Addicts will often describe themselves as being outsiders in society. Even before they tuned to substance abuse they may have experienced discomfort around other people – a feeling that they just did not fit in. In fact it may have been this feeling of otherness that encouraged them to turn to substance abuse in the first place. Alcohol and drugs can actually increase the sense of alienation but so long as the individual is high they may not care about this. Once people become sober they will need to overcome their sense of alienation if they wish to get the most from their new life.
Alienation can be described as a feeling of being isolated . It can occur when the individual feels like they are an outsider in a group or society as a whole. Those individuals who feel isolated can also experience a great deal of loneliness. For most people these feelings of alienation are only temporary, but for other individuals it can be a more persistent aspect of their life.
Feelings of alienation are often associated with the addictive personality. This refers to certain characteristics that are associated with those who are most likely to fall into alcohol or drug abuse. Other aspects of the addictive personality include:
* Admiring behavior that would be considered not conforming to the rules of society. This will include admiration for the rebellious spirit.
* High tolerance for deviant behavior.
* Antisocial tendencies
* This type of individual is likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.
* A great deal of insecurity in relationships.
* A tendency to act in an impulsive manner.
* This type of person will tend to have low self-esteem.
* Engages in attention seeking behavior.
* Struggles to delay gratification.
* They are likely to believe that they experience a particularly high degree of stress in their life.
These additional characteristics of the addictive personality can actually lead to an even greater sense of alienation from the rest of society.
There are many possible reasons for why people can experience feelings of alienation including:
* Alcohol or drug abuse
*Change of job. The individual no longer feels in control of their work environment.
* Getting divorced or separated.
* Death of a loved one
* Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
* Belonging to an ethnic minority.
* Changes in society that occurs rapidly. For example, those who live in countries where there is a great deal of political upheaval can develop a sense of alienation.
* Moving to a new location
* Starting college
* Leaving home for the first time.
* Disillusionment with life or society
* Legal troubles
* Joining a new group.
* Loss of an important role model. This may be because this hero has turned out to be not as good as they once appeared.
* The individual can also feel alienated when society expects them to behave one way, but they want to behave in a different way.
Feelings of alienation and loneliness often go hand in hand. Loneliness is experienced as an unbearable feeling of separateness from other people. It is not the same thing as being alone as the individual can experience loneliness even though they are in a crowded room. There are also plenty of individuals who enjoy their own company but never complain of loneliness. Loneliness is more about a subjective lack of connection with other people rather than lack of contact.
Those individuals who manage to escape addiction but continue to feel alienated can struggle in recovery because:
* They may find it hard to trust other people. Getting the right support can be crucial for people who are trying to make a life away from addiction, and lack of trust may prevent them from getting this support.
* It often leads to terminal uniqueness. The individual is so convinced that they are a unique case that they are unwilling to learn from the experience of those who have gone before.
* Those who feel alienated are also likely to experience a great deal of loneliness. This can be a common relapse trigger for people in recovery.
* In order to gain the most from this new life away from alcohol and drugs the individual needs to develop emotional sobriety. Feelings of alienation may prevent the individual from developing this ability to smoothly handle all the ups and downs in life.
* The feeling of fellowship with other people in recovery can be highly rewarding. Those who feel alienated from the group will not get to enjoy such feelings.
* The individual may use this feeling as an excuse to justify a return to alcohol or drug abuse. They may later claim that sober living just wasn’t satisfying.
* These feelings will prevent the individual from building meaningful relationships with other people.
* The individual will already have suffered a great deal as a result of their addiction. These negative feelings will lead to further suffering.
* Some people will become depressed because of feeling alienated. It may even lead to thoughts of suicide.
* Those who suffer from feelings of alienation and loneliness will often find it difficult to sleep at night.
* Even if the individual manages to avoid relapse they can still turn to other adaptive behaviors in an attempt to escape their feelings of separateness.
Those individuals who are experiencing alienation will often be lacking a social support network. This is not a good situation for those in recovery because such a network is required for:
* Emotional support when times are hard. Even just having a shoulder to cry on can be extremely important for humans.
* Physical support – this could involve help with completing a project or providing resources.
* A source of advice and information.
* These networks provide feedback and appraisal function. The individual will be able to find out how their behavior appears to other people.
There are things that the individual can do to overcome their feelings of alienation including:
* Spending more time thinking about other people can reduce feelings of alienation. This is because such feelings can often be as a result of self-absorption.
* Helping other people can also be extremely useful for breaking down barriers. This is also a wonderful way to strengthen sobriety and give something back.
* Those people who are new to recovery are going to find things a bit strange in the beginning. Over time things will feel much more familiar and less alien.
* If people are open and honest about their inner thoughts they are almost certain to feel less alone. There are likely to be other people who can identify exactly with what they are thinking.
* If people are finding that these feelings of alienation are really getting in the way of recovery it may be worth seeking help from a therapist.
* Those individuals who follow a spiritual path are likely to find that this reduces their sense of being alone in the world.
* Finding out more about other people can help the individual see that they are not as unique as they may sometimes think.
* The internet can be a wonderful resource for people who are struggling with loneliness. It is not a good idea though, to use this as a replacement for face to face human contact.
* Spending more time with family members may reduce these feelings of being alone.
* Joining a club or group is another good option – particularly if this bunch of people shares a common interest.
* People do tend to feel more comfortable with some groups of people than they will with others. The best advice then seems to be to find a group of people where the individual feels at home.
* If these feelings of alienation are leading to thoughts of suicide it is vital that the individual speaks to somebody right away. The United States Suicide and Crisis Hotlines are one resource that is worth turning to.