How Loneliness Fuels Addiction
Authored by Audra Franchini
That is, Americans are lonely, especially younger generations, says Cigna’s 2018 U.S. Loneliness Index. It’s no surprise that being lonely has detrimental effects on mental and physical well-being. The feelings can stem from a multitude of reasons, such as grief following loss, divorce, separation, or miscarriage. Not only can loneliness increase the risk of depression, suicidal thoughts, heart conditions, and other illnesses, but it can also trigger or worsen addiction.
The Connection Between Loneliness and Addiction
Loneliness or depression can result in using alcohol or drugs to deal with those feelings. Turning to the “comfort” of alcohol or drugs becomes a way of coping with feeling alone, unloved, rejected, and confused – it’s a way to numb that pain. Substance use helps avoid confronting their problems, delivering a false sense of security. It is a vicious cycle because when the drugs and alcohol are not present, all the emotions they were unable or unwilling to deal with come racing right back. When they don’t find ways to cope with the original emotion, it just keeps building and building.
People using substances to cope with loneliness, depression, stress, and anxiety avoid dealing with the reality of their situation and their feelings; they often live in denial, guilt, and fear. They may feel trapped and unable to escape the situation and they often hurt those around them because they, in turn, are hurting and angry. And loneliness also disrupts sleep, increases anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and risk of self-harm.
As loneliness fuels addiction, addiction, in turn, causes loneliness. As the addiction worsens, many people damage relationships and lose friends, creating even stronger feelings of loneliness and isolation. Without support, it is incredibly difficult to cope with those feelings without drugs or alcohol – so the circle continues. Therefore, loneliness can be both an effect and a cause of addiction.
Tips to Fight Loneliness and Addiction
Fighting loneliness can have the effect of fighting addiction too, as positive relationships impact your life in a significant way. Support groups and treatment will help to break the cycle of addiction, but lifestyle changes can also bring positive changes and greatly improve the situation.
Plan to spend quality time with family and friends. A strong support system can reduce the risk of depression, self-harm, and help individuals recover from addiction. Reach out and show up for meetings and gatherings. Communication is key to helping your loved ones understand the situation and recovery process. Finding a strong recovery network, such as RCA, is important to promote recovery through extensive support systems and to restore physical, mental, and social well-being.
Distract Yourself and Grow Yourself
Now is the time to explore new interests and passions. Sign up for that art class you’ve been thinking about, take music lessons, or hit the gym. Exercise and artistic activities, such as painting, dancing, or playing an instrument, have been shown to improve mood and be a great aid during therapy. They also provide opportunities to meet new people who share your interests and who you’ll have things in common with – an important factor for future friendships and relationships.
Meditation, though a solitary activity, is also important to nurture the mind and develop a healthy mind/body relationship, increasing mindfulness and well-being. Meditation teaches you the difference between loneliness and solitude, which means feeling at peace with yourself even when you are alone.
These changes, together with appropriate therapy programs, can have a strong positive impact on your life and help you fight both loneliness and addiction.