Loneliness and Addiction
Trusted Content

Loneliness and Addiction

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

Medically reviewed by

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

February 18, 2019

Loneliness is strongly connected to substance abuse and can lead to addiction in some cases. If these issues are left unresolved, addiction and loneliness can create a dangerous relationship where one feeds the other.

The Loneliness Epidemic

Loneliness has been referred to as a modern-day epidemic. Some surveys find that nearly 75 percent of Americans combat loneliness, while Forbes reports that “the number of Americans with no close friends has tripled since 1985.” Both loneliness and social isolation have strong influences over substance-abusing behaviors.

Studies have revealed how loneliness is linked to depression, chronic pain, obesity, a shorter life expectancy, and substance abuse. Many adverse effects associated with loneliness are actually risk factors for addiction, too.

How Is Loneliness Linked To Addiction?

Loneliness can feed itself if left unresolved. As a person becomes more socially isolated, other crippling mindsets may take hold.

Within a lonely life these thoughts can become debilitating, drowning out a person’s sense of self-preservation and self-care. To get rid of these thoughts or attempt to self-medicate, some people may turn to drinking or abusing substances.

Many of the primary characteristics of a substance use disorder are actually circumstances which foster social isolation and loneliness. For example a person may:

  • Continue to drink or use drugs despite the impact it’s having on their relationships.
  • Continue to drink or use drugs despite the damage it’s doing to their mental health.
  • Ignore their social, work, or family responsibilities in pursuit of their next buzz or high, or because they’re sick from its aftereffects.
  • Cut themselves off from their loved ones as they’re increasingly preoccupied with seeking and using the drug.

As these behaviors increase in frequency, and as a person becomes more isolated, their substance abuse deepens as well. Over time the drug abuse becomes compulsive and chronic and an addiction is formed.

Once this happens, a person continues to engage in these and other dysfunctional behaviors that threaten their physical, mental, and social health. As an individual sinks deeper into loneliness, other negative thoughts and emotions begin to flourish which hasten the maladaptive behaviors which sustain addiction.

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What Is Loneliness?

Fortune offers this definition of loneliness: “It’s perceived social isolation, or the discrepancy between what you want from your social relationships and your perception of those relationships.”

Loneliness can impact or even cause addiction. When a person uses drugs or alcohol their brain and perceptions are changed. Substance abuse also causes their priorities to shift in a way which strains their relationships and other social endeavors.

An addicted individual may begin to blame others for their addiction. They may also distance themselves from people if people close to them are not enabling them in the way they want. As a person uses the substance more heavily, they find they have less time for the people they once relied on for love and support.

Like other negative states, loneliness should be taken as a sign that something is imbalanced in a person’s life. In small increments, loneliness can be a helpful cue which signals that something is wrong in a person’s life. This awareness can give people the perspective to change or to reach for help. But, “Loneliness is not designed to be chronic,” as Fortune magazine cautions.

Despite this, chronic loneliness is becoming far too common, and with it the ill health and negativity that it fosters.

Chronic Loneliness Affects Far Too Many

Studies are finding that Americans are lonely now more than ever. This trend is especially high in Americans over age 45, according to the recent AARP Loneliness Study. Just over a third of the participants, or an estimated 42.6 million adults, struggle with chronic loneliness. Individuals aged 45 to 49 were hit hardest, as were those who weren’t married.

Loneliness and isolation hits other age groups hard too, with some experts citing that Millennial’s experience it more often than other generations.

How Does Loneliness Breed Negativity?

Our friends, families, and even our coworkers can be mirrors who help to reflect back to us our true selves and the state of our minds, spirits, and hearts. Without this reflection and support we begin to flounder and lose our bearings.

Maybe depression rises and we start to sink into it. But without anyone there to see us struggling, we get stuck in its dangerous spiral of negativity. This negativity is prime breeding ground for other harmful emotions and mindsets: anger, blame, resentment, and fear.

At some point, we fall into a vicious cycle: as we grow more lonely we blame ourselves for it. We convince ourselves we’re not worthy of anyone else’s affection or love, when in reality our hearts are crying out for it.

However, love and support, and people who provide them, may help people struggling with loneliness and addiction as they journey towards healthier, sober states.

Why We Need People To Beat Addiction

Without active support, substance abuse can accelerate into addiction more easily. Once addicted, it’s harder for a person to conquer their addiction alone. For those who find sobriety and begin building a recovery, loneliness is a huge risk factor for relapse. At every step of the way loneliness can make it harder to live a drug-free life.

So how do people beat this? Reach out to people fighting addiction, or help them reach out to people who can help them. Having the help of a loved one can make it easier to take the steps necessary to obtain treatment.

Treatment For Addiction And Loneliness

A good treatment program should offer family therapy and support. Therapy and counseling sessions will help a person and their loved ones heal and grow together. In a great inpatient rehab program, individuals learn the coping and interpersonal skills which will lead them to a strong and connected recovery.

Treatment also teaches clients healthy habits and activities which promote better mental health. Treatment aftercare programs will continue to reach out and connect program graduates to people who can keep them energized and focused on addiction recovery.

Individualized treatment helps a person cultivate self-love, self-confidence, and better methods of self-care, all of which help to fight off loneliness and negativity.

RehabCenter.net can help you create a treatment plan that’s right for you. Contact us today.

Fortune - Chronic Loneliness Is a Modern-Day Epidemic

AARP Research - Loneliness Among Older Adults: A National Survey of Adults 45+

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