The Relationship Between Addiction and Lack Of Social Connection
Casual alcohol use may be associated with increased sociability, but make no mistake, drug and alcohol addiction are associated with isolation. Moreover, serious substance abusers generally aren’t trying to forge connections with others. Rather, they are trying to retreat from life’s stressors, and relationships are a central part of that disengagement.
For example, if you encounter someone during a short-term binge drinking episode, you can slowly watch a person’s ability to communicate and relate to others slowly disintegrate. But this is minor compared to what long-term addicts face. In addition to the retreat into substance abuse, they are often alienating others with their bad habits, behavior, denial, and what appears to be a serious inability to change.
But a lack of social connection isn’t just an effect of addiction. It’s a cause. Addiction is soundly correlated with family dysfunction, childhood trauma, and mental health conditions such as social anxiety and depression.
There are many factors present in a person’s life than can result in the need to disengage and self-medicate.
Trauma and mental illness can contribute to feelings of shame, guilt, and worthlessness. Certainly, substance abuse does not help alleviate these feelings. As the abuse becomes more severe, often the affected will feel even more withdrawn, almost as if they’ve created their own self-fulfilling downward spiral of disconnection.
Simply put, many addicts feel as if they do not deserve healthy companionship, or that they cannot be accepted for the damaged people that they are. I know, because I am one of those damaged people – and partially as a result, an alcohol addict.
It’s also common for people suffering from these issues to begin self-medicating early in life, often in their teenage years. This can stunt the process of emotional growth, thus hindering healthy adult relationships and social connection. As evidence, many addicts will admit that they have remained the same age emotionally as they were when they first started using.
Perhaps this is why for so long I dubbed myself “the eternal teenager.”
However you look at it, it’s a bit like the chicken and the egg. One came first (emotional detachment and self-medication) or the addiction itself. But either way, each one exacerbates the other and the destructive dance continues as long as one or the other continues to exist.
Unfortunately, this common association between intimacy issues and addiction is often neglected. If there is an underlying mental health issue, as often there is, treating this in conjunction with the addiction can sometimes help mitigate intimacy problems. Surely this makes good sense.
But simply treating the addiction will not address underlying socialization issues, or the drive to dissociate – both problems need to addressed simultaneously using an integrated approach.
The interwoven pattern which results from the enmeshment of both behaviors can’t be unraveled by merely tugging at one component or another. Untying the knot takes patience, practice, and experimentation – and perhaps most of all, an innate and unyielding desire for change.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology