Woman sitting down suffering from depressionIsolation and addiction often go hand in hand, but recovery doesn’t have to be a lonely process. Having support during drug and alcohol rehab makes it easier to achieve sobriety and stick to your long-term recovery plan. There are even ways to stay connected during periods of enforced isolation and things you can do to combat feelings of social isolation.

The Links Between Isolation and Substance Abuse

Everyone feels lonely sometimes, but for some people, feelings of isolation or rejection become so overwhelming that they turn to alcohol or drug abuse to numb the pain. The grief of a loved one’s death, a divorce or a miscarriage can act as a trigger that leads to drug addiction.  Drug use doesn’t solve these problems, though. It only covers up the need for real help and genuine social connections.

While loneliness is often a cause of substance abuse, it can also be the result of an addiction. A substance use disorder may drive away friends and family members who would otherwise provide comfort and support. Loved ones might be hesitant to trust or spend time with someone suffering from a disease of addiction. This vicious cycle continues until both the substance abuse disorder and the causes of loneliness are addressed.

Isolation after the addiction recovery process can also occur when the people you spent time with before entering a substance abuse treatment program continue to have issues with drug or alcohol use. During treatment, you learn how to avoid temptation and make better choices, which may lead to limiting social interaction to people who don’t drink or use drugs. Returning to the same type of social life you had before treatment can hamper recovery and lead to relapses, so you need to form new social groups that support your recovery instead.

Social Isolation and Loneliness

Social Isolation Concept

Social isolation isn’t the same thing as loneliness, though the two are often connected. Social isolation involves being physically and emotionally separated from other human beings. Someone who is socially isolated typically spends most of their time at home alone and doesn’t interact with others in the community, such as friends or neighbors.

Loneliness is the feeling of being alone combined with sadness, anxiety or depression related to this state of aloneness. Some people can live alone in social isolation for a while without feeling lonely, but because humans are social creatures, many people start feeling loneliness if they don’t have interaction with others on a regular basis. People who aren’t socially isolated can also feel lonely, particularly if they feel no one around them understands their concerns or issues. Some signs that you might be experiencing true loneliness and need help include:

  • Having trouble connecting with anyone physically or emotionally
  • Feeling sad, discontent and hopeless about your social isolation
  • Feeling left out or abandoned by friends and family members
  • Feelings of being misunderstood by or disconnected from the people you know

Building a Support Structure to Rely On

Having a strong peer support structure can be the difference between success and failure in long-term addiction recovery. Peer support groups can help provide structured socialization during recovery, and you can find groups that meet in person or online via internet-based meeting platforms. Joining a 12-step program is often part of post-treatment recovery.

If you’ve lost touch with friends and family members while suffering from a substance use disorder or during an inpatient treatment program, reconnecting with loved ones can help improve your chances of a successful recovery.

Many inpatient addiction treatment programs and outpatient addiction services include family therapy to help rebuild those connections. During this type of therapy, you learn how to better communicate with those around you and work through interpersonal issues that might have developed before you entered treatment.

How to Deal with Isolation During Addiction Recovery

When you’re going through an inpatient addiction treatment program, you have people around you to help support your efforts; once you leave the treatment program, however, you might feel isolated again. Because loneliness is often tied to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, ongoing therapy during and after treatment might be useful for your overall mental well-being.

Distraction and focusing on personal growth are other ways you can combat isolation in recovery. Consider joining a gym or signing up for exercise classes that help you stay healthy and give you new opportunities to socialize. If you have an interest in art or music, taking up a hobby such as painting or playing an instrument can give you something to focus on that improves your mental health. Other things that boost overall wellness include learning how to cook healthy meals, journaling and meditation. Spiritual practices and mindfulness activities help you learn to be comfortable even when alone, making it easier to experience peaceful solitude instead of feeling lonely or anxious when no one is around. Filling your days with enjoyable activities that keep your mind and body busy help you feel less lonely and reduce the risk of having a relapse.

Some people who experience loneliness as a result of social isolation during the recovery journey may find it helpful to adopt or foster a pet during this time. Interacting with another living creature reduces loneliness, and being responsible for a pet helps build self-confidence. Pets typically give love unconditionally, which helps boost self-esteem.

Coping with Social Isolation in the Face of Local Social Restrictions

During the COVID-19 pandemic, local and state governments began to set restrictions on social gatherings and interactions. These types of limits can make it harder to meet with support networks and stave off feelings of loneliness and isolation while struggling with recovery from substance abuse. In general, attending a rehab program with social distancing guidelines in place is possible even during a pandemic. Some support services may be delivered in a virtual format, including individual therapy and wellness check-ins after leaving a treatment facility.

If you’re struggling with addiction and ready to enter a rehab program, contact us via our admissions online form or call 252-715-3905 to learn more about our oceanfront addiction treatment in North Carolina.