The Connection Between Isolation And Addiction

Substance use disorders (SUDs) can lead to increased social isolation and loneliness. Conversely, loneliness and social isolation can also play a role in the development of substance misuse and addiction. These associations have long been observed, and a physiological explanation for their connection may exist.

An example of this is seen with opioid use disorders (OUDs). The regions of the brain most affected by OUDs are also involved in pain and socioemotional functioning. Additionally, the need for social connection is deeply rooted in human biology for the benefits it offers to evolutionary survival; the body’s opioid receptors and subsequent neural pathways are thought to play a significant role in regulating that need.

When the opioid reward system in the body is dysregulated by social isolation or increased feelings of loneliness, it could drive an individual to use substances that stimulate the opioid receptors. Likewise, after chronic substance use that stimulates opioid receptors or other reward pathways, a person may begin to feel loneliness or social pain.

Additionally, the social and legal consequences of substance misuse and addiction may also drive a person to further isolation.

How Loneliness Causes Addiction

Humans are fundamentally social creatures, interdependent on one another for love, intimacy, and relationships, which brings physical, emotional, and spiritual health. As a result, and quoted in the International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, some in the field of psychology have concluded that “dependence [addiction to] on drugs is, accordingly, an actual substitute for dependence on others.”

With long periods of loneliness, many people experience mental or physical health complications, including depression, anxiety, and SUDs.

Though other factors contribute to substance misuse and addiction development, loneliness and social isolation have a strong association. Drugs and alcohol can make a person feel intense pleasure, power, confidence, connection to others, and increased energy. For a person who is chronically lonely, depressed, or socially isolated, these experiences may temporarily make them feel normal or bring meaning back to their life. Unfortunately, the feelings do not last and often leave a person feeling worse after use.

While this loneliness can feel overwhelming, remember that it’s only a temporary phase. You’re not alone in feeling this way, and there are people who are ready to support you through this. With proper help and treatment, brighter days are possible.

The Effects Of Addiction And Isolation

Addiction and isolation can have a significant impact on a person’s life. If a person does not get help, they may see the following effects of addiction and isolation in their life:

  • Extensive health issues, including lung and heart disease, stroke, cancer, severe dental problems, permanent brain damage, and liver disease.
  • Increased risk of blood-borne diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis C.
  • Development or worsening of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
  • Increased risk of overdose.

Recognizing An Addiction

Isolating tendencies can sometimes make it more challenging to recognize the signs of addiction. However, some criteria that mental health professionals look for in diagnosing a SUD include:

  • Using a substance despite physical or psychological consequences that are caused or worsened by substance use.
  • Using the addictive substance in physically hazardous situations.
  • Failure to fulfill obligations at work, school, or home due to substance use.
  • Giving up or reducing important activities or commitments due to substance use.
  • Spending increasing amounts of time and energy using, obtaining, and recovering from substance use.

Hiding Drug Use

When a person begins to misuse substances, there are many reasons they may try to hide their addiction from their friends and family. First, the stigma surrounding substance use can lead a person to believe that they may be wrongfully judged if they come forward with their struggles. Unfortunately, this can lead to a worsening of their condition and increased isolation if they are unable to stop using. A person might also feel guilt and shame about their substance use, particularly if they have relapsed. This can result in increased secrecy and alienation from healthy, supportive relationships. In short, feeling the need to keep this part of their lives hidden almost always leads to further isolation and loneliness.

How To Combat Isolation

Thankfully, professional addiction treatment utilizes a multifaceted approach that recognizes and aims to address both the substance use and loneliness that stems from it. One example of this is group therapy, which naturally creates a support system of others who share similar struggles and experiences. This group dynamic often cultivates a sense of belonging and understanding, alleviating the isolation that addiction can create.

Another source of connection in a treatment program is the supportive and nurturing relationship between an individual and their therapist. This relationship can provide the one-on-one support and assistance that may have been lacking in their life outside of rehab. It also provides the personalized guidance needed to overcome the internal challenges a person faces during recovery.

In a similar fashion, after completing a treatment program, aftercare options exist to maintain accountability and remind the individual that they are not back to being alone simply because they have completed their program. Recovery groups, such as 12-step groups, allow individuals to find and maintain supportive connections in their own community. Often this not only alleviates their own loneliness but allows them to be a support to others undertaking similar journeys. Other aftercare options that help alleviate loneliness are finding and/or becoming a sponsor and partaking in volunteer opportunities that help bring awareness to sobriety initiatives. Overall, it’s important to remember that while it can feel like a lonely journey, there are many resources and people ready to help you pave your way to a healthier future.

You Are Not Alone. Find Support Today

Although isolation can make it feel more challenging to seek treatment, it’s essential to get help if you’re worried about your patterns of substance use.

Many people dealing with isolation and addiction can benefit from a treatment program that can provide a supportive group of other individuals in recovery alongside evidence-based addiction treatment. If you’re ready to take the first step toward an addiction-free future, contact a treatment provider today.