Humans are social animals. They depend on each other for survival. In repeated surveys it has been found that respondents rate friends and family as the most important factor in achieving happiness. Lack of social connections is not only a source of emotional discomfort, but it has also been shown to have a damaging impact on both mental and physical health. People have a need for social contact and when this is lacking they will suffer as a result. Those who escape an addiction are at particular risk from loneliness because it can lead eventually to relapse.
Everyone will experience loneliness at least occasionally. It is a subjective experience but one that can cause a great deal of discomfort. The individual can feel this way even when they are surrounded by lots of other people. It is a type of undesirable state that a person experiences when they are feeling a strong sense of emptiness and solitude. It can also be defined as an unbearable feeling of separateness from other people.
People often equate being alone with loneliness, but they are not the same thing. There are many individuals who appear to be content and happy even though they do not spend a lot of time with other people. There are then those people who spend a lot of time in the company of others yet still experience intense feelings of loneliness. It seems to be the experience of a lack of connectedness with other people that is the real problem and not the absence of other people.
Life is full of challenges. One of the most important resources that people use when facing these obstacles is social support. This is a group of people that includes friends, family, work colleagues, and community members. Without such support it can be a lot more difficult for people to cope with life. This is because such a network of people provides four key functions:
* Members of a support group can provide physical assistance to one another.
* A social support group will provide feedback on the behavior of members. The reactions of other people allow the individual to evaluate their own behavior. If a member of the group makes a bad decision then other members can point this out.
* This group provides emotional support to the individual.
* A social support network is a resource for advice and information.
Those people who are dealing with loneliness will usually be lacking in social support. This means that they are at a great disadvantage when it comes to managing day to day living.
There are a number of dangers associated with loneliness including:
* It can lead to depression
* People who are lonely may struggle to get to sleep at night.
* A lack of social support is likely to mean that the individual will struggle more with the challenges of life.
* Many people will turn to substance abuse in order to deal with loneliness.
* It is a relapse trigger for people in addiction recovery.
* People who are lonely are far more likely to commit suicide.
* It causes increased levels of stress hormone that can cause high blood pressure.
Those who escape addiction will often also be giving up their social support network. An addict will tend to surround themselves with other substance abusers. In recovery it would just be too dangerous to continue to fraternize with such people because of the risk of relapse. If people fail to make a new network of sober friends it may mean that they begin to experience loneliness. This is a particularly dangerous emotion for people in recovery because it can put them on the slippery slope back to relapse.
Loneliness is regarded as a relapse trigger. In 12 Step groups these triggers are referred to by the acronym HALT; this stands for hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness. If people feel lonely they can start to question the value of life in recovery. They may start to think back to the time when they were not lonely and begin missing their drinking or drug friends.
Fellowship in recovery can greatly increase the likelihood that the individual will build a good life away from substance abuse. It provides the important social support functions and means that the individual will be far less likely to feel alone. Belonging to one of the 12 Step fellowships can bring the individual into contact with other people who are following a similar path. It will also be possible to benefit from a special relationship with a sponsor. This is often a more experienced individual in recovery who the sponsee can reach day or night. If the individual always has a friendly and understanding ear to turn to it combats any feelings of loneliness.
There are a number of actions that people can take if they are feeling lonely. It is particularly important that those who are recovering from an addiction do not just ignore the problem. It could put them on the path to relapse so they need to take such feelings seriously. Here are a few steps that people can take in order to deal with loneliness:
* Speak to somebody else about this inner discomfort. Just taking this one action can be enough to completely dispel the feeling. People in recovery are strongly advised to build-up a network of people that they will be able to contact for support. These other individuals do not have to be also in recovery, but it can be beneficial if they are. Contacting a sponsor can be a good choice if people are feeling lonely.
* Mindfulness meditation is a method for examining thoughts and feelings without becoming caught up in them. It teaches the individual to observe feelings, such as loneliness, as if they were passing clouds in the sky. This ability to step back a bit from feelings can greatly reduce their potency.
* The internet makes it easy for people to quickly find friends; even those individuals who live in isolated communities. There are many online communities where the individual can instantly become a member. Recovery communities like The Sober Recovery Forum can be a great asset for people who sober and lonely.
* Joining a course or club is another way to meet new people.
* Volunteer work is an excellent way to defeat loneliness. This is not only a way to meet new people, but it also takes the attention off the individual. Helping other people creates a feeling of connection to the world. Helping others in recovery is a great way for people sober people to strengthen their sobriety.
* Getting a pet can help reduce feelings of loneliness. People should only consider this option if they are certain they can take on such a responsibility.
* Spending quality time with family members can increase feelings of connectedness.