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As the rate of loneliness creeps upward in the United States, there has been an increase of research exploring the connection between isolation and substance use, as well as the power of human connection to aid in recovery.

The Correlation Between Loneliness and Substance Abuse

A national survey conducted by Cigna in 2018 found that nearly 50 percent of survey participants reported “always” or “sometimes” feeling alone. Nearly 40 percent also shared that they “sometimes” or “always” feel isolated and that their relationships are not meaningful.

What makes these numbers alarming, according to the American Psychological Association, is that loneliness is associated with numerous physical and mental health risks. Widespread despair, loneliness and social isolation can increase the risk of anxiety and depression and also trigger or worsen addiction through the perceived relief that is associated with heroin, opioids, and alcohol.

As Recovery Centers of America explains, loneliness and depression can motivate people to turn to alcohol and drugs as a way of coping with feeling rejected, alone, unloved, and confused.

While the connection between loneliness and substance use is not a new discovery, researchers and recovery programs are starting to explore the inverse relationship – or whether genuine human interaction has potential to support recovery.

The Opposite of Addiction

In light of this loneliness epidemic and how it relates to substance use disorders and alcohol-related diseases, there’s a growing number of initiatives not just in the U.S. but around the world that are aimed at “tackling loneliness, social isolation, and deep-rooted disconnection by helping people develop critical social skills and offering a safe place to practice them, as well as a menu of ways to meet connect, interact, build trust, and give back,” according to an article from Quartz.

The article tells the story of one such program, SeekHealing that emphasizes the importance of human relationships while serving people who are at risk for overdose and providing support services to anyone at any stage in the addiction healing process. Beyond that, it also makes an effort to connect humans in substantive ways, whether or not they are struggling with addiction. Founder Jennifer Nicolaisen expressed in the Quartz article, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is genuine, meaningful interactions and authentic connections and experiences with our selves, each other, and the world around us.”