Let’s Talk About Loneliness
The Connection between Social Isolation and Substance Abuse in Young Men
Social isolation is a common problem among young men struggling with substance abuse and mental health disorders. Research has shown that the two are closely linked, a finding that has only been magnified in recent years. In this post, we will explore the connection between the two and discuss how treatment programs like ours can and should address this problem.
The Basics: What is Social Isolation?
Social isolation occurs when a person is disconnected from their social networks, including family, friends, and the community. Mental health issues, substance abuse, the ending of a relationship, family breakdown, job loss, physical illness, or disability are just a few of the most common causes. In the last few decades, this issue has become more widespread and profound as the shift to an increasingly “remote” culture has left us more “plugged in” and disconnected than ever before, exacerbating feelings of loneliness.
Loneliness is not just about being alone; it can also be triggered by a lack of meaningful connections with others. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and even physical illness. For young men, it can be a particular challenge. Statistically, men are less likely to seek social support and face societal pressures to appear independent and self-sufficient.
“Social isolation and feelings of loneliness negatively impact sleep, cause feelings of sadness, and have negative effects on health.”
Social Isolation and Substance Abuse
In a recent study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, researchers found that social isolation was associated with an increased risk of substance abuse and dependence among young men. Social isolation can increase stress and feelings of loneliness, which can in turn lead to increased substance use.
Substance abuse itself can also lead to social isolation. Young men who struggle with addiction often withdraw from social networks and lose touch with friends and family members. This can lead to a vicious cycle in which social isolation fuels substance abuse, and substance abuse leads to further isolation.
The Impact is Real
In late childhood and early adolescence, social isolation and feelings of loneliness have a detrimental impact on sleep, lead to feelings of depression, and have a negative impact on health. These patterns continue throughout a person’s lifetime and are linked to more hospital visits in the early and middle years of adulthood as well as more doctor visits during adolescence.
Lockdowns due to COVID intensified the isolating effects, but they were already in place before the pandemic years. According to a 2019 report in Scientific American, Americans of all ages felt lonely nearly half the time. According to study, chronic isolation can reduce life expectancy by 15 years, which is “equivalent in impact to being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes per day”.
In 2018 Britain announced the world’s first minister for loneliness. The problem is real, and it isn’t going away anytime soon.
How Can and Should We Address It?
Programs for young men should prioritize addressing social isolation as part of the recovery process. Here are a few less discussed strategies that can be effective:
Being vulnerable and sharing our true selves with others can be scary, especially for men, but it is essential for building trust and intimacy in relationships. By actively encouraging young men to take small steps towards vulnerability, such as sharing personal stories or asking for help, we increase the likelihood of building resilient relationships and intimate connections.
We can’t assume that everyone has the same needs and desires as they relate to their social needs. It’s important to carve out real moments for our young men to take time and reflect on their own needs and values, as well as their patterns of behavior and communication with others. By doing so, we help them gain a better understanding of themselves and their social needs.
3. Understand the Differences
Due to brain development and socialization, men often have difficulty connecting with one another through traditional means of communication. More often, men connect better through shared experiences, like engaging in physical activity or working on a project together. It is through these experiences that men are able to bond and form deeper connections without the pressure to engage in lengthy conversations. It’s important that we understand and respect these differences in communication styles in order to build stronger relationships and communities.
It’s important to note that addressing social isolation and loneliness is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Working with each individual to develop a customized plan that recognizes and meets their unique needs and preferences is vital. By addressing these issues at the program level, we not only improve outcomes but also promote healthier and happier lives.