How Can I Reduce Isolation and Loneliness in Early Recovery?

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Active substance misuse is often depicted as an isolating and lonely experience, especially while deep in the throes of addiction. The longer the amount of time spent misusing substances, the more those with addiction isolate themselves from their friends and family. Some of this isolation is self-imposed to avoid judgment. Other incidents of isolation involve loved ones distancing themselves from what they may deem as unsafe practices or activities that loved ones or even co-workers do not condone. 


Many in recovery recall struggling to manage their addiction alone through a self-perpetuating cycle of isolation and growing depression. Once receiving treatment, though, the opposite response initially seems to be true as openness to addressing vulnerability brings about a welcoming attitude of camaraderie among fellow peers in recovery, family members, and friends. 


Why Might Those in Early Recovery Feel Isolated?


As individuals begin to recover and maintain their newfound sobriety, most of these post-treatment scenarios that previously led to isolation and increased states of depression will all but dissipate. However, ongoing treatment in early recovery presents its own set of isolating scenarios that can increase feelings of loneliness — feelings that ultimately can lead to triggering mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. Although those in recovery will certainly benefit from increased levels of involvement from family members and friends, the process of ongoing treatment for an addiction can also create feelings of isolation. 


Individuals may begin to feel isolated as their ongoing treatment dictates that they show caution or even refrain from the litany of social activities that may involve alcohol or drugs. Learning how to socialize in sobriety can be a significant contributing factor to increased loneliness following treatment. Just being diagnosed with substance use disorder (SUD) can isolate one from the helping hands of a support network. Clients should be aware of the potential of these isolating feelings in early recovery.


Dangers of Isolation and Loneliness to Long-Term Recovery


The immediate danger of feeling isolated in early recovery is that clients can regress to addictive behaviors. Feelings of isolation lead to increased chances of depression that unconsciously can reconnect patients to former addictive behavioral and thought patterns. This can be slippery, triggering slope, making it even more critical for those in recovery to actively seek out a means of sober socialization. Socializing sober will be difficult for most, as many used addictive substances to help lubricate conversation and decrease anxiety in social situations. On top of no longer being able to use alcohol or drugs to alleviate social anxiety, clients will also have to cope with many social activities involving some form of alcohol consumption. 


A lack of sober socialization can also instigate some serious FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), causing patients to become lax with their sobriety. Missing out on social activities such as going out to bars and socializing with friends or family can play tricks on the mind. These unconscious motivators, in combination with nostalgic memory recollections of past social events, can greatly reduce a person’s resolve to maintain sobriety. The mind will begin to play tricks on a person’s sober mindset and only associate good memories with using substances while forgetting the awful morning after hangovers and desperation involved in their pre-treatment addictive lifestyle. 


There is no doubt that some in recovery probably had good times while being intoxicated. Why else would they have continued to use if they did not enjoy some portion of using alcohol or drugs? Those in recovery will have to learn how to separate their positive feelings and memories from any connection to drug or alcohol use. This proposition is one that they may want to only address later on in recovery when they feel more stable in their long-term sobriety. Replacing these experiences with fun, sober memories will be essential to the recovery process, but early recovery poses many risks for triggering scenarios. Clients do not need to unnecessarily wade into familiar scenarios that may lead to potential relapse.


Ways to Avoid Isolation by Learning to Socialize Sober


Immersion into the recovery community in a local area is one of the best ways to avoid risks of isolation. Attend group meetings and become further involved in a local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Smart Recovery. Any form of immersion into a recovery community can be a great way to abstain from illicit substances while also learning how to socialize as a sober individual. Those in early recovery should surround themselves with like-minded people who are experiencing the same issues now or have been through those experiences before. Recovery meetings also present a safe environment for socialization with little risk to long-term sobriety.


Another great way to learn how to socialize while sober is to plan activity-based meetups. Biking, hiking, and kayaking are great physical activities to socialize sober. If physical activity does not sound appealing, individuals could visit an arcade or join a book club. These are just a few of the social activities that people can do with a group where socialization is not the only source of entertainment. Focusing socialization around activities will help alleviate some of the anxiety when learning how to socialize again.


Addiction can lead to feelings of isolation and depression even while individuals are receiving ongoing treatment. If you or someone you love has become isolated because of substance use disorder (SUD) along with co-occurring bouts of depression, then Choice House has a dual-diagnosis program of treatment that can help. We offer men the opportunity to achieve initial sobriety as they build a new sober foundation based on love, empathy, and understanding. Located in the Boulder County area of Colorado, our treatment services include a 90-day inpatient program, an intensive outpatient service, as well as the chance to take up residency at our sober living campus. We utilize various therapeutic modalities to teach men how to maintain their newfound sobriety. Our outdoor wilderness therapy, in particular, is geared toward teaching sober socialization as men bond over physical activities like hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking to create friendships that will prove vital to their recovery efforts long after leaving our facilities. For more information regarding Choice House’s facilities and treatment methods, please give us a call at (303) 578-4977.

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