Being alone really hurts. It hurts so bad for some people that they turn to alcohol as a form of self-medication. Unfortunately, when people turn to alcohol or other substances to “feel better” it only exacerbates the problems in the long run.
If left untreated, alcohol abuse will turn into alcoholism and will lead to damaged relationships, loss of support from friends and family, financial troubles, and eventually even serious health issues.
So why do some of us continue to drink even if we know it is harming us? This blog is aimed at understanding why loneliness can have the side effect of alcoholism and what we can do to turn our lives around.
Loneliness: What’s The Big Deal?
Loneliness causes people to feel alone, unwanted, and empty. When we are lonely we crave human interaction, friends, family, a significant other, however, because of the feelings of loneliness, it makes it more difficult for us to actually form connections with others. So being lonely creates a pattern of loneliness.
Unfortunately, loneliness is not necessarily about being alone. Rather, when you feel isolated or alone, it is how that loneliness plays in your head that really begins to affect our mental health.
Loneliness does not just affect our mental well being, it also affects our physical health negatively too. According to recent studies conducted by Cigna Health, loneliness could have roughly the same impact on mortality than smoking 15 cigarettes a day has. This means that loneliness has the potential to create far greater health risks than being obese!
Studies have also shown that people who experience feelings of loneliness deal with more substance abuse problems, like alcoholism, and deal with increased mental health problems. However, it is also well known that alcoholism will only contribute to more feelings of loneliness and isolation which makes it a vicious and continuous cycle of pain.
Self Medication – Alcoholism Can Be A Side Effect Of Loneliness
Every human on planet earth will experience the occasional feelings of loneliness, unhappiness, or anxiety but when these feelings last for long periods of time and we do not address the cause, a lot of people search for something to lessen the pain like self-medication. Self-medicating is a method that many do in an attempt to help handle the feelings or “numb the pain.”
Alcohol and drugs are the most popular form of self-medication and are used as tools because they briefly distract us from the pain we are feeling. Often our pain derives from failed relationships or relationship problems, loss of loved ones, money troubles, anxiety, or even physical pain. However, there is another feeling that isn’t widely considered and that is loneliness.
The problem with self-medicating is that the feeling we would get from alcohol and/or drugs is only temporary and they end up leaving us feeling even more drained or pained because these substances actually counteract and deplete the “feel good” chemicals in our brain that are designed to bring us pleasure and help regulate our moods. Crazy to think that we may turn to alcohol as a way to cure our feelings of loneliness but once we sober up; our feelings of sadness will only increase.
Alcoholism: The Science Behind Why It Hurts
When we drink a lot of alcohol it severely alters our behavior, mood, and neuropsychological functioning. For some of us, drinking alcohol is a way to relax. On the other hand, when we drink too much the effects of hangovers and alcohol will bring on anxiety and it actually increases our stress levels.
Alcohol is classified as a Central Nervous System depressant. Alcohol slows down our neural activity and our brain function. Alcohol does this by enhancing the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA.
Alcohol depresses the central nervous system and results in slurred speech, imbalance, false reality, or overreacting and it takes away our ability to have quick responses or reactions. The mental side effects of alcohol are that it reduces our ability to think rationally, distorts our judgment, and lessens our inhibitions.
If we drink too much alcohol too quickly, it will result in the depression of our central nervous system which can actually lead to respiratory failure, coma, and yes, even death.
Some of us actually drink alcohol primarily for its sedative effects which tends to actually reduce our anxiety. And it is not a surprise that most of us who drink alcohol, start drinking to experience stimulation and its other positive effects like lowering our inhibitions.
However, once we have reached the stage of alcohol dependence or alcoholism, we now drink to experience the anxiety that comes with the sedative effect. It is a crazy thing to think that we sometimes turn towards alcohol to reduce our anxiety and in the end, it really only makes our anxiety much worse.
Loneliness And Alcoholism: The Battle To Get Better
Since it is strongly believed that alcoholism can be the side effect of poor mental health, as a result of strong and continued feelings of loneliness. it is important to deal with both issues since they both are directly connected.
When you feel lonely, there are some proactive steps you can take towards feeling less alone:
Becoming a volunteer for a cause that you can relate to or that you believe in can give you lots of benefits and reduce feelings of loneliness. When you volunteer you get a sense of purpose and the natural “feel good” chemicals within our brains are activated by simply knowing you are trying to do something good. If you love babies, try volunteering at the local hospital to be a snuggler.
If you like kids, try volunteering at a local school for their after school clubs or even volunteer for one of their sports teams. You can also volunteer at nursing homes to help someone else not suffer from feelings of loneliness. The list goes on and on. The additional benefit to volunteering is that when you do find something that you like to do, you will meet other like-minded people and friendships, even relationships can be formed.
It is well known that the more lonely you are, the more depressed you feel, and the cycle continues. Seeking relief from loneliness through psychotherapy is a great option for anyone. Being that loneliness is often played out negatively in our own minds, cognitive behavioral therapy would benefit greatly because it can help to change our thoughts and patterns as well as our actions to assist in decreasing these feelings of loneliness and at the very least, teaching us a new way to cope with them in the future.
- Adopt A Pet: Adopting a dog or cat carries many benefits and preventing further loneliness is just one of them! Pets bring a sense of companionship and friendship hence the often statement “Dogs are a man’s best friend!” The same thing is said about cats too; just ask your local “Karen – the cat lady” and she will be more than happy to give you a hundred reasons why owning a cat is a joy, except for the litter box. Gross!
- Join A Class: There are lots of classes to consider; art, exercise, even your local community college will offer classes of all types. Learn a new skill, a different language, chess club, again the list goes on and on. Just like with volunteering, when you join a class that is something that is of interest to you, you will find other like-minded people and it is a great way to begin new relationships.
Any of the above-mentioned things can help give you relief from the feelings of loneliness and can decrease the desire to drink alcohol. However, when dealing with alcoholism, you will need to focus on that part as well. Feeling less alone is great but if the addiction is not addressed, the feelings will be only temporary and will eventually have you feeling lonely and depressed again because of the side effects of alcoholism.
Alcoholism: Time To Make A Change
We all want to believe that stopping drinking without any outside help may save whatever dignity we have left. However, depending on the severity of the alcoholism or the length of time we have battled the addiction, the chances that we should seek outside assistance to get sober becomes greater.
Many people feel shame because of their alcoholism and it prevents some of us from seeking help. There is never shame in wanting something better for your own life! There is no shame in asking for help – but there is shame in continuing to harm ourselves unnecessarily by staying in the grasps of alcoholism when there are so many treatment options available.
Some treatment options for alcoholism include but are not limited to:
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
AA is one of the best options for battling loneliness and alcoholism since it addresses both issues because when you join AA you are always in a group of people that have had similar life experiences. AA meetings encourage everyone to speak and open up about their alcoholism and their negative experiences with their battles. This allows for a solid support system and friendships are greatly encouraged.
Detoxification (detox) programs are extremely helpful for anyone facing a serious bout with alcoholism because it allows you to stop drinking while keeping you comfortable and safe from the negative side effects of alcohol withdrawal via medication.
Inpatient Treatment Programs
These programs are a good option for anyone that has a serious or prolonged battle with alcoholism. They usually include a detox program and then continue treatment by providing round the clock medical care and therapeutic practices to help you overcome alcoholism.
Outpatient Treatment Programs
These types of programs are a good fit for those who suffer from alcoholism but are still able to “function”. It is the same type of care you would receive in an inpatient treatment program except you are not required to stay overnight at the facility. They create a treatment program for you that gives the flexibility of keeping your daily responsibilities.
Do You Suffer From Loneliness And Alcoholism? Let Granite Mountain Behavioral Healthcare Help!
At Granite Mountain Behavioral Healthcare, our team will answer any questions you might have and tell you everything you might want to know about fighting the battle of loneliness and alcoholism so you can make an informed decision on seeking treatment.
Whether you have never asked for help before or are relapsing, anyone deserves trustworthy help. You can count on that and much more at Granite Mountain Behavioral Healthcare.
If you want more information so that you or a loved one can get the help needed, contact us today!