Isolation and Addiction: What’s the Connection?

The genetic programming of humans practically ensures that the need to connect with others will always be there, whether they admit it or not. This is a common reason why researchers have been looking more into the possible connection between isolation and addiction.

Despite the claims by some people that they would rather be alone, humans are social creatures by design. However, there is a possible connection between isolation and substance abuse.

Sana Lake Behavioral Wellness Center in Missouri has also joined researchers in examining the relationship between these two risk factors further to discover more about it. We offer treatment programs to help people in all stages of life break the cycle of addiction.

How Can Social Isolation and Loneliness Affect a Person?

The links between social isolation and serious medical conditions, if any, have been the subject of many studies over the years, although, to this day, they are not fully understood. There is, however, ample evidence to support further research into the topic. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are even looking at isolation as a serious public health risk because of the potential mental health damage it could do to people.

According to a study done at the Social Genomics Core Laboratory at the University of California, when a person loses a sense of connection and community, that person’s perception of the world could also drastically change. The study also found that a deep and persistent sense of loneliness could cause a person to develop unwarranted feelings of being threatened and a general distrust of others.

The study also found that there are also biological components to the changes that occur when a person suffers from chronic loneliness could change the body’s natural response to certain situations. One example is the alteration of how the immune system promotes inflammation. There is data that suggests severe loneliness causes inflammations to last too long, which in turn could increase the risk of other conditions and complications. Other conditions linked to chronic loneliness and isolation include:

  • A buildup of plaque in arteries
  • Promotion of growth and spread of cancer cells
  • Increased inflammation in the brain leads to Alzheimer’s disease
  • Weakened immune system
  • Increased susceptibility to infectious diseases
  • Increase in muscle tension
  • Digestion issues
  • Chest pains
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty in focusing
  • Disruption of sleep patterns
  • Shortened lifespan
  • Paranoia
  • Specific phobias
  • Suicide ideation

The sheer amount of conditions and complications that are associated with isolation and loneliness gives credence to the belief that being lonely all the time could make a person sick. While there is no conclusive answer as to why loneliness leads to physical, emotional, and mental degradation, medical professionals all have documented cases where they dealt with people who appeared to develop conditions and diseases that came out or were made worse by being lonely.

Is Social Isolation and Loneliness the Same?

The CDC defines social isolation as the lack of social connections, regardless if it is voluntary or involuntary. Loneliness is the feeling people get when they are alone, regardless of the presence or absence of social contact. In most cases, social isolation will almost certainly lead to loneliness in some people, particularly those who thrive in a social environment and suffer from a lack of contact.

There are, however, certain people who could feel lonely without being socially isolated. This is best exemplified by people who could feel “completely alone in a crowded room”. This deep sense of loneliness could point to mental disorders such as depression, although this fact needs to be established by a qualified mental health professional.

The most prominent differentiator between social isolation and loneliness as accepted by experts in the field is that social isolation is the lack of interaction or connection with other people, which in most cases could be resolved by simply talking or acknowledging the presence of others in the immediate vicinity. Loneliness, on the other hand, runs deeper as it is the feeling of detachment and solitude from the rest of the world.

What is the Connection between Loneliness or Isolation and Addiction?

Most people believe that the most common connection between isolation and addiction is that people with a substance abuse disorder tend to seclude themselves from others for fear of being judged harshly. This stigmatized perception is dangerous and is one of the many reasons why people who need help don’t receive it. 

There are many cases, however, of people turning to substance abuse to deal with an overwhelming sense of loss, grief, melancholy, or a seeming inability to connect with others and build any kind of lasting relationship with them. This is particularly true for those dealing with some unprocessed or unaddressed past trauma, such as those who served in the military and served combat, and then developed an addiction to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some studies were done on the possible correlation between isolation and addiction pointing to the nature of dependence as being the main bridge between the two. People who felt that they could not depend on others, or had difficulty relating with others that they could depend on, were forced to divert their dependence instead on substances such as alcohol and prescription medications.

To make the situation worse, people who live alone or are mostly isolated also have a greater tendency to suffer from the more serious effects of substance abuse, such as overdose and even death. There is an increasing number of cases where people who live alone only managed to survive a life-threatening situation because they were fortunate enough that someone did a wellness check on them.

Did the COVID-19 Pandemic have any Effect on Isolation and Addiction Cases?

The massive infection rate brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic did more than generate an extreme fear of infectious diseases in the world as a whole. It also created a breeding ground for the underlying fears and paranoia of people who tend to engage in social isolation. According to data gathered by the CDC, in June 2020, at least 13% of all Americans in the U.S. admitted to getting into substance use as a way to cope with the extreme fear generated by what the pandemic was doing to the world.

To underline this point, drug overdose-related deaths in the United States hit the 100,000 mark between April 2020 and April 2021. People struggled to make sense of what was happening around them even as they did their best not to get sick and still try to make a living while businesses shut down as workers could not go to their places of work for fear of getting infected.

Social isolation reached a staggering peak during this period, as the loneliness that came with it was exacerbated by fear of death by disease. Social isolation was also not something done voluntarily, as governments all over the world struggled to stem the infection by imposing mandatory social isolation everywhere.

This mandatory isolation further fueled fears as people realized just how serious the conditions were. The added threat of an uncertain future made the mandatory isolation even worse for many, as people who were so used to being able to reach out and talk to someone about their troubles suddenly found themselves completely alone and forced to stay indoors with the risk of severe illness waiting for them outside.

What are the Signs of Social Isolation and Loneliness?

The recent pandemic has proven that people could isolate themselves and still be able to come out of it with their mental health in good condition. Loneliness, however, when paired with social isolation, or as a consequence of social isolation, could have a severe impact on a person’s well-being, both in mental and physical aspects.

While these signs might be outwardly observable and often associated with someone suffering the ill effects of social isolation, they could also be attributed to some other reason. These signs, however, do tend to come up as common indicators of the adverse effects of social isolation, particularly for an extended period of time.

  • Indicators of poor physical health or frequent injuries such as bruising and wounds
  • Signs of declining health or nutrition such as severe or rapid weight loss
  • Signs of adverse mental or emotional health effects such as fear or confusion
  • General lack of interest in anything
  • The appearance of being withdrawn
  • Tendency to avoid interaction with anyone else
  • External signs of depression such as general melancholy or undeniable sadness
  • Unenthusiastic movement or fatigued appearance
  • Avoiding eye contact with others

Let Sana Lake Help You Get Back on the Track to Wellness Again

There are some struggles in life that people need to negotiate on their own, but there are also many instances where help could be greatly needed. Mental and emotional issues could be quite more difficult to deal with than physical issues, and for these kinds of struggles, Sana Lake BWC is here to help.

We have seen how difficult some struggles for people could be, and in many cases, these struggles could have been more manageable if the person received some help. This is why we always help in any way we can because we understand how challenging it could be for some people. You’re not alone, reach out to us today. We can help you, as we have helped countless others cope and recover from isolation and addiction.