We tend to associate addicts with two extremes in terms of sociability. On one hand, we imagine a person using harmful substances to become the “life of the party” and become more sociable. On the other hand, we have a depressed individual who uses drugs as a gateway to escape the loneliness. The truth is, most addicts fall somewhere along these lines where they all experience feelings of isolation. Anyone who’s suffered from addiction knows that having a crippling dependence on harmful substances can stem from deep bouts of loneliness.
The problem with substance abuse is that it only exacerbates the problem in the long-term. A developing addiction to drugs and alcohol pushes the individual into deeper isolation where they become remote and emotionally distant. This leads to fractured relationships, lost hopes, and the person can spiral down into an endless cycle of substance abuse. Today we’ll be discussing how loneliness can contribute to addiction and how to help individuals who suffer from it. Should you feel that any of the below relates to your life or friends then it is always advisable to get in touch with a leading drug and alcohol rehab center for expert advice.
The consequences of loneliness
All of us experience occasional feelings of loneliness and anxiety, but when those feelings linger for an extended period, we often search for something to lighten the burden. This is where self-medication comes in. Self-medication is a method that people use to cope with feelings of extreme loneliness. Sometimes, people resort to drugs and alcohol to ease the pain. They feel relieved whenever they use the substances, but the trouble is that they stave lonely feelings for a short amount of time. The person ends up replacing the feel-good chemicals they receive from positive stimulation with harmful substances and destructive habits.
Studies have revealed that people who experience more social isolation are at risk of developing substance abuse and mental health issues. Loneliness can also be attributed to numerous health issues that include:
- People with extreme bouts of loneliness are at risk of premature death, elevated blood pressure, and a compromised immune system.
- Being in a state of loneliness could increase your risk of having a coronary disease by 30%.
- People who report feelings of loneliness are twice as likely to develop a substance abuse disorder.
The importance of having strong social support
The 14th Dalai Lama shared a message on how important relationships are to an individual’s life. He said “We human beings are social beings. We come into the world as a result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.”
Having a strong emotional connection with other human beings is an essential part of living. Social support and interaction make us feel loved, validated and cared for. We feel a part of something greater when we share our lives with other people. That’s why most addicts resort to substance abuse because they aim to artificially replicate feelings of love and importance that they don’t experience from their relationships. Having strong social support is crucial because:
- It gives you a sense of purpose. Knowing that you are loved by someone reinforces your self-worth and makes you feel important. And while it is possible to find purpose without the help of others, we can end up with an even greater purpose when we are surrounded by a strong social structure.
- Studies have shown that support from friends and family can cause antidepressants to take effect more. Receiving long hugs release oxytocin in the brain, promoting feelings of love, well-being, and social bonding.
- Good social interactions and healthy relationships are predictors of physical and mental health. A healthy mind equates to a healthy body, both essential components in living a long, fulfilling life.
The Rat Park Experiment
Bruce K. Alexander, a Canadian psychologist, conducted a series of studies about drug addiction back in the 1970s. He and along with his colleagues conducted an experiment wherein the test rats were placed in a cage that contained a feeder bottle laced with cocaine. The rats ended up consuming the cocaine-laced water in large quantities until they died. The experiment supposedly displayed that even a small amount of illicit substance is enough to get a person hooked.
But Alexander wasn’t satisfied with the result of the experiment. He tweaked one important variable which was the cage. In the first experiment, the rats were contained in a small cage with no toys, no space, and no other company. He then added turn wheels, tunnels, and other rats in the cage in what was a recreated experiment called Rat Park. The feeder bottle was laced with morphine this time around and to his surprise, none of the rats became hooked on the drug-laced water.
Alexander’s main point was that it wasn’t necessarily the drug that led to the rat’s addiction, but their environment and lack of social stimulation. When the rats were placed in Rat Park, they had the space to move around and play with other rats where they were less likely to develop a crippling addiction. The same goes for people who suffer from addiction. Their environment and social support can play a huge role in helping them overcome their destructive habits. Loneliness affects just about every person on the planet, but when the person starts to feel distant and emotionally detached, they might end up abusing harmful substances to fill in the void. Understanding how loneliness can contribute to addiction is important to provide your loved ones with the love, care, and support that they need.
Along with an effective rehabilitation program, individuals from substance abuse can find their way back. Good social interactions and healthy relationships are important to prevent feelings of isolation from developing into a full-blown addiction. If you or your loved ones are suffering from extreme bouts of loneliness, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional in the field of psychotherapy, mental health, and psychology.