Whether you consider yourself a social butterfly or a wallflower, all humans are social beings. There’s hardly a moment in your life when you aren’t interacting with someone else or benefiting from their activities. It’s not surprising, then, that our happiness connects to our relationship with others.
Loneliness is a serious epidemic that is overshadowed in the modern world. According to a recent survey, nearly 75% of Americans are lonely, and Forbes reports show that the number of lonely people has tripled in the last four decades.
With feelings of loneliness are at an all-time high, some people to turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and mask these painful emotions. However, addiction is an incredibly lonely disease that only leads to more isolation. We are here to explore the link between loneliness and addiction and the vicious cycle they can create — and to help you choose a life of recovery.
What Is Loneliness?
Some people think of loneliness as a social pain caused by a perceived lack of intimate relationships. In many ways, it’s a genuine motivational drive similar to your physical need for food or sleep. That’s why feelings of rejection can activate the same part of your brain associated with physical pain. If you feel like your need for belonging is not met, loneliness is a perfectly normal reaction.
Loneliness is a state of mind that anyone can experience. Depression, on the other hand, is a mental health disorder characterized by feelings of sadness, hopeless or dejection. There seems to be a connection between loneliness and depression, where a lonely state of mind can be a symptom of a deep, underlying depression. Consistent isolation can also lead to depression.
How Common Is Chronic Loneliness?
Americans are experiencing loneliness now more than ever. In a recent survey, nearly three out of four adults reported feeling a deep sense of loneliness.
The emotional impact of loneliness is apparent, but these feelings also have an incredible effect on your physical health. The support of others helps you to feel important, welcome and loved — like you’re a part of something greater than yourself. Those who feel lonely tend to struggle with a variety of health concerns, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Coronary disease
- Compromised immune system
Loneliness also puts you at a higher risk for developing a substance use disorder.
How Is Loneliness Linked to Drugs and Alcohol?
Feelings of isolation, depression or anxiety can lead to addiction. On the one hand, some people use alcohol or drugs to function in social situations, as these substances help them feel like the life of the party. However, those struggling with loneliness often use these substances as a substitute for healthy interpersonal relationships.
In general, those who struggle with loneliness are at higher risk of developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
For instance, you may choose to:
- Continue drinking and using drugs despite the strain it brings on your relationships.
- Continue drinking and using drugs despite the damage it has on your physical and mental health.
- Ignore your social life and work in search of the next high, or to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms of a previous indulgence.
- Cut out association with loved ones as you increasingly look for new ways to fulfill your need for alcohol and drugs.
As these behaviors take hold, and you become lonelier, substance abuse also increases. Over time, alcohol and drug use become chronic, and addiction takes over. When this happens, you may continue to engage in worse behaviors, further affecting your physical, social and mental well-being. In turn, loneliness increases, and other negative behaviors flourish, causing you to sink deeper into addiction.
Why Do Addicts Isolate Themselves?
Alcoholics and those addicted to drugs are usually lonely people. Even if you use these substances in an attempt to combat loneliness, they only exacerbate these feelings in the long run. As addiction progresses, many addicts find themselves losing the support of their family and friends, as well as damaging their healthy relationships. This may lead them even deeper into isolation, where their entire lonely existence centers around drugs or alcohol.
Treatment for Drug Addiction and Loneliness
Without support, loneliness can easily lead to addiction. Once addiction sets in, it’s harder to come out of it alone. And those who eventually become sober and lead a healthy life may relapse due to loneliness. Every step of recovery can become harder if you are lonely.
So, how do you come out of this cycle? Seeking help from the right treatment center to beat loneliness and addiction is one effective way. Having someone by your side during such difficult times can make it easier to seek help in the first place.
Ways to Overcome the Effects of Loneliness in Recovery
If you’ve entered into an addiction recovery program, it’s essential to address the harmful effects of loneliness. Fighting loneliness may help you fight addiction in the process. Also, creating positive relationships will have a meaningful impact on your life, which allows you to move past lonely feelings without turning to drugs or alcohol.
Here are some tips that may help you overcome loneliness during your recovery journey:
- Create a strong support network.
- Spend quality time with family and friends.
- Show up for recovery meetings and gatherings.
- Communicate with loved ones so they understand your situation and recovery process.
- Practice mindfulness meditation or pray to explore the difference between loneliness and solitude.
- Sign up for classes that will put you in contact with others and help you discover new interests and passions.
- Improve your mood through exercise or artistic endeavors like painting, dancing or writing.
If you need addiction medicine treatment, the caring and compassionate experts at Gateway are here to help. We understand the importance of addressing underlying issues like loneliness in our individualized treatment programs. At Gateway, you’ll find hope and healing that will set you on the path of recovery. Contact us today to learn more.