Isolation: How Loneliness Can Kill in Recovery

It is true that physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms associated with long-term use of drugs

It is true that physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms associated with long-term use of drugs and alcohol are often involved in the first step in treatment from addiction disorders. It is also true that therapy that addresses all the mental health issues that are triggered or exacerbated by use of drugs and alcohol is a critical part of treatment as well.

The key, however, when it comes to maintaining remission for the long-term, occurs when people in recovery from addiction focus on making strong and honest connections with others – people who are also working hard to live healthy lives defined by balance. No matter what the focus of the addiction – gambling, drugs and alcohol, sex and love, or a combination – building a strong support system in recovery is a critical piece of staying in remission.

The Dangers of Isolation in Recovery

When someone is in recovery, they often have to make significant changes to their lifestyle. They may need to cut ties with old friends who are still using drugs or alcohol, and they may need to avoid certain social situations that could trigger a relapse. While these changes can be helpful for maintaining sobriety, they can also lead to isolation and loneliness.

Isolation can be dangerous for people in recovery for a few reasons. For one, it can increase the risk of relapse. When someone is feeling lonely and disconnected, they may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope. Additionally, isolation can exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are common among people in recovery.

The Importance of Connection

While isolation can be a significant issue, there are ways to combat it. One of the most effective ways is by building connections with others. This can include joining a support group, attending therapy sessions, or simply spending time with friends and family who are supportive of the recovery process.

In addition to helping prevent relapse, building connections can also have a positive impact on mental health. When someone is part of a community, they feel a sense of belonging and purpose. This can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and depression.

The Cycle of Loneliness and Addiction

When an individual is living with active addiction, extreme focus on the addictive behavior can keep loved ones at arm’s length. Especially if the person felt a sense of isolation prior to engaging in the behaviors of addiction, as they feel more and more separate from others, their cravings for and compulsive engagement in those isolating behaviors often increase over time.

It is a cycle defined by feeling alone and isolated from others that is “remedied” by use of drugs and alcohol or engagement in other behaviors of addiction, an act that ultimately increases the isolation felt, which in turn increases compulsive engagement in acts associated with addiction.

It is not an easy cycle to break, but with intensive treatment, it is possible to step out of the cycle and begin living in remission from addiction.

Loneliness after Treatment

Another issue that is commonly cited by people who have undergone treatment for addiction is feeling lonely and disconnected in recovery. With nothing in common with the people who continue to engage in use of drugs and alcohol, and broken relationships with friends and family members who are not living in addiction, it is not uncommon to feel separate and uncomfortable. Too often, this feeling can be a trigger for relapse.

Because addiction is a chronic brain disease, it is important to take steps to manage the urge to engage in the addictive behaviors before they build to a point where they feel unmanageable. Part of this process occurs by connecting with others who understand what it is like to live with addiction and who are also working hard to remain in remission.

Addressing Stigma in Recovery

One of the biggest challenges facing people in recovery is the stigma surrounding addiction and mental health issues. Unfortunately, many people still view addiction as a moral failing or a sign of weakness, rather than a medical condition that requires treatment. This can make it difficult for people to seek help and connect with others.

The truth is that addiction and mental health issues are incredibly common, affecting millions of people every year. However, because of the stigma surrounding these issues, many people suffer in silence, afraid to reach out for help or share their experiences with others.

It's important to remember that seeking help for addiction or mental health issues is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it takes tremendous strength and courage to confront these challenges and begin the journey towards recovery. By addressing the stigma surrounding addiction and mental health issues, we can create a more supportive and compassionate environment for those who are struggling. This can help encourage more people to seek help and build connections with others who understand what they're going through.

Overcoming Isolation

If you're struggling with isolation in recovery, there are steps you can take to overcome it. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Join a support group: There are many support groups available for people in recovery, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. These groups can provide a sense of community and support.
  • Attend therapy: Therapy can be a helpful tool for addressing underlying issues that may be contributing to feelings of isolation.
  • Volunteer: Volunteering can be a great way to connect with others and give back to the community.
  • Take up a new hobby: Finding a new hobby can be a great way to meet new people and build connections.

The Importance of a Strong Support System

Having a strong support system during recovery can make all the difference. It's essential to have people in your life who understand and support your journey towards sobriety. This support can come from various sources, including friends, family, and even professionals.

One benefit of having a supportive network is that it provides accountability. When you have people in your corner, you're more likely to stay on track with your recovery goals. Additionally, having supportive friends and family can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.

It's important to note that not everyone may be supportive of your recovery journey. Some people may not understand addiction or may be uncomfortable with the changes you're making in your life. While it can be challenging, it's crucial to surround yourself with people who want the best for you and will support you through the ups and downs of recovery.

If you don't have a strong support system currently, there are steps you can take to build one. This might include reaching out to old friends who are supportive or joining groups or organizations focused on sobriety and recovery. Remember that building a support system takes time but is well worth the effort in the long run.

The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a practice that involves focusing on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. While it may seem simple, this practice has been shown to have numerous benefits for mental health, including reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

For people in recovery who are struggling with feelings of isolation and loneliness, mindfulness meditation can be a helpful tool. By practicing mindfulness regularly, individuals can learn to better regulate their emotions and reduce negative thought patterns that contribute to these feelings.

One study found that mindfulness-based interventions were effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety among people in recovery from substance use disorders. Additionally, practicing mindfulness has been shown to increase feelings of well-being and improve overall quality of life.

If you're interested in incorporating mindfulness into your recovery journey, there are many resources available. This might include attending a meditation class or using an app like Headspace or Calm to guide your practice. With regular practice, you may find that mindfulness helps you feel more connected to yourself and others, reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Building a Support System

Just as the isolation often felt in addiction and early recovery did not happen overnight, so too will it take time to build a strong support system in recovery. Authentic relationships take time, and because many in recovery are learning who they really are in the process of establishing themselves in recovery, it is important to be patient and allow things to evolve naturally.

If you are working to build your support network in recovery, here are a few tips to get you started:

Be open-minded. Talk to people regardless of age, race, color, or religious affiliation. Do not think that you must only connect with people who appear to be like you. Similarly, it is a good idea to also try new things. If you are invited by a group of people to go see a movie that you would otherwise never have considered, go anyway. The point is to be around people, get out of the house, and avoid spending too much time alone.

Change things up. If you feel like you are stagnating and simply not coming into contact with people who are good possibilities for acquaintanceship, change your schedule. Go to a new 12-Step meeting. Take a new class. Try a new sport. Find a book club. Try anything new and different that will bring you into contact with a new group of people who may share a common interest.

Talk to people. It may sound obvious, but for many people, the biggest challenge is actually connecting with other people and getting up enough nerve to talk to someone new. Keep it casual – ask about a book they have in their hand, pay them a compliment on something they are wearing, or make a comment on something that you are both experiencing where you are, even the weather – anything to get a conversation started.

Do not feel you have to strike up a lifelong friendship immediately. If you went to a new class or group and talked to a couple of people, that is a great start. Next time, talk to those same people again and follow up with your last conversation. Also, talk to a couple of new people or draw them into the conversation. You don’t have to rush into asking someone to coffee. Give it time and build a little bit each time you run into someone until you both feel comfortable.

Create a schedule. Though it is great to go to a 12-Step meeting once a week and to take a couple of classes, you want to make sure that you are getting out of the house every day and connecting with others regularly. It can be helpful to create a schedule for yourself that includes some interesting interactions with others so you can pay attention to what is working for you and what is not. For example, did you take a class in medieval art hoping to meet others interested in art only to find that everyone rushes in and leaves quickly without talking to one another? You may need to find a new activity that better serves your purpose if that is the case.

What will you do this week to help build your support system in recovery?


Loneliness and isolation can be dangerous for people in recovery, but there are ways to combat these issues. By building connections with others and taking steps to overcome isolation, you can improve your mental health and reduce the risk of relapse. Remember, recovery is a journey, and it's important to have a support system in place to help you along the way.


Since joining the Townsend content team, Shlomo has become a thought leader in the addiction field. He is a Seinfeld junkie, a recovering Twitter fanatic, and a sports expert. He enjoys milk shakes and beautiful views from rooftops.