A recent study found that social isolation may put people at an increased risk of early death. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, loneliness may now be more of a public health hazard than obesity.
This new research confirmed what many professionals have known, that being connected to others socially is a fundamental human need—crucial to both well-being and survival.
Isolation and Addiction
As drug and alcohol abuse increases, it often leads individuals to desire to be “left alone” and remain in isolation. This may occur because:
- An addict is ashamed of their behavior.
- The addict wants to hide their drug and alcohol abuse.
- The addict wants to isolate themselves so they can take drugs or drink to excess alone.
- They won’t have to deal with the expectations or judgments of others.
The Curse of Isolation
Addicts become isolated because they want to assure that nothing gets in their way of their addictive behavior. With no one around to observe or question their behavior, they can deny that they have a problem.
Regretfully, this type of solitude often results in depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Isolating from the friends, family and the community allows self-deception to continue without anyone to challenge the behavior.
Community: A Unique Perspective
The intimate relationship of addiction and isolation is not new. It was investigated by psychologist and Professor Bruce Alexander in the 1970’s in landmark animal studies.
Alexander suggested a unique concept. He believed that addiction is not caused by chemicals in the brain, but rather related to the indisputable need human beings have to bond and form connections.
His original premise was that “Global society is drowning in addiction to drug use … because people around the world, rich and poor alike, are being torn from the close ties to family, culture, and traditional spirituality…”
Professor Alexander’s preliminary research revealed that isolated rats when fed addictive substances quickly became physically addicted. They had no distractions or social interactions, so they focused on the addictive chemicals.
But these same animals placed in stimulating environments became socially involved with other rats and actually rejected the drugs. They had a significant physical resistance to developing an addiction.
His work has been replicated numerous times and now many, including journalist Johann Hari believe that the “addiction is about not being able to bear to be present in your life.”
Connection is Key
If people become isolated and cannot connect with others, they will connect with anything they can find. This theory proposes that a heroin addict bonds with heroin because they simply cannot bond as fully with anything else.
The lesson of these studies is that human connections are the opposite of addiction. Associating with others can potentially reject the harmful habit of drugs and alcohol.
In other words, loneliness is essentially related to drug addiction and addiction can no longer be thought of as exclusively the brain’s reaction to chemicals.
Treatment Includes Support
Regardless of age, gender or race, a recovering addict cannot lead a sober lifestyle on their own. Creating a support team and relating to others is essential and is the first step to long-term recovery.
A strong social network assures you will not fall back into a destructive pattern of isolation. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) includes Community as part of their working definitions of recovery, stating that “having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope is necessary for supporting a life of recovery.” One of the central benefits of being part of a support group is to foster a lifestyle of inclusion instead of isolation.
Healing from an addiction means engaging in treatment programs that eliminate reclusive behavior and forming close relationships to stay grounded and accountable. There is hope if the addict can connect with people in their treatment and recovery.