When we work with people in addiction treatment, we talk through the hurt, disappointment, and brokenness in an addict’s relationships. Whether problems were occurring with family members, peers, or colleagues, part of our process is to identify how someone’s relationships affected their addiction and how others were impacted by their addiction.
One of the trends we see across an addict’s relationships is a gradual disconnection from others, causing the addict to move further into isolation as their substance abuse progresses. Living in isolation can create numerous problems for one’s mental health, and addiction is no exception. Consider the following ways isolation impacts addiction.
Losing connection with others
As human beings, we are born with an innate need for attachment and connection with others. Psychology research has explored this need through the consequences of living in isolation. When we are deprived of connection, we are quick to perceive rejection where it is unintended, and we become more vulnerable to developing an addiction.
When an addict feels like others oppose their behavior, they may end up disappearing for unpredictable periods of time. Issues with their family may push them to leave their living situation. Their partner or children might move out, either by choice or necessity. As those relationships are torn apart, the addict’s drinking and using become hidden in secrecy, perpetuating the problem of isolation.
Acting in defense
When someone is deep in the trenches of substance abuse, that person is thinking and acting without sound judgment. The substances they so deeply crave have chemically changed the way their brain operates, compromising their reasoning and sense of rationale. When others challenge their behavior or question their habits, the addict uses defense mechanisms to deflect the criticism, such as avoiding the subject or acting in denial that a problem exists. As an addict’s excuses and reactions build frustration for all parties involved, the addict often ends up alienating themselves from their community.
Recent health research has studied the effects of loneliness on people’s overall health and well-being, finding that loneliness can impair one’s mental and physical health. Loneliness is experienced when someone perceives their own social isolation, feeling a discrepancy between the number of social interactions and connections they have versus the number they desire. Socially isolated individuals have been shown to suffer from disrupted sleep patterns, abnormal immune responses, increased stress hormones, and accelerated cognitive decline.
As an addict loses relationships in the storm of their addiction, they may feel further inclined to seek drugs and alcohol to numb the loss of those relationships, self-medicating the loneliness that their lifestyle has created.
Compounding the problems
As we learn more about addiction’s connection to other mental health illnesses, we find parallels in people’s tendencies to withdraw from society. Just as someone dealing with depression or anxiety struggles to connect with others, an addict also experiences similar challenges, feeling judged, misunderstood, or even paranoid around other people. When substance abuse is at play, each co-occurring mental illness exhibits escalated symptoms, magnifying the problems that ensue.
Reaching out for help
Whether in the dark stages of substance abuse or the trying days of recovery, an addict needs the healing and support of healthy connections.
Who in your life needs to be noticed and uplifted? Are you watching someone withdraw from family or friends? Consider how you can reach out to that person and offer support. Here are our tips for starting the conversation.