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The Connection Between Addiction and Loneliness: Understanding the Risks


Addiction, also known as substance use disorder (SUD), is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic, relapsing neurological disorder. The Mayo Clinic explains addiction as a disease “that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication.” While the scientific reason behind why an individual develops an addiction remains unknown, there are certain risk factors (e.g., environmental risk factors, genetic risk factors, psychological risk factors, socioeconomic risk factors, etc.) that can increase an individual’s susceptibility to developing substance use disorder. For example, a study conducted by the Journal of Aging and Health cited loneliness as a risk factor for substance abuse.

Loneliness is defined as a “distressing feeling that accompanies the perception that one’s social needs are not being met by the quantity or especially the quality of one’s social relationships.” It impacts social experiences, emotional states of being, mental health, and physical health. Addiction and loneliness share a complex and bidirectional relationship. While loneliness can contribute to the development and exacerbation of substance use disorder, addiction itself can also lead to social isolation and increased feelings of loneliness. Understanding the risks of the relationship between addiction and loneliness is crucial for both prevention, intervention, and treatment outcome. Some of the risks associated with the intersection of addiction and loneliness include:

  • Loneliness as a precursor to substance use disorder:
    • Emotional distress: Loneliness typically causes feelings of sadness, anxiety, and low self-esteem. To obtain temporary relief from these distressing feelings people may use drugs and/ or alcohol to cope. 
    • Social connection: Humans have an inherent need for social interaction and connection. When individuals lack meaningful connections, they are more likely to seek out groups or situations where addictive substances are prevalent, leading to potential exposure and experimentation.
    • Self-medication: Loneliness can serve as a trigger for stress and emotional discomfort. Individuals may turn to drugs and/ or as a form of self-medication to alleviate emotional pain.
  • Addiction reinforcing loneliness:
    • Isolation: Addiction compels people to prioritize their substance cravings above all else, including maintaining social relationships. This can lead to social withdrawal, reduced communication, and overall isolation from friends and family.
    • Relationship strain: Addiction can cause relationship fractures which lead to a loss of social support, further exacerbating one’s feelings of loneliness.
    • Stigma: Although addiction is accurately recognized as a complex mental health condition, lingering stigma remains. Individuals may feel too embarrassed or ashamed to seek help or connect with others, deepening their sense of isolation.

Effective prevention and intervention strategies must focus on building a strong support network, teaching healthy coping mechanisms, and promoting overall well-being to mitigate the negative impact of both addiction and loneliness.

For Information and Support 

Substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous and can result in severe short and long-term consequences. If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please get help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to leading happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. There is no reason to go through this alone, and we are here to help. Please feel free to reach out to us for further information or with any questions regarding substance abuse or addiction. We are available anytime via telephone at: 213-389-9964, or you can always email us at:

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