Feeling lonely is not uncommon in this day and age. In fact, about three-quarters of Americans report being lonely and it’s contagious too. According to Forbes, people are 52 percent more likely to be lonely if they are directly connected to someone else who is lonely, like a friend, family member, or coworker.
Loneliness is a complex emotion with lasting consequences. It can contribute to many health conditions like chronic pain, depression, substance abuse problems, or even shorten a person’s life expectancy.
Although people often try to fill the void of loneliness with things like food, material possessions, drugs, or alcohol, these responses are ultimately unhealthy and prevent the person from ever addressing the real cause of their loneliness.
The Importance of Social Connection
Social connection is generally defined as the feeling of belonging to a group or feeling close to other people and it is an essential part of human existence. That connection starts as early as birth and the relationship babies have with their mothers impacts the way they interact with other people throughout the rest of their life. That first connection sets the stage for healthy, secure attachment with others.
On the other hand, it’s not surprising that a lifestyle of isolation can be extremely harmful. Research shows that having strong social relationships combats mental health problems and promotes physical health, happiness, and overall wellness. Without social connections, the human mind can take people to very dark places and cultivate harmful thought patterns that lead to self-destructive behaviors.
Just as our brains are wired to connect with other people, the absence of social connection has a profound impact on our health and well-being. It impacts the way we view the world, ourselves, and our self-worth.
Addiction, Loneliness, and Isolation
In many cases, addiction develops when a person chooses to avoid negative feelings like pain, hurt, frustration, or anger by using chemical substances like alcohol or drugs to cope. As the drug-abusing behavior becomes a habit, the person continues to bury those feelings and search for temporary relief. However, when the effects of drugs and alcohol wear off, they are left with the discomfort of those negative emotions once again, which drives them back to substance abuse.
This revolving cycle of substance abuse and loneliness breeds feelings of emptiness, low self-esteem, shame, and ultimately, isolation. As a result, an addicted person may develop a negative mindset that is fueled by thoughts like:
● “I’m not worth anything.”
● “No one cares about me.”
● “My friends and family have abandoned me.”
● “I’m hopeless.”
● “I’ll always be this way.”
As negative attitudes, mindsets, and emotions fuel the addiction, the drug abuser continually engages in behaviors that drive them further from friends and family.
When it comes down to it, addicts are often lonely people because addiction is a disease of isolation. Feelings of loneliness can either be a contributing cause of addiction or a side effect. Fortunately, there is hope for people who are addicted and lonely, and with the right help, they can achieve sobriety and healthy, meaningful social connections in recovery.
Overcoming Loneliness in Recovery
Addiction recovery is a long, difficult, and highly-personalized journey, but many people find that peer support is the glue that holds everything together. Making new, sober friends and investing in genuine, mutually beneficial relationships is one of the most important building blocks of a sober life.
Sometimes the relational damaged caused by addiction is beyond repair, but many relationships can be salvaged and renewed in a new life of sobriety. Making amends wherever possible and finding peace even when those amends can’t be made is an essential part of starting over after addiction.
As new relationships are formed and old hurts are healed, it becomes easier to break through the barriers of loneliness and shame and begin developing healthier habits and attitudes that contribute to lasting sobriety.