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Do you feel lonely?

If so, you’re not alone in that feeling. 

USA Today is calling isolation and loneliness an “epidemic” in the United States that has even caught the eye of the US Surgeon General. Not only is loneliness excruciating, sad, and boring, but it is actually terrible for our health, as well. We are meant to be in caring communities with one another. The way our society is currently structured, too many of us are spending an increasingly alarming amount of time alone. The result? Heightened risk of heart disease, dementia, stroke, and shortened lifespan. Mental health and, yes, behavioral health, take a hit as well. 

In fact, if you’re reading this blog post, it’s likely that you or someone you know is struggling with SUD (substance use disorder). Guess what else excessively loneliness puts us at risk for? 

Yep, addiction. 

Is Loneliness a Leading Cause of Addiction in the United States or Portland, in Particular? 

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Although we know that chronic stress, trauma, mental illness and a family history of addiction are some of the well-known “risk factors” for developing addiction later in life, there is mounting evidence to suggest that loneliness and isolation may also contribute to developing substance use disorder in many patients. 

Does Addiction Cause Loneliness? 

What’s also clear is that active addiction is absolutely an isolating disease. One of the leading symptoms of addiction that is usually eclipsed by other, more urgent symptoms, is mounting social isolation. When we are active in our addiction, we often self-isolate, choosing to refrain from social interactions in favor of substance use. Our circle of friends also shrinks to only include those who also use substances or who condone or tacitly support problematic substance use behaviors. 

What the Studies Say: Friendships Suffer During Active Addiction 

In one study, entitled “Isolation, Solitude and Social Distancing for People Who Use Drugs: an Ethnographic Perspective,” Roe et al, found that people who use drugs are often seen as “drug seeking” by peers, which functions to undermine the development of “trust, intimacy, cooperation, and care that characterizes close relationships.” While the study found that friendships between those with features of active addiction are often characterized by mutual care and concern, other times the themes of self-interest and self-preservation win out against higher order friendship goals. The study also found, however, that social networks are an important resource for continuing addiction and surmounting the day-to-day  logistics of obtaining and using substances of abuse. Still, though, the authors concluded that “relationships between heroin users…offered profound sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment,” despite the challenges that active substance use pose to trusting social networks.  

What the Studies Say: People with SUD Report Higher Loneliness Scores Than People Without SUD 

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While addiction is not totally bereft of social bonds, it can be very difficult to maintain quality friendships and a life-sustaining sense of community in active addiction. These challenges can lead to acute feelings of loneliness, which can make it even more difficult to ultimately seek help and pursue treatment. In another study, “Emotional and Social Loneliness in Individuals With and Without Substance Dependence Disorder,” Hosseinbor, et al. found that drug users do, indeed, report higher feelings of loneliness than people who do not use drugs. The authors hypothesize that this is because people in active addiction may “develop the sense of being different from the community” due to the lifestyle differences that people with untreated SUD often experience as a result of organizing day-to-day activities around substances, rather than relationships or other prosocial goals. 

The Opposite of Addiction Isn’t Recovery, It’s Connection 

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Often, we think of addiction as the opposite of recovery. You take the substance of abuse away from the person using it, and – voila – you have a person in recovery. 

The reality is that recovery works a little differently. 

While abstinence – the cessation of drug and/or alcohol use – is an important component of recovery, it is more of a side effect of a larger process of change at work. 

Managing the disease of addiction typically requires a multi pronged approach. SUD is a complex disease, with a complex cause, and a complex set of symptoms. Medication Assisted Treatment, pharmacological interventions, behavioral interventions, learning new tools and strategies for managing stress and coping with overwhelm, adopting healthier lifestyle choices, addressing nutritional deficiencies – these are all great tools in the recovery toolbox that we use to great effect at Shanti Recovery and Wellness. 

But perhaps one of the most impactful tools in our toolbox is the power of connection. In every appointment, we strive to build strong therapeutic alliances with our clients. We want to know you: your goals, your plans, your reason for wanting to make big changes in your health and in your life. 

You are not alone. We can help you take the next step – together.

What you’ll find at Shanti Recovery and Wellness… 

Portland residents tend to gravitate towards our programs because we offer a warm, family-style environment with knowledgeable clinicians in a comfortable setting. Our building is a converted craftsman that looks and feels more like a chiropractor’s office or a naturopathic family medicine clinic than it does an addiction treatment center. We tailor our patient-centered treatment plans around your preferences and goals, taking the whole patient into consideration, rather than treating addiction in isolation. 

Interested to learn more about how we can help? Give us a call today to begin your journey to freedom from addiction!