How do you define loneliness? In basic terms, it’s the state of being alone. However, loneliness is viewed as a negative situation and is more related to an intense feeling of loneliness rather than simply the technical reality of being alone. It’s possible to feel a sense of loneliness even if you’re surrounded by people.
According to a Harvard study, between 25% and 60% of elderly Americans feel lonely. On the other hand, up to 71% of the younger generation known as Millennials report that they feel lonely some or all of the time.
Loneliness and addiction are connected. This is mainly due to people with addiction feeling alone in their struggle with drugs or alcohol. Even when they move into recovery from their addiction, there is still the tendency to feel isolated and alone. The feelings of isolation may eventually also lead to depression, or it may encourage them to relapse in taking drugs or alcohol.
If loneliness and addiction is something you’re familiar with, then it’s important to keep reading for tips to overcome and get help if necessary.
How Isolation Affects Loneliness and Addiction
Being isolated might be one of the worst things for addiction recovery. Feeling alone can be a trigger for some to go back to drinking alcohol or using drugs. A support system of peers who can hold you accountable is also strongly recommended for those recovering from addiction to drugs or alcohol. It’s well-known that alcoholics and drug addicts have a better chance of recovering when they have a strong support system around them. However, isolation isn’t the only factor when it comes to loneliness and addiction. It’s possible to feel a sense of loneliness due to a lack of connection in your life. For example, you may have many friends and family members around you, but when you have no deep connection with them, you can still end up feeling lonely.
How Loneliness Affects Health
Loneliness can affect your health and wellbeing in many ways. It can make you sad and down, which can lead to depression. It’s also a risk factor for a weakened immune system, sleep problems, stress, arthritis and type 2 diabetes. It can lead to increased drug or alcohol use as well. Even if you’re not currently addicted, pervasive loneliness can put you at risk for alcohol or drug addiction.
Another risk for drug addiction or alcoholism and loneliness is the increased possibility of suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts. If you have had thoughts of suicide or know someone who is talking about suicide, it’s important to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 as soon as possible.
Finally, the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic has increased isolation due to lockdowns and quarantines. People who have already struggled with feeling alone may have an increased likelihood of depression and anxiety. They may choose to cope with these worsening feelings by using drugs or alcohol.
The Link Between Loneliness and Addiction to Drugs or Alcohol
Depression and low self-esteem often go hand-in-hand. The intensity of these emotions combined with isolation can cause people to cope in an unhealthy way. Large numbers of people suffering from addiction also report feeling alone and depressed. That is why loneliness and addiction are so connected. According to the Journal of Aging and Health, feeling alone and isolated is a major risk factor for alcohol addiction.
The study also found that older adults were most likely to turn to alcohol to cope with depression, anxiety and feelings of being alone. Among the age group of adults over 45, about 65% reported loneliness and addiction to alcohol. People who decide to self-medicate their depression and lonely feelings with alcohol may also attempt to hide this new habit, which leads to further feelings of being alone. In other words, using alcohol to combat the feelings of being alone often leads to a destructive circle of addiction. At this point, alcoholics and drug users will need to seek professional help to get free of addiction and reduce the risk of overdose.
Loneliness and Alcohol
Loneliness and addiction to alcohol are also connected. As previously mentioned, it’s a vicious cycle that starts with the person drinking alcohol to suppress negative feelings. However, alcohol can also cause these feelings if you drink too much of it. If you binge on alcohol a few times, you will likely develop a tolerance. That means you will need more alcohol to get rid of your negative feelings. The initial two or three drinks in a sitting might soon turn into five or six. Psychological dependence plus physical tolerance adds up to addiction.
Heavy drinking also rewires the brain and is very difficult for people to stop by themselves. Withdrawal symptoms like nausea, hallucinations, cold sweats and cravings may quickly encourage relapse and prolonged drinking.
Addiction Is Lonely by Nature
As previously mentioned, addiction and feeling lonely are connected in a destructive circle. The circle goes as follows:
• Feeling lonely
• Engaging in substance abuse to mitigate lonely feelings
• Isolating self from loved ones due to addiction
The person will then feel even more lonely, which aggravates the addictive behavior, which then renders them feeling even more alone. If you’re in addiction recovery, you can take some steps to avoid feeling lonely and risk relapsing. Take a look at the following list of positive behaviors to assuage feelings of being lonely:
• Maintain a strong support network
• Spend quality time with your friends and family
• Attend any recovery meetings in your area
• Communicate with your friends and family so they know your situation
• Practice mindfulness and meditation
• Understand the difference between feeling alone and simply being solitary
• Take classes that enable you to become more social
• Pursue new interests and hobbies as a result of these classes
• Lift your mood through exercise or music
• Talk to a licensed therapist about your feelings
Feeling alone is not uncommon during recovery from substance abuse. You may feel as though no one understands your struggle. You might also be cut off from previous social networks of fellow addicts. This is where you can work to find new support systems and pursue new hobbies instead of abusing addictive substances.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, Dr. Howard Samuels can help. Dr. Samuels is an addiction Therapist in Los Angeles who specializes in psychotherapy for addiction and other mental health problems. If you don’t have an addiction but are worried about your risk due to lonely and sad feelings, it’s also a good idea to reach out for professional help as soon as possible.