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The Challenges of Isolation in Addiction Recovery

Addiction in and of itself is already isolating. It can cause irreparable damage to relationships with your partner, family, and friends. The overwhelming guilt from relapsing or causing people you care about so much pain can drive recovering addicts further away from those they love and who love them.

In some cases, isolation and addiction also go hand in hand when you remove yourself from potentially triggering situations that may compromise your sobriety, such as veering away from invitations to parties that serve alcohol. On top of that, there’s the current predicament of social distancing brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the many plausible reasons one may choose to self-isolate, evidence suggests that socially isolated individuals have significantly higher chances of experiencing negative consequences that may sabotage their addiction recovery. Let’s dive in.

Why Social Isolation and Addiction Spell Trouble 

1. Physically and Psychologically Stressful 

Extended periods of isolation in addiction dramatically stress the body both physically and psychologically. A study on healthy men to be sent on assignment for manned spaceflight missions, like the Mars500, has found that at least three months of social isolation can:

  • Misalign the circadian rhythm, messing up normal sleeping patterns
  • Disturb the body’s natural metabolism
  • Destroy the body’s immune, endocrine, and neurocognitive systems
  • Alter stress hormone levels
  • Produce chronic fatigue

For recovering addicts, the radical consequences of isolation may take effect more rapidly and aggressively than the general population because their bodies may no longer be as healthy as they once had been. The individual will be working through the ramifications of prolonged substance abuse. Oftentimes, people dealing with addiction for a long time have one or more associated health issues. For example, alcoholism can lead to severe liver damage.

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2. A Potential Relapse Trigger 

Isolation can result in boredom and loneliness, which are both well-known triggers of addiction relapse. Spending too much time alone without anyone to talk to during the initial stages of recovery can be dangerous for recovering addicts. It can foster negative emotions such as misery, fear of being alone, or painful memories, which can fuel one’s addiction and prompt them to turn to their old ways of using illicit drugs or alcohol for comfort.

Without anything to do, excessive isolation can also make the mind wander, leading you to romanticize visions of your past, making you miss your former friends, and long for your life of addiction. When this happens, it means that you have reached the mental stage of relapse, and it will only be a matter of time before you decide to act upon your cravings.

3. Impacts Concurrent Disorders 

Isolation and addiction make people dealing with concurrent mental health illnesses more vulnerable. For instance, those diagnosed with underlying social anxiety can suffer from fight or flight responses resulting in full-on panic attacks when they find themselves in an overwhelming situation, like being in an elevator full of other people after months of isolation.

Unfortunately, these intense emotions can sometimes create an overpowering urge to use addictive substances to cope and mask these symptoms when left unaddressed. Hence, it’s crucial for recovering addicts with a concurrent disorder to continue their treatment through a continuing care program to access ongoing mental health care and emotional support through addiction therapy.

4. Lack of Support System 

Being in isolation also takes away the opportunity of building a solid support system. Having people you can talk to without fear of judgment, seek advice and comfort when you’re feeling depressed or confused, or keep you accountable about your sobriety plays a pivotal role in maintaining a lasting recovery from addiction.

Reaching out to your family members, relatives, and friends—whether in person or virtually—can make a difference in improving feelings associated with isolation in addiction. Luckily, even addiction support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or AA, have adapted to the changing times caused by the current restrictions of the pandemic by making more meetings available online.

Healthy Coping Strategies to Deal with Isolation and Addiction

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Honour your feelings.

Whether you are isolating by choice or out of necessity, know that your feelings and emotions are valid. It is natural to feel all these big emotions; there is nothing wrong if you feel overwhelming anger, anxiety, and sadness sometimes about your situation. What’s important is that you work with your therapist to process and cope with these emotions properly to make sure they don’t trigger a relapse.

Rebuild your relationships.

Addiction may have broken your relationship with your loved ones but don’t lose hope and think that everything is beyond repair. Family therapy, partner therapy, and emotional recovery programs can help you heal, reconcile, and start over with the people you love.

Spend time doing the things you love. 

What are the things you have always wanted to do or try but never found the time to do? Whether it’s finally learning how to bake, tackling your massive pile of books to read, or enrolling in an online course, use your time alone to be happy and productive. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, though. Keep it light and straightforward, and just follow your bliss.

For more ideas, check out our blog on Things To Do At Home While Self-Isolating.

Take advantage of technology.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s now effortless to keep in touch with your loved ones and even medical health professionals. You can connect with your family and friends online with just one click. In addition, it’s now possible to book an online appointment with your therapist or participate in group counselling or your local support groups via virtual platforms like Zoom or Google Meet.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help. 

Recovering from addiction is a long-term process. It’s normal to stumble and fall or feel scared or overwhelmed at times. It does not mean you’re weak or a failure when you decide to ask for help or seek treatment again; it only means you’re getting better at understanding your body and giving it what it needs when it needs it the most.

You’re Not Alone – Get Help Today 

If you or a loved one is struggling with isolation and addiction, let Freedom From Addiction help. We have a wide range of evidence-based approaches that we can customize to suit your unique needs. For more information, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. A member of our team will get back to you shortly.

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