Are you feeling defeated from fighting loneliness and addiction? The cycle of addiction can take a lot out of you. You may feel isolated from friends, coworkers, and family. Maybe they shut you out, or maybe you made the choice yourself; regardless, loneliness is a natural thing to feel on your addiction journey. Addiction impacts you in ways others are often not aware of. However, they do not see the mental effects of addiction, and they may not fully comprehend how difficult it is to stop. Even so, you have to remember that you are not alone.
Also it is okay to feel lonely at times, but if you are struggling with feelings of loneliness because of your addiction it is important to remember that you do have support. Here we will look at why loneliness and addiction so often go hand in hand, why it’s important to fight loneliness, and how you can find help. Community is an integral part of finding success in recovery.
If you or someone you know needs help finding social support, give us a call today at 405-583-4390. We can help you find a treatment that frees you from that isolation.
It is okay to feel lonely at times, but if you are struggling with strong feelings of loneliness because of your addiction then it is important to remember that you do have support.
Why Addicts Deal with Loneliness
Loneliness and addiction have a profound link. There are a lot of harmful stereotypes that surround addiction sufferers. If society sees you as the “risk-taker” or “partier,” how could you possibly be lonely? This is one of the dangers of the assumptions around addiction. It strengthens the invisible fight addicts face and can prevent them from fighting through feelings of isolation. People often forget that loneliness can be part of the reason individuals end up abusing substances in the first place. The cycle of addiction then continues as drug abuse leads to further isolation. As PsychCentral.com notes,
The problem with substances is that they typically only exacerbate these problems in the long run. A developing addiction leads to the addict becoming withdrawn, remote, and emotionally distant. As addiction progresses, it’s not uncommon for addicts to damage relationships, lose family and friends’ support, and spiral into a lonely existence centered around substance use.
In addition, for addicts, their brain’s reward system is altered due to the surges of dopamine that drugs and alcohol provide. These surges of dopamine, one of the hormones responsible for pleasure, makes the high an addict’s priority. So, this isolation is backed by a change in the brain.
Moreover, loneliness and isolation are also two different things. This is why you can be an addict that is surrounded by people and still feel alone. If you are lonely, it may be that you have relationships around you, but they are not functioning in the way you expected. You may feel misunderstood, disrespected, or a variety of things that contribute to feelings of loneliness. Isolation, on the other hand, is dealing with addiction alone. Isolated individuals lack relationships altogether, which can undoubtedly cause loneliness but is overall, a deeper and more dangerous problem.
Loneliness is a Public Health Crisis
Why is loneliness such a big deal? For one, it impacts a large portion of the US population. One Cigna health study found that loneliness may have the same effect on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes. Despite social media and advancements in technology, the newer generations are lonelier than ever. This drastic shift can make the side effects of loneliness even more of a crisis. For instance, here are some of the statistics the National Institutes of Health (NIH) compiled on loneliness:
- Studies are in favor of the high prevalence of the sense of loneliness. Dykstra (8), and Ditommaso et al. (4) reported the prevalence rate of about 8% to 10%, and the other studies showed that 15% to 30% of people experience loneliness continuously.
- Heinrich and Gullone (6) believed that one out of four people suffers from chronic loneliness.
- A recent review by Hawkley and Cacioppo (9) revealed that about 80% of people aged lower 18 and 40% of the over 65 years reported the feeling of loneliness at least sometimes.
As shown, loneliness affects people young and old. It may be a fleeting feeling or a chronic issue. Now, with a global pandemic that requires isolation, people may be finding dangerous ways to cope. Loneliness impacts everyone at some point, but for those who turn to drugs to cope, it can quickly become self-reinforcing.
Self-Medication as a Coping Mechanism
No one wants to be stuck in the feeling of loneliness. Some turn to music, art, or literature to escape this feeling, while others may turn to drugs. Self-medication is one of the ways loneliness and addiction are linked.
Drugs and alcohol are popular self medication tools because they temporarily distract us from the pain we are experiencing, whether it be relationship issues, financial trouble, general anxiety, or physical pain. The trouble with these drugs is that they only stave off feelings for a temporary amount of time, and leave us feeling more drained of feel good chemicals than we were in the first place.
So, while loneliness has no one particular cause, it can lead individuals down a destructive path. It may be what made you turn to substances in the first place. Research has shown that there is a direct link between addiction and other mental health issues. You may use drugs to self-medicate and end up addicted to various substances. Let’s take a look at why loneliness must be properly dealt with, particularly for those suffering from addiction.
Consequences of Drug Abuse and Isolation
Isolation and addiction not only make life miserable in the present, but can have an array of long-term risks for the individual. As we have seen, loneliness can kickstart the vicious cycle of addiction, but it is linked to an array of other health issues such as:
- Premature death
- High blood pressure
- A compromised immune system
- Up to 30% greater risk of suffering from coronary disease or stroke
As PsychCentral found, people who report feeling lonely are more than twice as likely to also have substance abuse disorder. Addiction has its own set of potential consequences ranging from impairment to premature death. That is why it is so important to not to face addiction alone. Social support is a key part of recovery. It provides you with a sense of purpose. Humans are social beings; we thrive in community with one another, and having those bonds with other people can help you to feel valued.
Furthermore, social support helps fight isolation and addiction to the point that it may even cause antidepressants to work better. Having a strong social base releases positive hormones in your brain that can combat negative emotions that may come up in recovery. Remaining close to your friends and family provides you a longer, more fulfilled life.
Ten Ways to Combat Loneliness
Now you know that it is a problem, so how do you combat loneliness when it comes up? The upside of having this issue is that you can work to change it: it does not have to be a permanent feeling. For instance, here are ten great tips from Psych Central:
- Realize that loneliness is a feeling, not a fact.
- Reach out.
- Notice your self-defeating thoughts.
- Make a plan to fight the mental and emotional habits of loneliness.
- Focus on the needs and feelings of others.
- Find others like you.
- Always show up when meeting up with others.
- Be curious, but don’t expect perfection or applause.
- Kindness goes a long way.
- Be persistent. Even if a particular group does seem to be a dead-end for you, try another. AA recommends that everyone try six different groups to find one that suits you best.
You may be familiar with the quote, “feel the fear and do it anyway.” The same idea applies to loneliness. To reap the rewards, you may have to place yourself in uncomfortable situations and ask for help. Addiction can trick you into believing that no one cares or understand you, but this is never the case. However, if anything, while in recovery you will find a community that understands exactly what you are going through.
Finding Help for Loneliness and Treating Addiction
Loneliness and addiction will not define your life forever. When you can move away from shaming yourself and understand that drugs worsen the loneliness, then you can truly start to heal. These battles are simply stepping stones on your road to total happiness, health, and recovery. A part of what can help you avoid loneliness as an addict is becoming your own friend first. Show yourself the compassion, patience, and understanding you want from others. However, if you are able to find it within yourself, you can accept it with open arms from other people.
Seek Out Help
To summarize, emotions never just disappear; all an individual can do is learn how to cope with them in a healthy way. While in recovery, you may be faced with feelings of loneliness on and off. After all, recovery means you now have to avoid people or places that were triggers for your addiction. Fortunately, treatments and support groups are designed with this fact in mind.
As you seek help, remember not to play in the extremes. Yes, you will want to avoid loneliness, but you do not want to end up pretending your emotions are not there. Attempting to suppress what you feel can sometimes lead to behaviors that could steer you from sobriety. In addition, try journaling, meditating, and expressing your feelings with your inner circle.
Finally, if you have not yet joined a support group or started treatment, this may be the time to seriously consider it. At Rehab Treatment Care, we are here to help you break this cycle. Give us a call at the number below to explore what professional treatment options are right for you. You are never as alone as you think, so do not let addiction continue to hurt you or your loved one. You deserve people in your life who make you feel valued.
Written by Meccah Muhammed
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