Loneliness and Addiction

by Krystina Murray ❘  

Defining Loneliness

Loneliness is often viewed as a negative state of existence, although some alone time is needed to recharge. A Harvard study mentions “25% to 60% of older Americans suffer from loneliness. Another site reflected loneliness in younger audiences with “79% of Gen Z, aged 18 to 22 feeling lonely” and secondly, “71% of Millennials reported feeling lonely.” The link between loneliness and addiction should be something that people are aware of during these uncertain times. Being alone and being lonely are characteristically different with varying effects on our mind, body, and emotions. Furthermore, being alone can be seen as healthy as people can find being alone as way to disconnect from a stressful life. For example, perhaps you are at a park enjoying the scenery around you. Your mood may be peaceful and joyful; there is a sense of feeling complete despite being in solitude.

In contrast, you can be in relationships and be miserable and lonely due to a lack of connection. Loneliness often includes being alone and feeling as if there is a loss or an inner void needing to be filled. It is a state of mind that causes someone to feel rejected, unloved, excluded, ignored, and invalidated. For example, lonely people may seek companionship but because of sadness, anxiety, depression, or negative thoughts and other factors, he or she may find it difficult to connect with others, creating a cycle of isolation and pain.

How Loneliness Impacts Health and Wellbeing

Loneliness impacts social experiences, emotional states of being, mental health, and physical health. Psychology Today includes states that loneliness is a risk factor for depression, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, weaker immune systems, poor sleep patterns, and increased stress. This does not include feelings of low self-esteem; being antisocial; poor cardiovascular function; anxiety; poor brain function; increased cigarette smoking; increased alcoholism or drug use; poor memory; suicidal thoughts, acts of suicide or suicidal attempts, and an increased mortality rate. If someone you love has been talking about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Additionally, those feeling lonely lack social support needed to overcome low moods and feel whole. Lastly, with the current state of COVID-19 and isolation due to quarantine, those experiencing loneliness may have worsened episodes of depression, anxiety, or grief and isolation. As a result, he or she can cope in unhealthy methods, like turning to drugs or alcohol for comfort.

How Loneliness and Addiction are Linked

Because of the increased likelihood of depression and possibly poor self-esteem, someone can decide to cope with these emotions in an unhealthy manner. Loneliness and addiction go hand-in-hand for a large number of people suffering from a substance use disorder. Using harmful substances to cope with challenges like depression, anxiety, and trauma are called co-morbid disorders. In cases of loneliness, someone can easily fall into the lure of drinking to cope. A study conducted by the Journal of Aging and Health cited loneliness as a risk factor for alcohol abuse.

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Moreover, the study found alcohol consumption more common in older adults. A reported 65% of “adults aged 45 years or older who have been diagnosed with drug or alcohol abuse report being lonely.” Ironically, those who have begun a drug or alcohol habit may often choose isolation to hide their habit from loved ones or friends, increasingly become lonelier to cope with feelings of being lonely. As a result, one can use alcohol or drugs to find short-term relief. To add, other drugs like cocaine or meth can become a substance of choice to increase low moods, give someone energy, and produce euphoric feelings to combat depression. Once someone has become dependent on harmful drugs like these, professional help is best to relieve the mind and body of cravings and reduce the risk of a fatal or non-fatal overdose.

Loneliness and Alcoholism

Once someone starts drinking to ease loneliness or depression, he or she further increases their sense of loneliness. Additionally, someone drinking can quickly develop a tolerance once he or she drinks a few times. Someone who has 2 to 3 drinks per sitting may soon realize they need a stronger amount of alcohol or more servings per sitting. This can also translate to binge drinking—which is drinking 4 or more drinks in 2 hours for women and 5 or more drinks in 2 hours for men. Although people may drink for a host of reasons, being lonely can put them at increased risk and they should be aware of the link between loneliness and addiction.

Drinking this much  can reduce the feelings of being intoxicated until people seek more alcohol. For example, some binge drinkers can transition into heavy drinking because the amount of alcohol just doesn’t cut it anymore. Moreover, since alcohol alters the chemistry in the brain, long-term alcohol use can be extremely difficult to stop. Going cold turkey may prove to be extremely difficult as alcohol withdrawal symptoms like cravings, nausea, vomiting, and hallucinations can encourage prolonged drinking.

If someone is abusing drugs like Xanax, cocaine, or other highly addictive substances, he or she can equally find it hard to quit or go cold turkey. If you or a loved one has fallen victim to an alcohol use disorder, or drug abuse, know there is help available. Loneliness and addiction can be difficult to overcome, but it is possible. Qualified treatment providers can diagnose the type of help you need, and help you receive the counseling necessary to feel connected to others again.

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