Why Addicts Isolate and Why It’s a Problem

Isolation is extremely common in active addiction. People may turn to substances because they are lonely and have difficulty relating to others. As the disease of addiction progresses, the addict may have a very hard time interacting with other people, which leads to more isolation and loneliness. The compulsion to use alcohol or other drugs is so strong that the addict gradually detaches from anyone or anything that gets in the way, and he or she becomes more and more isolated. Nothing can compete with the drive to get high or to escape from reality at all costs. The further you descend into addiction, the less connected you feel to other human beings. You just want to be left alone to do what you want when you want, and you want to avoid facing others. When you are alone, you can avoid listening to other people tell you that you are doing something wrong. As long as they can’t see what you’re doing, they can’t object to it. In this way, isolation becomes like a wall around you that no one can get through. You cut yourself off from other human beings whenever possible. It’s a very lonely place to be.

Overcoming Isolation: The Beginning of Recovery

In order to overcome addiction, you also have to overcome isolation. At inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation facilities, you will begin the process of reaching out to others and building mutually supportive relationships. The most effective path to addiction recovery involves participating in support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. In these groups, you can interact with others who have traveled down a similar path. These are people who can truly understand what you are going through because they have been there, too. In order to gain the full benefit of groups such as AA and NA, you have to be willing to get past the urge to isolate, which requires asking for help from others. No one can understand your struggles if you don’t let them know when you are feeling scared or vulnerable, and people can’t help guide you on a journey of recovery if you don’t let one or two people know you need some help.

The Pull of Isolation Into Relapse

The pull of isolation is a big reason why so many newly sober addicts end up experiencing a relapse. You may begin to compare what you have gone through with what others have gone through, and end up deciding that you are not really like the other members of the group at all. The minute you start convincing yourself that you don’t fit in is the minute your relapse begins. You might not have actually picked up a drink or a drug yet, but you are well on the way. The urge to be completely by yourself, disconnected from the rest of the world, will eventually lead you to resuming your old habits. When you are alone with your own thoughts, refusing to ask for help or reach out to others, your thoughts probably become more and more negative. You keep telling yourself that you don’t belong, that others don’t want you around anyway. At this point, you are really in trouble. Some people have said in meetings, “When I am alone with my own thoughts, I am in the company of an idiot.” Your best thinking got you to a place where you couldn’t control how much or how often you picked up alcohol or other substances. This is often referred to as “stinking thinking.” It’s important not to let this type of thinking take over, because it will just worsen your urge to isolate and to console yourself with alcohol or drugs.

Getting Past Isolation

When you recognize that the urge to isolate is a sign that you are not on the right track, there is hope of turning things around. It’s ok to feel like you don’t belong at times. Just don’t dwell on these thoughts. Not every meeting will be exactly right for you, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a meeting that feels more comfortable out there. When you are at meetings, try to identify with what others are saying. Look for the similarities in their stories to your own. Try to recognize that their feelings are similar to your own and that they may also have lost things or people that are important to them. Recognizing you are on a journey with plenty of other people who are able and willing to help you will give you the strength you need to end your isolation. You truly are not alone on this journey, and because you are not alone, there is definitely hope of recovery and freedom from isolation.

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