Loneliness and addiction often go hand-in-hand. Depression can result from or cause loneliness. Many people try to self-medicate their depression with alcohol or drugs, leading to addiction.
To understand the connection between loneliness and addiction, you first need to understand what loneliness is and its causes. A deeper understanding of loneliness can help sufferers recognize early warning signs and seek outside help instead of turning to addictive substances.
What is Loneliness?
Loneliness occurs when we feel alone and disconnected from others. People often assume loneliness only occurs when a person is physically apart from others. However, people in relationships, who interact with others regularly, or who are generally outgoing can experience loneliness as well.
Loneliness is an emotionally uncomfortable state that happens when someone realizes they have not met their need for human interaction.
Humans usually crave the company of others. However, isolation is not the only cause of loneliness. People can feel lonely if their only interactions with others are superficial, they feel underappreciated, or suffer from mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.
What Causes Loneliness?
Anything that separates you from your support system can result in loneliness. A move across the country, starting a new job, a breakup, or moving out for the first time can cause you to feel lonely.
Even if you haven’t experienced a recent change in your life, you might feel disconnected and lonely if you only have casual acquaintances or mainly socialize with couples as a single person. Some people feel lonely without physical contact, even if they maintain online relationships.
Depression can also cause some people to feel disconnected from others, increasing their loneliness.
Loneliness and Your Health
Loneliness can increase the amount of cortisol your body produces. Cortisol, a hormone related to stress-levels, can have a dampening effect on your immune system and cause sleep problems.
People who experience chronic loneliness are also at a higher risk of developing diabetes, heart problems, and Alzheimer’s. Loneliness can also drive people toward unhealthy coping methods, including using addictive substances.
How to Deal with Loneliness
How to deal with your loneliness depends on the cause. If you are lonely because of a recent move or change of job, challenge yourself to meet new people and begin new friendships. If you have recently experienced a breakup, stay in touch with your support system, and ask them to check up on you.
If your loneliness isn’t connected to a specific change in your life or has become overwhelming, consider working with a therapist. There is no shame in working with a professional to help you through a difficult time in your life. A therapist can help you create healthy coping methods, meaning you’ll be less likely to relapse or turn to alcohol or drugs in this challenging time.
Loneliness and Addiction
Addiction, a chronic disease, refers to the uncontrolled need to use drugs or alcohol. It can result in harmful changes to the brain, behavior that harms others, and physical problems.
Often, someone’s path to addiction starts when they voluntarily drink or take drugs. However, it can quickly become an addiction when a person feels compelled to use their substance.
Loneliness’ link with depression and its effect on people’s emotional state means that lonely people often use unhealthy coping methods to alleviate their loneliness.
Drinking to numb the pain or using drugs to feel better might seem to alleviate the loneliness for some time, but they only help for a short period. After the substance’s effects leave your system, you may even feel worse than you did before. To combat that, some return to the substance, resulting in a pattern of addiction.
Drinking or using alone can also be dangerous. If you have medical problems from overdosing or alcohol poisoning, you are less likely to receive medical help in time if you are alone.
In addition to loneliness, addiction can also increase your isolation. Addicts often try to hide their addiction from their family and friends. To do so, they sometimes retreat from friendships and connect with their family less often. These actions cause a cycle that gradually isolates people from their support.
Alcoholism and Loneliness
Loneliness and alcoholism, in particular, feed into each other. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can increase your loneliness. To cope with the increased sadness and loneliness, people may then return to alcohol to numb the pain.
Alcohol is also a socially acceptable drug, allowing many addicts to socialize at a bar while they indulge in their addiction. Yet, these interactions can often feel superficial, and the next morning, the depressive effects of alcohol can enhance a sense of loneliness.
Because people can develop an increased tolerance to alcohol relatively quickly, they may soon find themselves needing more alcoholic drinks to cope with their loneliness. One drink per night can quickly become three or four, eventually resulting in binge drinking.
There are many risk factors for addiction in addition to loneliness, including genetics, mental health conditions, the type of drug, and your environment. It’s important to be aware of these risk factors to help you avoid relapse or starting on the path to addiction.
With the increase of online interaction and the regulation and reduction of in-person meetings, loneliness is rising. Although alcohol or drug use might seem like an appealing, quick answer to your loneliness, consider reaching out to a therapist to help you find healthier coping methods.
Healthy Coping Methods
Your therapist may suggest several coping methods to help you manage your loneliness without substances. These methods may include joining a class or finding a new hobby, whether online or in-person, strengthening your existing relationships through dinner meetings, phone calls, or video chats, getting a pet, finding new people to connect with online, and continued therapy.
If you have suffered from addiction in the past, and are currently dealing with loneliness, reach out to a therapist with addiction experience. They can help you using addiction counseling, or talk therapy, group therapy, and medication.
Group counseling can be particularly effective for those in danger of developing an addiction or relapsing due to loneliness because it allows you to connect on a deep level to others.
Regardless of the reason, if you believe you have developed an addiction, are in danger of doing so, or might relapse, a qualified therapist can help you. Right Path Addiction Treatment Centers can help you find the right approach to find the support you need to overcome your addiction and build meaningful relationships.
Native of Moldova, Dr. Zhitar is Board Certified in Addiction Medicine as well as Internal Medicine and completed his training at UPMC Shadyside, Pittsburgh, PA in 2000.