The Human Connection and Addiction Relapse
Of all the components contributing to an individual’s long-term recovery, a support system is one of the most important. With there being a direct correlation between human connection and addiction relapse, friends and family can truly make all the difference in a successful recovery. Unfortunately, substance abuse and its associated lifestyle often lead to social withdrawal, isolation, and even abandonment from loved ones.
Human beings are wired to connect with one another. Research reveals social support and meaningful relationships are just as integral to wellbeing as food or water. From an evolutionary standpoint, those who are closer to others are more likely to survive. From a medical standpoint, psychologists and medical professionals recognize the importance of connection for other reasons.
The Important of Connection When Recovering
Relationships provide security, lower stress, promote a positive self-image, and offer acceptance. The social connection theory of addiction proposes recovery is more likely when people are surrounded by others. During a 2015 TED talk titled, "Everything You Know About Addiction is Wrong," writer Johann Hari asks the audience to consider the way they think about addiction. "What if the problem isn't chemical hooks?" Hari asks. "What if it's the cage?"
Hari's use of the word "cage" is a reference to the 1970's "Rat Park" study by Bruce Alexander, a Canadian psychologist who evaluated the consumption of drugged water in rats. One group was fed the water within a group environment while a second group was in solitary confinement. Interestingly, the rats who were surrounded by others ingested 75 percent less drugs than those who were in isolation.
What was most surprising about Alexander's experiment was the flexibility of the rats who had been in confinement. After being introduced to the community group, the addicted rats exhibited withdrawal symptoms. However, they soon readapted to a healthy pattern of living. Prior to this, the disease model of addiction was the most widely accepted, and it implied that an individual could never truly recover once they developed a dependency.
Alexander's study and others have suggested that there is far more to recovery than previously considered. Addiction, it turns out, is not solely a physical illness. It has many psychological, emotional, and social features that can be healed through connection.
Human Connection and Addiction Relapse Prevention
Although sobriety ultimately comes down to an individual choice, there is strong evidence suggesting ongoing community involvement decreases the likelihood of relapse. In addition to alleviating mental health symptoms, support groups like A.A., and those found in outpatient clinics, offer people a chance to embrace what they consider to be the most shameful thing they have done.
Finding others who understand the struggle of recovery, the pain of the past, and the feelings entangled in sobriety is liberating. Identifying the various types of relapse in addiction recovery is equally important as any choice to use again is first preceded by an emotional and mental relapse.
Connection and conversation help people overcome negative thinking, process their struggles from a place of acceptance, and recognize that problems, however big and pervasive, can be overcome. At the simplest level, the connection simply gives people a place to breathe and reconnect.
Isolation often contributes to a sense of detachment from one's self. Without the presence of others, feelings of worthlessness can become harder to contest. The longer people go without socialization, the easier it becomes to talk themselves out of their own values. Social connection is more than just companionship for the individual in recovery; it is a reminder there is life louder than temptation, a reason beyond cravings and power in the ability to speak out.
Staying Sober in Isolation
The coronavirus pandemic has left millions of people socially stranded. The inability to see and engage with the world in even passive instances poses a threat to those in recovery. Left alone, mental health symptoms tend to magnify, and those who are prone to rumination might start to experience a sense of hopelessness that they only know how to numb with drugs.
Coupled with the crippling anxiety and general feelings of despair brought on by COVID-19, many people in recovery are desperate for a way to keep their heads above the water. Staying sober in isolation, some may argue, is just as much of a matter of life or death as those who have fallen ill to the novel virus.
Fortunately, there are many online recovery meetings and support groups available. Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART hold free virtual sessions, and Reddit communities like r/stopdrinking and r/redditorsinrecovery provide immediate access to others. Additionally, counselors have digitized their services to make them more accessible.
The human connection and addiction relapse are so closely intertwined that staying plugged into a community now is more important than ever. Allowing oneself to sink into the anxiety, fear, and discomfort from the change, both current and impending, only makes relapse seem like a viable escape hatch.
Get Help Today from Clear Life Recovery
The world will eventually recover. Until then, every person in recovery has a responsibility. Online therapy, support groups, forums, and even social media communities are hands extended - chances to connect without touch. The choice to stay sober, and the choice to stay connected, are as close as ever. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, contact your local hospital, or connect with one of our professional staff members at Clear Life Recovery today.