Addiction, Isolation and the Cycle of Loneliness
Addiction is the loneliest disease.
Sometimes our own thoughts have the sharpest tongues. It’s hard to be inside our own heads: A place where there are no limits to cruel words and doubt. It’s a place that’s hard to escape – especially when addiction is involved.
Isolation and loneliness have an overwhelming effect on drug addiction and alcoholism. Studies have shown that those of us who feel more socially isolated generally deal with increased mental health and substance abuse issues. The opposite holds true as well: Addiction to drugs and alcohol may not just be an effect of isolation – but also the cause of isolation.
Many people turn to substances because they are lonely – and many people are lonely because they are addicted to substances.
Addiction, by nature, isolates people.
People who find themselves actively using substances to cope with depression, anxiety, and stressful situations use drugs and alcohol to avoid their feelings – and reality. They live in fear, denial, and guilt. Trapped in those overwhelming emotions, you can see why people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol often cover up their fears with anger, verbally and emotionally abusive behaviors, and false bravado.
You’ve heard the expression, “Hurt people, hurt people.”
Those struggling with addiction are hurting – and in turn, they hurt those around them.
As the disease of addiction progresses, many people lose friends and damage relationships with family members, leaving them alone – physically, mentally, and even spiritually.
When you’re lonely, you can run out of hope.
The realities of isolation and loneliness in addiction can leave people with these feelings:
- Feeling unable to connect with anyone – physically or emotionally
- Feeling disconnected from others
- Feeling sad there is no one available to talk, be with you, or understand
- Feeling that there is no one who cares
- Feeling abandoned
- Feeling as though no one wants to be with you
- Feeling discontent
- Feeling left out
- Feeling hopeless
- Fearing you will always feel this way
Beating isolation in addiction recovery.
Living life isn’t as easy as it sounds – especially when you are new to sobriety and recovery. A crucial barrier to break in addiction recovery surrounds beating isolation and loneliness. Below are a few suggestions on how to do so.
- Allow yourself to grieve the loss – of drugs and alcohol. In active addiction, drugs and alcohol can seem like your best friends: The only ones who are there for you in the darkness and the loneliness. It’s understandable that the loss of that relationship may cause you pain, anger and loneliness in your early recovery. Keep in mind that your relationship with your drug of choice was a one-sided, destructive friendship.
- Make amends. And make peace where amends aren’t possible. During active addiction, we cut people out – and hurt those whom we love the most. You may have disconnected from good friends, and damaged relationships with family. Hurt and confused, your loved ones may have written you off. In recovery, you have the opportunity to apologize, and take action to make amends. While some relationships may be salvageable, some will not. In the situations where relationships are damaged beyond repair – make peace with knowing you have apologized, and accept that there are some things beyond your control.
- Disconnect from unhealthy relationships. While you may struggle with wanting to connect with others, some relationships and social connections are unhealthy. There will be some people who will not support your recovery – and they have no place in your life, regardless of your loneliness or desire to connect. Cut out the negative influences, and move forward.
- Connect online. Graduates of Addiction Campuses’ programs have secret Facebook groups and chat forums to connect with each other. In addition to that, there are numerous support outlets that allow people in recovery to connect with one another. These forums often have daily affirmations, verses and advice – along with information about local support groups. We recommend incorporating both online networking along with face-to-face programs into your schedule.
- Mix it up. I’m very guilty of getting into a comfort-zone – which usually leads to an uncomfortable zone, meaning I get into a rut. Diversify your activities and the people with whom you connect. You don’t have to go to the same meeting every week. Try a different time or place. Try a new activity – or even just a new restaurant. Getting caught the daily grind can make it impossible to climb out of isolation.
- Build self-confidence – and boundaries. Connecting with others and trying new things is essential to breaking the barriers of loneliness and isolation. However, it’s important to build your own self-confidence and be comfortable in being alone, and choosing who you interact with and when. Building a support network requires building boundaries in your relationships, and being a good friend, relative, or significant other in return.
Loneliness can be one of the biggest causes and effects of addiction – and addiction relapse.
Through fellowship, friendship and connections, it’s possible to break the cycle of isolation and addiction. Connecting with others in recovery through meetings, sponsors, groups, or social function means sharing a bond with others on a similar path to you. As humans, we’re social creatures – and we depend on each other for survival. If you’re lonely in your addiction or in your recovery – reach out to someone who can truly listen and care, and get the break free of the emptiness and solitude.