When you think about the key factors to good health, what comes to mind? Obviously, healthy habits, good genes and luck. How about your relationships?
And when you think about your most important relationships, you may consider first your parents, partner, siblings or children. What about your friends?
Of course, there are many types of friendships. Not all Facebook friends are equal. They could be classmates, neighbours, party friends, drinking buddies, bowling friends, fishing pals, running partners or coworkers. With each you may share some common interests and varying degrees of connectedness and intimacy.
Through the stories shared by my patients, I see the impact of unhealthy friends. Many have described one-sided relationships where they have adopted the role of the giver or the listener. When my patients need someone to talk to, they come to me because their friends do not reciprocate.
Some friends perpetuate unhealthy behaviour. You may share “good times” such as partying and drinking together, and together you “normalize” drug or alcohol abuse. Every week, I surprise young men and women when I inform them that three standard alcoholic drinks (a regular glass of wine, a shot of spirits, or a can of beer) is the healthy single day limit for a man’s liver while 2 drinks is the limit for a woman. Exceeding that on the weekend with friends officially makes them “binge drinkers.”
Other unhealthy friends can encourage you to spend beyond your means – not just on food and drink but on entertainment and the luxury items that you neither need or can afford. Your friends may also lead you to believe that a growing credit card debt is normal and reasonable.
Your friends shape your beliefs. They can perpetuate narrow-mindedness, racism, prejudice and sexism.
Next: So what are the qualities of a healthy friendship?