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The Effects of Social Isolation and Addiction

jrtempleton - May 4, 2020

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Nature and nurture dictate that we, as human beings, are social creatures. In fact, social wellness is one of the eight dimensions of wellness outlined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Social interaction can provide you with comfort, encourage healthier lifestyles, help cope with difficult experiences or feelings and offer different perspectives.But just as social wellness can improve your life, social isolation can hurt it.

The effects of social isolation can have significant consequences for a person’s physical, emotional and cognitive health, in particular. And for someone struggling with or recovering from addiction, social isolation can lead down a deeper path of drug abuse or even trigger a relapse.

The Effects of Social Isolation During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Amid today’s environment of taking precautions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, social isolation can take a serious toll on individuals who are in recovery. For someone who actively struggles with addiction, social isolation can lead down a deeper path of unhealthy behaviors. And, while it is still considered safe to attend a rehab program during COVID-19, there are circumstances that could make it seem more difficult to attend rehab during the pandemic than it really is.

If you’re concerned that a loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol or has relapsed into those old habits, it’s time to learn about the effects of social isolation and addiction.

Is Social Isolation the Same Thing as Loneliness?

There is a difference between social isolation and simply feeling lonely. Someone is considered socially isolated if they live alone, don’t participate in any work or community organizations or clubs and has relatively little or infrequent contact with loved ones.

Loneliness, on the other hand, is when an individual who is sad or anxious feels emotionally disconnected to others. Some who are socially isolated may not feel lonely, and some who are surrounded by people can still feel like they’re completely on their own.

Either way, studies show that suffering from social isolation or loneliness can cause major issues for a person’s health.

How Can Social Isolation Affect a Person?

When you’re not connected to other people, you might feel additional stress or anxiety. Even if you don’t consciously notice, it can still take a toll on your body. In fact, some studies have shown the consequences can be as serious as other health factors like obesity, smoking or high blood pressure.

Physically, you may experience some symptoms:

  • Have trouble sleeping
  • Develop cardiovascular problems or heart disease
  • Experience decreased immune system function
  • Be at higher risk of stroke
  • Change eating habits for the worse
  • Lapse into unhealthy routines

Emotionally, socially isolated individuals can struggle with:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Stress

A person’s mental faculties may also be negatively impacted, including:

  • Boredom
  • A decline in rational thought
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Hallucinations or out of body experiences
  • Inability to track time

How Do Social Isolation and Addiction Mix?

The disease of addiction can drive a person towards social isolation and vice versa.

Both social interaction and drugs have the ability to stimulate a person’s dopamine response. Physical and emotional connectedness cause the brain to produce good feelings, and when that system isn’t engaged, a person may seek to self-medicate. For those struggling with addiction, it can make for a deadly mixture under the wrong circumstances.

Loneliness and Addiction

When a person abuses drugs or alcohol, they often become distanced from support structures. Family and friends might be pushed away when they try to help, whether by the individual or the stigma of being associated with an addict. This can lead to all the negative impacts of social isolation and loneliness, which become amplified by the painful feelings of drug withdrawals.

Preventing Relapse in Social Isolation

If a person has been in recovery from addiction for a period of time, social isolation can be a powerful trigger to drive them back into drug abuse for all the reasons outlined here. Unfortunately, social isolation and relapse often go hand-in-hand as a strong support structure is vital for continued success in addiction recovery.

Get Help for a Loved One Struggling with Social Isolation and Addiction

We know it can be difficult to talk to someone about addiction. Understand that they are likely afraid of being vulnerable in front of you. Fear of failure or relapse can cause an individual to bury their struggles deep down and try to run from them.

At Footprints Beachside Recovery, we leverage evidence-based treatments like individual and group therapy to help your loved one reopen lines of communication and feel less isolated. We also focus on repairing relationships through family therapy, so your loved one can rebuild the support system they need to prevent relapse.

If you or your loved one need help, we are here. Contact us today and speak to our admissions counselors.

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