Click to open Navigation
phone icon
call us
call us(877) 772-9595

Existential Loneliness

December 28, 2020

Hero image
NACA leaf graphic
leaves vector image
tree vector image

Loneliness is generally associated with feelings of social or emotional isolation. Sometimes, physical separation causes a feeling of loneliness, but the emotion can overcome anyone, regardless of physical distance from loved ones. The negative impact of loneliness can lead to depression or anxiety. For some, they experience existential loneliness which results in substance misuse and abuse.

Identifying Existential Crises

The terms “Existential loneliness” and “Existential crisis” both refer to a similar kind of emotional distress. The term “Existential” generally refers to anything that regards a thing’s existence. Individuals who undergo existential crises often question their purpose in life, or ponder if one exists at all.

Individuals who undergo existential crises often question their purpose in life, or ponder if one exists at all.

Loneliness or feelings of separation can worsen the dread that often accompanies an existential crisis. Sometimes, this dread is self-created, but the negative impact of such an emotion can leave lasting effects. Almost everyone has felt sad or lonely at some point in their life, and together these two usually make a situation worse. Once these negative emotions set in, things can suddenly seem to be spiraling out of control. An individual suffering from an existential crisis may have started by feeling lonely, but then worsened to thinking about personal failures, then into questioning their very existence.

Sometimes, an existential crisis will result in nihilistic thoughts, where nothing really matters, and life is ultimately meaningless. These ideas effectively encapsulate the definition of “existential crisis”. For individuals suffering from substance abuse, this existential dread can compound with addiction and lead to depression or anxiety. One study explored the correlation between existentialism and drug abuse. The researchers performing the study found that those who dealt with both existentialism and drug abuse experienced much more severe crises. Existential crises and substance abuse form a vicious cycle, dragging down anyone caught up in both.

Questioning Existence

Thinking about one’s existence and asking questions about existentialism can be healthy, if the goal of such questions is to find meaning and deeper purpose. A problem arises, however, when the question of life is left without an answer. Not finding an answer to this intensely personal question doesn’t necessarily mean that one doesn’t exist, but for some it can be a poor omen for their existence. If an individual finds no answer to the question for themselves, it can lead to a dark path full of negative thoughts.

Without a solid answer to this, an individual may find themselves struggling with ways to deal with the feeling of meaninglessness. A lack of meaning can lead to trouble setting long-term goals and the individual may cope by seeking out short-term payoffs. This does not mean that short-term plans or pleasures are bad, but an individual who is struggling with substance abuse may have severe difficulty breaking the habit.

Abusing Substances and Existential Crises

Unfortunately, depression and addiction commonly occur together. In fact, an individual who is struggling with one runs a higher risk of also experiencing the other. The term “co-occurring” applies to an individual struggling with both depression and substance abuse. Also known as dual diagnosis, this combination of disorders may cause the individual to feel strong existential loneliness. Dual diagnosis isn’t rare, either. 9.5 million US adults suffered from a co-occurring disorder in 2019.

The term "co-occurring" applies to an individual struggling with both depression and substance abuse.

Treating a Co-occurring Disorder

Dealing with a co-occurring disorder is already a massive struggle; overcoming it is similarly complex. It is necessary to focus on each facet of the disorder. Treating just the mental aspect of the won’t magically cure the addiction problem, in the same vein as treating just the addiction will not necessarily cure the patient’s mental state. The process for treating a dual diagnosis is complex, often requiring several steps before completion. Specific elements of the process also need to be fine-tuned by professionals to effectively work, since each patient is different.


Most patients find detox as a crucial step to purify the body and help it heal. Counteracting the symptoms of withdrawal from some drugs often requires the help of additional medication. Usually, this process takes about a week, but may take longer if the patient responds poorly to treatment.


Rehabilitation is the next major step. Patients need 24/7 support in order to deal with mental illness issues or substance abuse. Monitoring patients carefully can help prevent relapse back into using illicit drugs.


The next step, psychotherapy, focuses on the mental aspect of patients. By trying to identify the mental source of the disorder, psychotherapy can help treat the problem at its core. This specific kind of therapy is known as cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. It helps by identifying the different causes of the mental illness, instead of focusing on just the surface symptoms. This step is crucial, as it works to direct patients’ thoughts away from negative thinking and feelings of existential loneliness.


Support Groups

One of the last steps is gathering a support group. By socializing or just hearing from others with a similar experience as them, patients are able to find meaning, and reflect on their progress. By surrounding them with individuals who are going through a similar set of experiences, patients see it is possible to overcome their struggle.

However, it is important to keep in mind that addiction is classified as a chronic illness. Individuals who struggle with addiction can relapse just as individuals who struggle with diabetes or asthma. Relapse may be discouraging, but recovering is a lifelong effort, and takes time.

Getting Help

Overcoming addiction is far from an easy task, and it is  even more difficult in combination with mental health problems. Regardless, co-occurring disorders are not exactly rare, and recovery is always possible. The journey is complex, but getting professional help is one of the best ways to make it. Lifelong recovery is not impossible, and the journey doesn’t need to be taken alone. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please contact us today, and we can help you begin your journey to recovery.