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Overcoming Social Isolation and Loneliness in Recovery

Amber Vaughan, MA in Counseling and Human Services, is a distinguished addiction treatment professional and currently serves as the Director of Admissions at Asana Recovery.
LinkedIn | More Info about Amber

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Overcoming Social Isolation and Loneliness in Recovery

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If you’re in recovery, you’re making choices for yourself to be healthy, to improve your life, and to build your future. Unfortunately, in the short term, that can mean feeling isolated, alone, and like you’re losing your friends, giving up your old life, and moving on without many people you know. That’s natural if you’ve spend several years gravitating towards people with unhealthy approaches to drugs and alcohol. And, if they don’t change with you, you likely have no more place for them in your life. It can also result from a longer period of substance abuse, where you may have alienated and isolated yourself from friends and family. The recovery period, where you haven’t yet made new sober friends, where you haven’t yet (if you want to) worked on healing relationships with old friends and family and where you’re instead kind of stuck with little social or support network can be incredibly lonely. That’s even true if your friends and family are supportive, because you’re changing and have different priorities than they do.

That can be extremely difficult to deal with. If you don’t manage it properly, it can even result in a relapse. Taking steps to overcome and manage social isolation and loneliness in recovery are crucial to your recovery.

Attend Self-Help Groups

Self-help groups are a great way to interact with people who will understand you, who will listen to you nonjudgmentally, and who are on the same personal growth track you are. Everyone will have their own approach, take, and method of moving through recovery. This means you won’t get along with everyone and not everyone will know exactly what you’re going through. However, you will have a group of people to talk to who will roughly have the same concepts and grasp of what life is as you – which means you’ll have people you can relate to, share to without judgement, listen to, and understand.

In addition, self-help groups can provide real motivation and social accountability to stay in recovery. But, at their core, they can give you a place to talk, to be listened to, and to feel like you’re part of a group.

Consider Sober Living

Sober living homes or “halfway houses” are a construction designed to offer people in early recovery an alternative to living on their own. Their primary function is to give you structure, accountability, and a drug and alcohol-free environment where you can go back to your normal daily life without giving up on the support you’d get at a rehab center. They also ensure you’re in close contact with peers, that you have communal meals, that you can do things together as a group with others in similar positions, and that you feel less alone. Many also offer mental health support, so if loneliness does start to get to you, you can respond by asking for help.

Sober living communities aren’t for everyone. Your insurance may not help you pay for them. And, you may not have one in your area. However, they can be valuable resources if you’re getting out of rehab, don’t have a social support network, and want to give yourself the best chances of success.

young adults at a sober living home


Volunteering is a great way to get out and to meet new people in contexts where you get to feel useful and like you’re adding something for others. That can reduce many of the problems people in early recovery have with making new friends.

In addition, it can give you an outlet to feel good about yourself and to socialize even if you’re not making friends. At the same time, it’s important to steer clear of helping people with substance use disorders while in early recovery. Limiting your exposure to drugs and alcohol will improve your ability to stay in recovery.

Therefore, working in shelters and soup kitchens or volunteer rehab groups probably isn’t a great idea at first. On the other hand, programs to build low-cost housing, trash pickup, disaster relief, animal shelters, and other volunteer opportunities can be a great way to reduce social isolation without putting you at risk.

a young woman holding a circle pin for volunteers

Find Things You Like to Do Alone

It’s important to find people to spend time with and to hang out with. Isolating yourself at an event is just as bad as isolating yourself in your home. At the same time, it’s also important to take steps to find things you like to do yourself. Learning how to be alone and how to be comfortable and happy in that is an important part of living and many people in recovery don’t have the skill – because chances are, you spent a lot of your time alone before being drunk or high and don’t know how to deal with the lack of stimulus.

Figuring out things to do yourself can include hobbies like crafts, sports, going to events, reading, or anything else you’d like. It’s generally a good idea to try out multiple things, to take classes and stick to them before deciding what you like, and to figure out how you can make yourself happy with the stuff you do in your own time.

Create Meaningful Moments with People You Care About

Interacting with people in early recovery can feel like navigating a minefield. Do you overshare and tell people how you’re actually doing? Or do you have surface level interactions that don’t really mean anything? The latter option will leave you feeling alone even if you talk to people every day. The former may scare people away. The key is to trust a few people with how you’re actually doing, to invest in creating time for sharing emotions and meaningful connections. Even if those interactions are few and far between, they will help you to feel connected and less lonely. It’s also important that those connections shouldn’t be one-way. You should also offer support and talk to those people about their problems, how they are doing, and how they feel. Making that time will give you opportunities to feel connected which will help everyone involved.

Don’t Overdo It

Investing in people is exhausting. That’s true whether you’re going to 12-step like AA or NA, socializing with your neighbors, or scheduling zoom calls with your friends and family. You can’t do everything and also have time for yourself, your treatment, and your life. It’s important to prioritize. That means ensuring you have regular social contact but that it doesn’t dominate your schedule. If you need people around you all the time, you’re probably doing your recovery more harm than good.

Unfortunately, some aspects of feeling lonely are just part of the process of recovery. You will feel down, depressed, and like you could use people to cheer you up. That will happen. At the same time, if you’re making sure you have social contact, that you’re getting meaningful time with friends, and that you’re investing in your community or recovery groups, you’re probably going to recover and to feel better about both as you continue to heal.

young man and young woman trying to figure out their plans and schedule
Amber Vaughan, MA in Counseling and Human Services, is a distinguished addiction treatment professional and currently serves as the Director of Admissions at Asana Recovery.
LinkedIn | More Info about Amber

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