How Isolation Fuels Addiction

April 10, 2020

Contemplating Window

Rachel Wurzman, a neuroscientist and leading voice in addiction research, has found that social isolation contributes to opioid addiction — fueling drug use, relapses, and overdoses.

“If we don’t have the ability to connect socially, we are so ravenous for our social neurochemistry to be rebalanced, we’re likely to seek relief from anywhere,” she says. “And if that anywhere is opioid painkillers or heroin, it is going to be a heat-seeking missile for our social reward system.”

As news of the coronavirus dominates headlines worldwide, Americans have begun to stock up on necessities in anticipation of long periods of social distancing. Everyone is at risk, especially those who are immunocompromised or elderly, and gathering in groups has been discouraged. But how is social distancing impacting those who struggle with addiction?

It’s no surprise that being lonely has detrimental effects on mental and physical well-being. Not only can loneliness increase the risk of depression, suicidal thoughts, heart conditions, and other illnesses, but it can also trigger or worsen addiction.

Loneliness or depression can result in using alcohol or drugs to deal with those feelings. Turning to the “comfort” of alcohol or drugs becomes a way of coping with loneliness – it’s a way to numb that pain. Substance use helps avoid confronting one’s problems, delivering a false sense of security. It is a vicious cycle because, when the drugs and alcohol are not present, all the emotions one was unable or unwilling to deal with come racing right back. And let’s not forget that accessing drugs at the current time is more challenging than ever, causing additional problems for those struggling with addiction.

Isolation and loneliness have an overwhelming effect on drug addiction and alcoholism. Studies have shown that those of us who feel more socially isolated generally deal with increased mental health and substance abuse issues. The opposite holds true as well: Addiction to drugs and alcohol may not just be an effect of isolation – but also the cause of isolation.

Laid-Off Workers Are at High Risk

We know that the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions are at a high risk of getting severely ill, or even dying from COVID-19, but who else is at risk of relapsing while in isolation?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the hospitality and food-service industry faces one of the highest rates of substance abuse. About 19.1% of workers in this industry struggle with substance abuse. Even more troubling, someone who becomes unemployed is twice as likely to struggle with addiction, so workers in these industries are being hit with a double whammy.

Due to social distancing rules throughout the country, a total of 701,000 jobs were lost in March, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s monthly report. While no sector was immune, restaurants and bars accounted for 60% – or 419,000 of the jobs cut.

What does this mean for hospitality and food industry workers? Those in this industry who currently, or in the past have struggled with substance abuse, will likely face many hardships during this difficult time. Perhaps the silver lining here is that individuals in these jobs often have trouble requesting long periods of time off or simply can’t afford it. So now could be a rare opportunity to seek help and find treatment while employers are closed and the government is providing some funds through increased unemployment and stimulus checks.

How to Maintain Sobriety While Social Distancing

It’s no secret that isolation is challenging for those in recovery. Support and accountability are necessary to stay on track. There are several steps you can take to make your time at home enriching, rather than stressful.

Be sure to stay connected with important people in your life. Whether you’re dialing in to a remote NA meeting or catching up with your sponsor, keep those good influences around in the days ahead. Try to be intentional about calling relatives or friends to check-in; you’ll get that all-important social interaction, and they’ll know that you’re okay.

We also encourage you to stay busy. Isolation can sabotage all of your efforts if not taken seriously. Keep all substances out of the house and, instead, make a list of activities to entertain yourself. You can learn a new instrument, put up those shelves that you’ve been putting off, or curl up with a favorite book – anything goes!

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The days ahead are uncertain, which means that you may find yourself in an unprecedented situation in your recovery. Be prepared to contact your treatment center, therapist, or sponsor when times are tough – they will be ready to help you.

Foundations Recovery Network Is Here to Help

Due to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), we wish to provide you with a solution that offers you the same excellent level of treatment that you have come to expect from us in a safe, convenient setting — your own home.

Your well-being is important to us, so we have implemented telehealth outpatient treatment services through secure, HIPAA-compliant online video counseling.

This telehealth service is completely secure and will allow us to take care of you and meet your needs – all from the safety of your home, and also from anywhere in the country, so you don’t even need to live near one of our programs.

If you or a loved one are struggling during this difficult time, don’t hesitate to call Foundations Recovery Network at: 844-768-0498. We’re here to help.

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