Isolation and Substance Abuse: What’s the Connection?

Experts have discovered a correlation between isolation and addiction. Learn more about this connection, and the treatments that we offer here.

October 4, 2023

Despite what many people are saying today that they enjoy the peace and solitude of isolation, human beings were made to be social creatures. There are very few people able to properly cope with the stress of being alone and isolated for any amount of time, and this was mostly proven during the quarantine periods imposed during the recent pandemic. Many will substitute other things for companionship, just to get their minds off being alone, including substance abuse, which is why there is a connection being seen between isolation and addiction.

What is the Connection Between Isolation and Addiction?

The most common reason for someone with a substance abuse disorder to isolate themselves is usually so that no one else would know about it.

This could be for several reasons such as not wanting to be reported to authorities, not wanting their close friends or relatives to know that they have a substance issue, not wanting anyone to bother them about going to a residential rehab facility, or simply because they would not want anyone to interrupt them as they go for their high. There are, however, some other reasons why these people tend to prefer isolation over anything else, including:

Self-Prescribed Isolation

Many people who have a substance abuse disorder know how uncontrollable they become when they either are high on the substance or when they have not taken any substance for quite some time. In both instances, they could be highly irrational, belligerent, and even outright violent. There is a good chance that they know this because they have experienced the backlash of what they become at some point, and they don’t want a repeat of it, which is why they isolate themselves.

The irony here is that they are aware of their perceived lack of control over themselves in such situations, and to prevent that, they choose to ensure they are not around anybody when they get that way. The act of choosing to remove themselves is an act of being in control, and if they were only made aware of that fact, they might also be aware that they just might be capable also of exerting enough control over their urges to curb their habit enough so they could get help.

In other cases, a person may intentionally isolate themselves because they feel the additional stress that having a hidden addiction brings to their lives. This additional stress may already be too much for them to handle, and they simply cannot deal with anything else including contact with their family members, friends, or even loved ones. Their addiction could already be at a level where they don’t care for anything else other than the substance they use, which neglects or ignore everyone else around them.

Maintaining a Secret Habit

Many people with a substance abuse disorder start with relatively normal lives, as they are still able to hide the fact that they are taking substances from most of the people they know or even live with.

This does tend to get more difficult over time, particularly when the person begins to build a tolerance for the substances they take and they require more of it just to experience the high that they get. This increase in taken quantity also tends to add more effort to keep things under wraps, as they have to deal with the additional mess of more used packaging, drug paraphernalia, or whatever else is included in their habit.

This eventually gets to a point where keeping the habit a secret becomes next to impossible, so they begin to distance themselves from anyone they care for or they perceive to become problematic once their habit becomes known. At this point, they could spend more time in their room, take to eating alone, and keep away from any situation where talking to others becomes unavoidable. This is particularly true if the person still lives with elderly family members who could take it upon themselves to give the addicted person a serious scolding.

Keeping the habit a secret is particularly difficult if the person happens to be a professional in a corporate setting where one’s actions tend to be noticed immediately.

In such a scenario, the only option to keep the habit a secret is either to stay away from everyone else or leave the job completely to avoid the possibility of discovery and embarrassment. For any individual who is experiencing this, opening up on group therapy would be very beneficial for them, opening up to someone who is suffering from the same problem can help with recovery.

Consolation Through Drug Use

substance abuse and isolation

There are also situations, however, where isolation is the perceived reason why the person got into substance use. Some people believe they simply could not be with anyone for reasons all their own. This could be due to anxiety, depression, or some burgeoning dislike for anything social.

The problem with this is that even though they think voluntary isolation is something they prefer, they eventually feel the crushing pressure of loneliness, and in the history of humankind, no one has been able to truthfully say that loneliness has made them happy, adjusted, and content.

Humans are hardwired to be social creatures, as it is part of the survival mechanism built into the most basic of instincts that people have. The adage that states there is strength in numbers also applies to the social aspect of people, because there is survival in numbers. The hardwired instinct to procreate is also partly responsible for this need to be social, as the survival of a species is also dependent upon the ability to create offspring.

It is not uncommon for people who are lonely to take to drinking whenever the isolation becomes too much. This is because getting inebriated gradually removes their ability to feel the isolation and the realization that they are all alone. Alcohol and some other substances are known to remove a person’s inhibitions, and during the instances where the person is rendered “honest” by alcohol or substances, they give in to the need to be with someone, often leading to regrettable situations later on when the inebriation wears off.

While these people might not admit it, the brief consolation they find when they use alcohol or substances is typically the only time when the isolation and loneliness don’t consume them completely. We here at Legends Recovery offer treatment to help you recover. We offer an intensive outpatient program in Cleveland, Ohio specifically designed to treat addiction.

What Dangers Come with Isolation?

Being alone is never easy. In some cases, it could even be downright dangerous, as there would be no one else around when an emergency occurs and the presence of another person could be necessary for survival. In cases where a person has a substance abuse disorder, the danger is magnified considerably, as the risk of succumbing to an overdose or a complication is practically guaranteed if the person is all alone when it happens, as there is no one around to help them or even call for help.

Some of the proven adverse effects of being isolated include:

Loneliness is believed to be more dangerous than obesity and chain smoking

Numerous studies done on the damaging effect of human isolation and the emotionally crippling effects of loneliness reveal that the cumulative effects experienced by people who live alone and are removed from social circles could be just as damaging as being severely overweight or the effects of smoking as much as 15 cigarettes a day.

Research done by the American Psychological Association on 148 studies, involving 300,000 participants, suggested that loneliness or living alone each played a significant role in premature death, while people who had greater social connections had a 50% reduced risk of dying early.

Loneliness and Isolation Could Aggravate Certain Conditions

People who are known to live in isolation have been observed to suffer more health effects such as heart problems, depression, high-stress levels, and impaired memory.

The damaging effect is said to be doubled when the person living in isolation also happens to have a substance abuse disorder. UK-based nonprofit group Campaign to End Loneliness conducted a recent study that showed lonely people are more likely to have a higher tendency to use medication or \self-medicating, as opposed to people who live with a family who are more likely to seek professional medical attention for anything they feel instead of self-medicating.

People who live alone are, for obvious reasons, more likely to suffer more from incurred injuries such as falls and other injuries from accidents. With no one to help them or even be around to call on for help, the likelihood of the injury becoming more severe is dramatically increased because the person was not attended to when the injury or accident occurred.

Isolation Could Adversely Affect Brain Function

There are numerous studies on the effects of isolation on the sick and elderly, and a sobering discovery is that being alone, particularly when one has a genetic predisposition for certain degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, significantly increases the chances of developing the disease and even accelerating its onset.

People of advanced age tend to be particularly prone to bouts of depression, as they experience a progressive weakening of their bodies and are left with few or no ones to comfort them. These bouts of depression tend to sap whatever little energy and vitality the elderly have left and leave them in a prolonged melancholic mood, which does nothing to help them in their physically and emotionally fragile state.

The damaging effects of loneliness are not necessarily limited to people of advanced age. There are many cases of people who live alone and are prone to bouts of depression who age prematurely, developing physical conditions which are more likely to be found in elderly people. This is mostly attributed to the body’s inability to process proper cellular regeneration, thus leading to early cell death, which is manifested as premature aging.

Less Sleep, Less Health

Staying up all night while alone might appear to be more apt in a melancholic song, but in reality, it is a sobering fact for many who live alone and are prone to bouts of loneliness.

Sleep studies have revealed that lack of sleep is highly damaging to health, making the person more susceptible to disease, decreasing the ability of the immune system to fight off infection, lowering overall strength and endurance, and significantly affecting the person’s ability to feel happiness and pleasure.

The same studies also suggest that people who live alone have a high tendency to develop chronic insomnia, either in connection with or independent of anxiety. A particular study on the effects of insomnia done at King’s College London revealed that diminished sleep quality is one of the many ways in which loneliness gets under the skin. This finding suggests that loneliness and lack of sleep tend to feed off each other and make each condition even worse.

Find Your Best Recovery Options at Legends Recovery

addiction and isolation connection

Dealing with isolation and loneliness could aggravate any other issue, including a substance abuse disorder. However, you don’t have to face this on your own. We here at Legends Recovery offer an addiction treatment center in Ohio. We know how helpful support and care could be because it is at the core of our mission to help others. We know what it feels like, because we have helped many people who were in the same situation, and we saw them right through the worst of it. We could help you too. Talk to us now.

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