Feeling Lonely? How to Build Connections and Friendships

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two bikers give high five near a field deal with loneliness and form friendship

Feeling lonely? You are not alone. According to a recent survey, nearly 1 in 4 adults worldwide feel chronic loneliness. And that feeling can increase the likelihood of high-risk behavior and addiction.

Loneliness is a state of discomfort or distress that results from a person’s desired and actual social relationships. Being alone can be a chosen and often enjoyable state while feeling lonely is marked by feelings of isolation, regardless of the amount of social contact. Feeling lonely impacts people in different ways and can cause negative impacts on both physical and mental health.

Social isolation and the feeling of loneliness can affect people of any age. The survey found the rates of loneliness were highest in young adults, with 27 percent of those ages 19 to 29 reporting feeling fairly lonely or very lonely.

Adolescents experiencing loneliness face additional challenges of being in a transitional life stage with the feeling that they have no one to turn to for interaction. Many rely on social media to connect, but those communications can sometimes provide a false sense of reality. Loneliness can drive people to increase their use of social media, video games, and the internet. These digital connections can lead to decreased social skills and loss of relationships, which leads to increased loneliness.

What Are the Effects of Loneliness?

Increasingly since the global pandemic, social isolation, and loneliness are now considered to be a public health problem.  The US Surgeon General has called social connection essential to humanity as food, water, or shelter.

Being alone can sometimes be a way of escaping everyday pressures and stress, taking a break from routine, and finding time to think, meditate, read, pray, or do other things you enjoy. Being isolated or withdrawn from social interaction is usually not a chosen path and leads to negative thoughts.

The effects of loneliness on health are complex and multifaceted, involving psychological, social, and neurobiological factors, and impacting individuals of all ages. Physical conditions affected by loneliness include

  • Immune system function
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Sleep quality
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Cognitive disorders

Social interactions can release dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure. For those experiencing loneliness and when social needs are not met, substances can become a substitute for dopamine release and people may look for alternatives such as drugs, alcohol, or addictive behaviors, leading to dependency and addiction.

Mental health effects can include

  • Heightened stress
  • Increased depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lowered self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Social withdrawal

The Need for Connection

Strong social connections can combat feeling lonely or isolated. Sharing burdens with friends eases stress, and their encouragement boosts self-esteem. Friends can also offer a safe space to express emotions and gain different perspectives on challenges. Healthy connections provide a sense of belonging, support, and understanding, all crucial for positive mental health.

Without a supportive network, individuals may lack the social reinforcement and positive feedback that help prevent addictive behaviors. Additionally, isolated individuals might not have access to healthy coping mechanisms or the encouragement to seek help, making them more susceptible to addiction.

Chronic loneliness can also be a source of stress, affecting the brain’s reward system and the body’s stress response system. Substance abuse or engaging in addictive behaviors can temporarily relieve stress or boost your mood, which reinforces certain behaviors and makes them more likely to be repeated and, over time, lead to addiction.

Understanding the link between loneliness and addiction as it can become a vicious cycle. Loneliness can lead to substance abuse as a coping mechanism, and as the addiction progresses, it can cause further isolation and estrangement from social support networks. In turn, this exacerbates loneliness. This cycle can make recovery more challenging, as addressing the addiction without also addressing the underlying loneliness and social isolation can lead to relapse.

How to Seek Treatment for Loneliness and Find Connection

Addressing addiction and loneliness requires an integrated approach that considers the individual’s emotional, social, and physical needs. Interventions may include therapy, building social skills, fostering community connections, and addressing the underlying emotional issues contributing to both loneliness and addiction.

  • Individual counseling and group therapy can help address feelings of loneliness and develop coping mechanisms.
  • Programs that help build social skills can teach people to form and maintain healthy relationships.
  • Volunteering or participating in community activities can help reduce loneliness and create a sense of purpose and belonging.
  • Support groups and recovery groups can provide understanding and a sense of community.
  • Minimize distractions during conversations and cut back on social media use.
  • Make time each day to communicate and foster healthy relationships. Reach out to a loved one, counselor, or crisis hotline if you are dealing with loneliness or mental health issues.

Loneliness can be a major barrier to recovery, which often requires a supportive network of peers, family, or friends who understand the challenges of addiction. Without this support, a person could struggle to be motivated or sustain recovery efforts. Know there are people who care and want to support you. Please reach out to us if you are struggling.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Mountainside can help.
Click here or call (888) 833-4676 to speak with one of our addiction treatment experts.