant issues you may face in later recovery periods.

Furthermore, the emotional energy it takes to keep a secret can be draining and can even drive a wedge between you and your support network.

For example, deciding not to confront someone for having contraband in addiction treatment, like cash, can become a more significant issue.

If the peer chooses to relapse, they have money available to do that. If you have been keeping that secret for them, the guilt associated with knowing you could have possibly prevented a relapse by asking for help can be enormous.

When you keep a secret for someone else, they are far less likely to hold you accountable.

Let’s say you know someone stole from the grocery store. Next week, if you share with them that you’re planning a relapse, they are doubtful to call your sponsor, your friend, or your therapist to get you help. The fear that you may unveil their secrets can prevent a friend from intervening when you’re on the road to relapse.

In early recovery, honesty and accountability are essential. Negative contracts can make these foundational parts of recovery impossible.

Long-Term Sobriety

The truth is that these contracts can be a barrier at any stage. For example, many people in long-term recovery are pursuing their careers or education. If they become aware that someone at work is stealing or a classmate is cheating, this can create emotional stress.

Even if it doesn’t lead to relapse, knowing that someone is doing something harmful and wrong- and not confronting it- can lead to guilt, shame, anger, and frustration. All of these emotions can lead to “acting out” in negative behaviors.

Additionally, you are in a drug or alcohol rehabilitation center to change your life and priorities. As such, it is critical that you take this time seriously and not allow other individuals still suffering from cravings, anxiety, or other factors to distract or possibly derail your healing process.

Just remember, when in doubt, talk it out with the addiction treatment professional staff members.

Getting Rid of Negative Contracts

The solution to negative contracts, as simple as it may sound, is to share the secret. You may have heard the saying, “we’re only as sick as our secrets.” That’s true.

Holding a contract helps no one. It doesn’t help the person you’re holding it for, either. It only enables their negative behavior and, soon, other people’s conduct, which is not conducive to an environment for growth and healing. And it certainly doesn’t help you- instead, it creates a burden that can have severe, long-lasting impacts.

It can be tough to get honest about a negative contract, But it’s an essential step towards recovery. In the end, it can lead to a clear conscience, closer relationships, and a stronger foundation.

To learn more about how staff at Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s drug rehab helps patients create a safe, close, and comfortable community, call us today. We strive to make space for patients to grow in their recovery by challenging negative behaviors and replacing them with positive, healthy skills. We’re available to help you get started.



Molly is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Case Manager and Vocational Services. She has a Bachelor’s in International Relations, is a Certified Addiction Counselor, and it’s currently working towards her Master’s in Social Work. Molly’s experience allows her to provide expert knowledge about solution-based methods to help people in recovery maintain long-term sobriety.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

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