Substances are often used as a method of coping with negative thoughts and feelings. Drugs and alcohol are frequently used to lower inhibitions and make social interactions easier, but in the long run, use of substances can often make a person feel more alone than ever. While initially it may seem like drugs and alcohol can help a person open up and connect with others, prolonged use can often have the opposite effect. Relationships are commonly damaged, and many people find they lose support from friends and family as addiction progresses. Instead of nurturing relationships, life begins to revolve around substance abuse, further strengthening feelings of loneliness and isolation.
When people think about substance abuse, it is often thought of in extremes. The media and pop culture influence this heavily with depictions ranging from a popular, social butterfly to an isolated, depressed individual whose life revolves around their substance of choice. The reality is, many people fall somewhere in between these two depictions and their relationships with the world around them changes over time. Some may start their experience with substances feeling like the life of the party and find that over time, they spend more time alone than ever before. Loneliness plays a major role in the development of addiction and continued substance abuse often be a significant contributing factor to prolonged feelings of loneliness.
Loneliness and Addiction
Loneliness is linked a variety of health issues including addiction. Substance abuse and mental health are deeply connected and can lead to the development of a vicious cycle that is hard to break. Friends and family are often replaced with other substance-abusing peers who enable continued use. Many who struggle with addiction find that their relationships change over time and they feel more alone than ever before, even if they are surrounded by people.
One of the most difficult aspects of addiction recovery is combating loneliness. When a person makes the decision to stop using drugs or alcohol, it requires them to completely upend the life they are living in order to achieve sobriety. This includes cutting ties with substance-abusing peers. For many, this shift can be overwhelming. Substance abuse can be heavily connected to a person’s identity. It can leave a person feeling like they have lost themselves, their friends, and their sense of normal, making early recovery an especially troubling time.
Overcoming loneliness in recovery is possible as treatment heavily focuses on developing healthy relationships and connecting with supportive communities. This can take time, but it is crucial to the healing process. Some ways this is achieved can be through the following actions:
- Allow yourself time to process: Early recovery is riddled with many different emotions. Even though sobriety is in your best interest for your mental and physical health, cutting ties can still be a painful process. It is normal to feel sad about this loss. Loss of substances as a coping mechanism and loss of relationships is part of the recovery process, but over time, they will be replaced with new methods of coping and new relationships that support sobriety. Grief is natural and allowing yourself time to process it can make your recovery stronger.
- Make amends: Addiction can cause relationships with friends and family to deteriorate. While not all relationships may be able to be repaired, early recovery is a good opportunity to make amends if possible. Making changes and working towards achieving goals in recovery can help you rebuild trust with loved ones and restore connections lost to substance abuse.
- Join a support group: Spending time with others who can relate to your experiences reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness. Support groups are vital to the recovery process. Not only does it allow you to build relationships with others going through the same experience as you, but it also gives you a safe place to express your struggles and receive feedback from others.
- Volunteer: Giving back to the community can be an incredibly rewarding experience. It can help you build meaningful connection with others and explore what is most important to you. Volunteer work can make you feel fulfilled and good about the actions you take. It is also a productive way to fill your day with meaningful work and interactions.
- Discover yourself: Part of developing new relationships is establishing your own identity. Learning how to set healthy boundaries with others, develop social skills, and understand what is important to you can help you build self-confidence and create positive relationships. You cannot rely on others to feel fulfilled and learning how to create gratification for yourself can allow you to give back in your relationships.
- Consider sober living: Maintaining a connection to the sober community can help you avoid the pitfalls of relapse. Sober living communities are a great transitional option for those who have completed recovery and are adapting to independent living. Sober living homes allow clients to experience life on their own but provide the safety of a sober environment to return home to every night. This helps reduce the influence of triggers and enabling peers and allows clients to live alongside other sober individuals. Many of these homes enable clients to continue engaging in individual and group therapy and help reduce feelings of loneliness that many people struggle with upon leaving treatment.
Loneliness can be a trigger for relapse. As important as it is to develop new relationships throughout recovery, it is equally important to spend time rediscovering yourself. Cultivating interests, hobbies, and uncovering what drives you can reduce feelings of loneliness and help you learn how to enjoy your own company. Being alone does not mean you have to be lonely. Investing in yourself throughout recovery will help you develop the confidence and coping mechanisms to manage any obstacles you encounter over the course of your journey and learn how to be comfortable on your own.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, we are here to help. Give us a call at 310.403.1032 or send us a message below and one of our admissions counselors will do their best to get you the help you need.