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How to Handle Loneliness in Addiction Recovery

Group of teenage friends with backpacks.

If you’re struggling with addiction, there are two statements which are both true but appear to conflict with one another:

  1. You are the only person who has direct control over your recovery.
  2. You should not go through recovery alone.

In other words, you must make it a point to seek out the support of others during your recovery journey. Otherwise, you could be alone as you battle your addiction, which can inhibit your progress toward long-term recovery.

The Science of Loneliness

Scientists are discovering that loneliness is a significant risk factor for mental health issues. Researchers in Australia and the United Kingdom found correlations between healthy social relationships and strong mental health. A study in Spain also shed some light on the connection between loneliness, bullying and addiction.

More direct relationships between substance misuse and loneliness were seen when researchers carried out studies on rats. When individual rats were given a choice between untainted water and water that was laced with an opioid, they drank the drugged liquid until they became ill or died. However, when the same hydration choice was given to rats who were placed together in a cage which contained alternate activities, they sampled the opioid water but mostly avoided it. The same effect was seen on individual rats who were “addicted” to the drugged water but then placed in a similar social environment.

Don’t Take Loneliness Lightly

Loneliness is so powerful that it exceeds smoking and obesity as a dangerous risk factor for subpar health conditions. Brigham Young University psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad conducted research on the subject and noted: “There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators.”

Why is loneliness so harmful? It deprives the brain of what is known as executive control, or its ability to maintain control over your behaviors, emotions and desires. When this happens, you become more vulnerable to addictive behaviors and substance misuse.

Avoiding Loneliness in Recovery

So how can someone suffering from a substance use disorder combat feelings of loneliness during recovery?

Smiling young woman listening to headphones.

  • Grieve the loss of drugs or alcohol. Like it or not, substance misuse was a significant part of your life which “died” once you entered rehab. So your brain needs time to process this loss.
  • Sever negative ties. Remember those toxic relationships or acquaintances with whom you partied? Identify them and remove them from your life. They’ll only hinder your recovery.
  • Build self-confidence. The more comfortable you are in your own skin, the greater the likelihood that people will want to socialize with you. Therapy is a good method that can help you achieve this goal.
  • Find support. Put some effort into building a support system made up of people who will encourage you as you go through recovery. Start by connecting with others who are navigating their own recovery journeys.
  • Make amends. Where you can, be proactive in repairing those relationships that were hurt or destroyed by your addiction. If this isn’t possible, then accept the fact that you won’t be able to change it.
  • Help others. People who struggle with all kinds of emotional pain often find relief in aiding those who are in need. So volunteer at a local charity or join an organization that gives back to the community.

Everyone has times when they simply want to be left alone. However, the more you are able to socialize with others and build relationships with people who care about your best interests, the greater the chances are of achieving long-term recovery.

One of the main benefits adolescents receive from addiction treatment programs is the knowledge that there are other teens just like them who are also battling addiction. If you think your teen might benefit from this type of structured, nurturing environment, contact Next Generation Village today.

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