Loneliness is defined as the feeling of being socially and emotionally isolated. You may not have to physically be separated from friends and family in order to feel lonely. However, the impact of feeling empty, alone or unwanted can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety.
What is an existential crisis?
Existential loneliness and having an existential crisis are very similar. Any matter which evolves into an existential one usually involves questions of your existence. In other words, you are often finding yourself wondering what the purpose behind your life is. Your loneliness and feelings of separation can cause you to question your purpose in life. Many times this issue becomes a self-created problem. Most people are familiar with feelings of sadness and loneliness, which seem to worsen other problems. It can begin to snowball from “I feel lonely” to “I don’t have a job because x, y and z” and develop into “everything is bad.”
These feelings sometimes result in nihilistic thinking where you eventually believe that nothing means anything and life is meaningless. In essence, this captures what an existential crisis is. So why would this be important to someone who deals with substance abuse? Well, these feelings of existentialism, loneliness and questioning life can lead to depression. Further, there is proof to show that depression and substance abuse have a bi-directional relationship. Meaning individuals dealing with depression are more likely to suffer from substance abuse and vice-versa.
Pondering existential questions is potentially a healthy activity when the mindset and purpose is to find growth and meaning. However, for some, questions such as “what is the meaning of life” are oftentimes met with no real answers. Having no answer does not mean that there is not one. However, it can seem that way and cause people to believe that if they cannot think of an answer, then surely life is meaningless. Individuals who cannot seem to find meaning to life, may lack tangible long-term goals and settle for short-term satisfaction. This is not to say that people who struggle with these questions will start doing drugs. Nevertheless, it is possible it is harder for someone already struggling with addiction to find help or stop.
Existential Crises and Substance Abuse
Individuals who suffer from depression are at a higher risk of experiencing addiction and vice versa. When combined, it is referred to as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Someone struggling with questions about life might feel an increase in existential loneliness. People suffering from various mental health condition may turn to substances to manage their emotions or symptoms. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2018), 9.2 million American adults experienced both a mental health disorder and substance use disorders at the same time.
How to treat a co-occuring disorder
Treating a co-occuring disorder requires attention to both issues and their respective causes. You cannot treat just the depression and expect the addiction to stop. Even if the depression may have caused the addiction in the first place. However, drug treatment has proven to significantly reduce drug use and criminal activity. It can make a major impact in someone’s life. Treating a co-occuring disorder usually involves four to six steps depending on the program. Every program will also be tailored and specific to the needs and symptoms of the patient. Though, there are some general steps all patients will need to take.
For many patients, detox is an important process to help heal the body. This process sometimes involves small doses of medication to safely manage withdrawal symptoms. This process can take about a week or longer depending on how well the patient responds to treatment.
Inpatient rehab will help provide 24/7 support and care for individuals suffering from mental illness and substance abuse. Providing supervision in a dedicated space can help prevent the continued use of illicit drugs.
Psychotherapy is a major component to treating co-occurring disorders. It focuses on the mental aspect of what may have caused the disorder. One form of therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps determine the underlying causes behind the mental illness, rather than just trying to manage its symptoms. It helps patients avoid negative thinking traps such as feelings of existential loneliness.
Support groups allow patients to feel as if they are a part of a larger, collective effort. They do so by engaging in conversation and activities with fellow patients. It helps them realize that they are not alone and that success is possible.
It is important to realize that addiction is considered to be a chronic illness. Further, it falls under the same category as other chronic illnesses in terms of relapse rates. Diabetes, hypertension and asthma all share similar relapse rates as addiction. While relapse is common, it is also not a guarantee. However, recovery is a life-long process.
Dealing with addiction is never easy, especially in combination with mental health issues. Again, not every person dealing with existential loneliness turns to substances to cope. However, it is a possibility that many will deal with those questions and deal with substance use and abuse. It can be a complicated matter which may require professional help in order to successfully diagnose and treat. We always recommend getting professional help in order to increase your chances of life-long recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please contact us today to start the journey to recovery.