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The Effects of Social Isolation and Substance Abuse

Effects of social isolation and substance abuse is a complex condition that usually involves multiple factors. An individual’s environment, mental health, and past experiences can influence substance abuse, but studies show that isolation is also one of the most prominent risk factors for addiction. Socially isolated people may not have friends, family, or close coworkers; therefore, they frequently experience loneliness and depression. As a result, they may suffer from anxiety, low self-esteem, and other mental health problems, leading to substance misuse.

The Effects of Social Isolation

Many studies have found a link between social isolation and psychological issues, but also physical health problems. 

Psychological Effects of Isolation

Given our current pandemic, perhaps a look back at the effects of quarantine on people’s mental health is in order. For instance, a study discovered that, from a group of participants, 28.9 percent and 31.2 percent of them, respectively, had observable symptoms of PTSD and depression, and that ‘longer durations of quarantine were associated with an increased prevalence of PTSD symptoms.’ Thus, we can see that social isolation caused by a global pandemic has a real and assessable psychological impact on society. In extreme cases, some used social isolation to inflict psychological pain intentionally. Solitary confinement is a form of punishment designed to cause significant psychological distress. Individuals isolated socially can struggle with:

  • Boredom
  • Low rationality
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Focus issues
  • Hallucinations or out-of-body experiences
  • Inability to keep track of time

Physical Effects of Social Isolation

The connection between social isolation and substance abuse is also logical because solitude has adverse physical effects on people as well. According to research, feeling isolated and lonely is linked to the following health issues: 

  • Accelerated brain aging
  • Increased sympathetic nervous system activity
  • Impaired immune system
  • Heart diseases
  • Cardiovascular system aging
  • Increased inflammation
  • Decreased sleep
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Disability

An analysis of 70 studies and 3.4 million people also found that isolated people had a 30 percent increased risk of dying in the next seven years. The research is unequivocal. Social isolation has a negative physical impact on us, regardless of whether it affects the sympathetic nervous system or serotonin levels. 

How Social Isolation and Substance Abuse Link

Connecting with others is an essential aspect of happiness. Humans are social creatures, and a lack of social interaction can harm their health – numerous studies have found a strong link between mental health disorders and substance use disorders. According to the National Institute on Drug Use, many people who develop mental diseases are also diagnosed with substance use disorder. Data show that those who self-isolate have a high rate of SUD and mental ailments such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and antisocial personality disorders. As per NIDA, people with personality, substance misuse, or mental illnesses are more prone to use non-medical prescription opioids.

Social isolation and substance abuse are connected because seclusion can also cause loneliness. When someone is lonely, they may turn to drugs to pass the time or silence the inner voices that thrive in isolation. Too much isolation also causes mental fluctuations, causing some people to negatively perceive the world around them. In some cases, loneliness can also make them vulnerable, leading them to look for reasons people aren’t hanging out with them. At this point, self-disgust kicks in to provide a convenient scapegoat. When people become obsessed with these beliefs and thoughts, they may act in ways that augment their actions. They may also use drugs or alcohol to cope with their situation or to avoid reality. Prolonged use results in addiction, further isolating the user.

It is important to note that both drugs and social interaction can stimulate the dopamine response. Emotional and physical connection generates positive feelings, and if that system does not alter, some individuals may attempt to self-medicate. As a result, they will resort to illicit drugs, prescription drugs, or alcohol. In the wrong circumstances, this can be a lethal combination for those struggling with addiction. Unfortunately, any attempt to stop using substances at this point results in withdrawal symptoms, which makes them more likely to struggle alone, with no end in sight.

Warning Signs to Look For

Although not immediately noticeable, there are numerous signs addicted individuals exhibit. Some of these signs include:

  • A loss of interest in activities
  • Spending a lot of time alone
  • Sleep disturbances (oversleeping or insomnia)
  • A lack of energy
  • Difficulty focusing
  • An increase in anxiety and stress
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings.

If you know someone who exhibits these signs, it is critical to start the conversation with them as soon as possible. Ask them, “How are you feeling?” and listen to them and validate their feelings. This way, they will know they are not alone.

Get Help in Madison, TN, If You’re Struggling with Social Isolation and Addiction

Isolated people are at a higher risk of developing a drug addiction. The good news is that Detox Nashville offers medically-approved addiction treatment and therapies to help you or your loved one reopen communication lines and feel less isolated. We also take pride in our trained staff who assists you in developing the skills you need to support a lifetime of recovery. Call us today at (615) 845-4747 to find more information about our recovery programs.

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