Substance Abuse and Social Isolation

Substance Abuse and Social Isolation

How Substance Use Can Lead to Loneliness

Are you tired of feeling lonely as a result of your drug or alcohol use? Unfortunately, substance abuse and social isolation go hand-in-hand. In turn, this can spur more negative feelings.

Both can lead to a lack of a support system that could otherwise prevent relapse, even when you decide to get clean or sober. Mental health disorders also thrive in isolation, making it even more likely that you will continue suffering.

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How can you break the cycles of drinking or drugs and the isolation they can leave you with?

Keep reading to learn how the addiction treatment programs at Icarus Behavioral Health can help you conquer your isolation and struggles with substances head-on!

Social Isolation Linked to Substance Abuse

Social Isolation and Substance Abuse

Research proves that those who have issues with substance abuse also feel a greater sense of disconnect from the world around them when compared with non-drug users. Social isolation can increase the risk factor for problematic behaviors like continued alcohol or drug abuse. The question remains: why do people tend to isolate themselves when they use substances?

The answer depends on the individual, of course. However, there are some common threads that clinicians see time and again.

Pushing Away Key Support Groups

Someone who actively struggles with addiction may have a hard time embracing the help that is offered to them by well-meaning friends and family members. These people have the best of intentions when it comes to offering support and help. However, the person struggling has no desire to come to terms with their addiction.

As a result, they tend to push those people away so that they can continue to engage in high-risk behaviors without being chided or shamed.

Stigmas Around Addiction

Not to mention, many people withdraw their support because they don’t want to be associated with the stigma. There are lots of negative feelings that surround addiction. Social interaction is difficult for those who observe someone abusing drugs or alcohol. Because of the stigma surrounding this issue, it is easier for some people not to be mentally swept up in the addictive behaviors of their loved ones.

As a result, many people choose to walk away from someone engaged in substance use. It is simply too painful to continue watching their life spiral out of control.

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Shunning Judgment

One of the key reasons why someone struggling with substances or drinking may push people away is because they want to be free to use without judgment. Many of their friends, family members, and loved ones are offering judgment based on what they use and how frequently they use it. This external struggle with others makes the internal struggle of wanting to use drugs or drink heavily even harder.

In order to feel fewer judgmental stares and to continue their substance use without impediment by their loved ones, they often push people away.

Keeping Up the Facade of Wellbeing

Putting up a front of functionality and well-being is often a way of coping. This is also a way for people struggling to get away with the lies that they tell their loved ones about their substance use. It is far easier to hide the extent of using this way. You may already know about this tactic.

Oftentimes, the frequency of use surpasses what family and friends may know about it. In order to keep up with the pretense that their addiction is not as severe as it truly is, people will often push friends and even drive loved ones away when drinking or using.

Adverse Health Effects of Social Isolation

Adverse Health Effects

Once you understand why people struggling with addiction or mental health issues may face social isolation, it is crucial to understand how that might affect them moving forward. This type of social isolation is linked to increased signs of mental illness and can be a risk factor for other problems such as suicidal thoughts.

Here are a few things you should know about the far-reaching effects of substance abuse and social isolation.

Lower Social Capital and Higher Overdose Risk

One of the adverse effects of living in active drug addiction is that you will often end up with lower social capital. In some studies, this type of social capital has been viewed as a protective factor when it comes to the possibility of a fatal overdose from substance use.

Those who have lower social capital tend to be more likely to have severe isolation and substance abuse, leading to loneliness and even the chance of an untimely demise.

Increased Suicidal Ideation and Acts

Because regular drinkers and drug users are less connected to peers and family members, you may also have an increased risk of developing more mental health struggles. When you have no one to reach out to or depend upon, social isolation can lead to an increased risk of developing suicidal thoughts. It follows that someone may also subsequently act upon them.

If you notice that a loved one is starting to withdraw from their social circles, it may be time to make a concerted effort to reach out. Even if you (or they) aren’t able to consider a life without substances just yet, knowing that someone is there to support and cheer them on can be a huge asset. This is especially true when it comes to outcomes for suicidal ideation.

Premature Death from All Causes

Even if your loved one is not suicidal, studies have shown that social isolation is also one of the risk factors for premature death from all sorts of causes. One study shows that a lack of social interaction can increase the risk of death even more than other underlying health causes such as obesity, smoking, and physical inactivity.

It can also increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and the development of dementia in older adults. Compounded with the negative health effects of using drugs or alcohol, this can have a significant impact on someone’s overall quality of life and longevity.

More Prone to Depression


As you may have already guessed, social isolation puts people at a greater risk of developing concurrent mental health problems, including depression. Unfortunately, the downside of developing subsequent mental health issues is that it makes it even more likely that someone will continue to use their drug of choice or alcohol as a way of coping.

This increases the risk of physical harm, more social isolation, and more serious outcomes for someone struggling with addiction.

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How to Decrease Social Isolation and Substance Use

Of course, there are plenty of ways that you can still support a loved one without encouraging their habit of using drugs or alcohol. It will require you to take steps to protect your own mental health, but it is possible to offer some insulation from social isolation for a friend or family member who is dealing with addiction or substance abuse.

Take Time for Yourself

Coping with a loved one’s alcohol or drug problem can be extremely draining for you as an innocent bystander. It is difficult to watch them throw away opportunities in favor of when they can get their next fix. The lengths they are willing to go to may seem extreme to you. However, it is important that you remain present for them without offering judgment for their condition.

This means that you will need to engage in good self-care, and set firm boundaries with your loved one. You may potentially seek counseling for your own well-being.

Provide Resources

Remember that it is not up to you to heal your loved one from their addiction. Instead, you should arm yourself with resources that they can use if and when they are ready to reach out for help putting a stop to their drug and alcohol use.

You can refer them to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration which offers 24/7 help finding access to treatment facilities, support groups, and more. It can also help to have an idea of what types of treatment centers are available in your area that you can contact if they become ready to address their addiction.

Icarus Behavioral Health in Albuquerque is an effective option whether they need detox services, inpatient treatment, or an intensive outpatient program.

Join Al-Anon

Group therapy

Group therapy is an important component of treatment for those in active addiction, but a group dynamic can also be beneficial for loved ones. There are plenty of groups out there, but the most famous is Al-Anon. Here, you can connect with others who are struggling with everyday life with their loved one who uses alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.

There are even groups specifically designed for teens who may need to process similar things that you see as an adult.

The benefit is that if your loved one sees you attending and benefiting from these groups, they may be inclined to try them out on their own. Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other groups may offer the support they need to take the first steps toward sobriety.

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Find Help for Social Isolation and Recover with Us

If your loved one has a substance use disorder and needs help, you don’t have to face the situation alone. Icarus Behavioral Health can help you deal with a socially isolated person who needs professional support and attention for their unhealthy behaviors.

Encourage them to reach out to us for help with their substance abuse or connect with us to learn more about our services on their behalf. We would love to talk to you about the next steps for anyone who is considering seeking treatment or would benefit from it.

Reach out today for a confidential discussion of the programs available at Icarus, and get help for yourself or your loved one in isolation now!

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