Most of the world is practicing “social distancing” and people are feeling the effects of isolation and loneliness. For addicts, that’s a lifelong struggle.
A Cycle of Isolation
For most people, the beginning of 2020 has been a tough one. Shelter-at-home orders and “social distancing” protocols have forced us all to mostly stay away from one another, and you don’t have to look far to see that people aren’t taking it well. Social media are littered with people crying out for any kind of interaction.
The thing is, for addicts, this is nothing new. Addiction is regularly referred to as the “loneliest disease” for a number of reasons. Addicts often feel that they need to keep their addiction secret from those around them, so they keep away from those that might care about them enough to help. Then, being alone, they feel what the rest of the world is feeling right now – shut off from the rest of the world. That causes them to use more, which causes them to isolate more… and the cycle continues.
Fear Maintains the Cycle
Addicts tend to be divorced from reality, both by virtue of their addiction and in service of it. Often the addiction begins as a way to escape reality, and once it becomes their new normal, the addict will do anything they can to deny that new reality. In practice, this usually comes down to driving people away that may make them have to take a look at themselves and their situation truthfully. This fear quite often turns to anger, and that anger can become abusive to those that care for them.
Eventually, the addict lashes out enough and drives enough people away that they find themselves even more isolated and lonely.
A Quick Check-In Can Help
Right now it’s easy to get caught up with our own problems and fears. People are losing their jobs, businesses are struggling and unsure if they’ll be able to open back up, schools are closed, and travel is limited. There’s a lot going on and sometimes people we care about can fall through the cracks.
It doesn’t take a lot to let someone know that you care, though. For an addict, these intense feelings of isolation make them feel like nobody ever thinks about them or cares what happens to them. They almost always deal with depression, and can even become suicidal.
A short message on social media, a text message, even a phone call can show that you do think of them and that they are important to you. It may sound silly, and it’s not going to fix all their problems, but just knowing that at least one person out there cares about their wellbeing and thinks about them from time to time can make a huge difference.
A Little Empathy Goes a Long Way
For those that aren’t addicts, it can be difficult to empathize with those dealing with addiction. It’s easy to look at an alcoholic and just think “well, why don’t they just stop drinking?” In fact, the addict themselves can get to thinking this way, which can add to the shame and guilt that they feel and drive them to further isolation.
Empathizing with the addiction itself is difficult. If you’ve never felt the uncontrollable draw of a chemical or substance, it’s tough to really understand what the addict is dealing with. You can, however, empathize with some of the effects, and right now is a great time to stop and think about how isolation has affected you during this pandemic and how it makes you feel. Consider, then, that this is something that people deal with all the time. The addict is scared, ashamed, guilty… and lonely. If feeling a little bit of what they are feeling can help bolster your patience and make you more inclined to reach out and check on a loved one, then you owe it to them to try.