There are a number of different factors that can increase a person’s risk for addiction, but loneliness is one that is often overlooked. People who feel lonely on a regular basis are significantly more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol to numb their emotional pain.
Understanding Who Is at Risk
Loneliness is defined as the gap between a person’s desire for social connection and their actual experience of maintaining relationships with others. Different people have different views on what makes a person lonely because they have varying needs for social connection.
Introverted people are often comfortable spending a significant amount of time alone and relying on just a few close friends, while those who are more extroverted need a steady supply of social contact to feel fulfilled. That being said, there are certain groups of people who face a higher than average risk of loneliness.
- Mothers of young children. Women who are the primary caretakers for infants, toddlers, or elementary school children spend the majority of their day on parental tasks and thus have less time to nurture their own adult relationships. They often feel disconnected from their spouse or partner and find it hard to schedule child-free time to spend with friends or extended family.
- Single adults who live alone. A person does not necessarily need a romantic relationship to be fulfilled, but single adults who live alone have significantly fewer social contacts than those who are dating, married, or living with a roommate.
- People who’ve recently moved. Despite the growing popularity of digital communication tools, it’s still very difficult to move to a new location and leave your existing social circle behind. Even when the move is for a positive purpose, such as a new promotion at work, the experience of starting over in a new city often leads to feelings of loneliness.
- People with disabilities. Physical disabilities that limit a person’s mobility can lead to loneliness because they make it difficult to attend many types of social gatherings. Some people with disabilities may also struggle to expand their social circle because they feel self-conscious or worry others won’t understand their condition.
- Seniors. Older adults can struggle with loneliness for a wide range of reasons. They may be mourning the death of a spouse or close friend, have health problems that make it hard to socialize, struggle with transportation concerns, or feel intimidated by the thought of expanding their social circle.
Perceptions of loneliness can fluctuate from day to day, and often increase on the weekend or during holidays. When it seems like everyone around you is having fun socializing, this can lead to feeling as though you’re missing out on all the fun.
Loneliness Creates a Vicious Cycle of Substance Abuse
When a person feels lonely, they may turn to drugs or alcohol as a temporary distraction. This may seem effective for a short time, but substance abuse is not a substitute for healthy interpersonal relationships.
As a person spends more time drinking or using, they become even more disconnected from the world around them. This increases feelings of loneliness and strengthens the desire to continue turning to drugs or alcohol for comfort.
A substance use disorder can also lead to behaviors that weaken a person’s current social ties. For example, someone with an active addiction may cancel plans, say hurtful things, or become physically aggressive towards friends and family. Those who don’t realize an addiction is at the root of the behavior may simply cut off contact—leaving the lonely individual even more isolated.
How Loneliness Can Lead to Depression
Loneliness takes a toll on a person’s mental health, so it can worsen the symptoms of depression and other similar mental health disorders. The risk is greatest when loneliness causes a person to neglect their physical care by getting insufficient sleep, reducing their daily physical activity, and engaging in unhealthy eating habits.
As with substance abuse, loneliness can leave someone with depression trapped in a cycle that’s hard to break. Social interaction can alleviate feelings of loneliness, but depression makes it difficult to find the strength to reach out to friends or family—causing a person to feel even more alone.
Additionally, the most commonly abused substances—alcohol, opioids, and benzodiazepines—are depressants. This means they reduce feelings of arousal and stimulation—an effect that can lead to increased symptoms of depression.
A person who is struggling with loneliness, addiction, and depression needs access to an evidence-based care plan designed to heal the mind, body, and spirit. At St. Joseph Institute for Addiction, we help men and women who are dealing with substance use disorders develop the foundation for lasting sobriety. Our Pennsylvania residential addiction provides individual, group, and family counseling, as well as a wide range of holistic treatments that let clients face the future with confidence. Contact us today to learn how we can help you or your loved one take the first steps towards a brighter future.