Whether the isolation or the addiction comes first, many people with substance use and eating disorders keep to themselves. They stay away from friends and family, which starts a vicious cycle. \u201cAddiction leads to isolation as people are locked in a prison of self,\u201d says Harold Jonas, PhD, addiction treatment professional in West Palm Beach, Florida, and founder of Flexdek.net. \u201cThey are listening to their own thoughts and either automatically or consciously choose to block others out.\u201d Many experts feel that the tendency toward addictive behavior often starts to be evident in early adolescence. \u201cThis is when self-consciousness is already a part of development, plus add low self-esteem \u2014 and not feeling like part of a peer group \u2014 and the feelings of isolation begin,\u201d says Jonas. \u201cIf we add other numerous variables that may be present, i.e., abuse in the home, family instability, divorce \u2014 that can further entrench the feeling of isolation and being alone.\u201d One single feeling is often the same with substance abusers of all sorts. \u201cWhen I worked at a methadone clinic, I can\u2019t tell you how many times I heard people say, \u2018I do drugs so that I can feel normal. Ever since I was a kid, I never felt normal,\u2019\u201d says Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW. When you think about isolation and addiction problems, the question is: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Of course everyone is different, but Koenig believes it is often the isolation and feeling of differentness that make a person abuse drugs, food, alcohol or pornography. \u201cThese people often feel tired, lonely, and depressed, so they self-medicate. Then it becomes a vicious cycle \u2014 they feel ashamed and feel bad about themselves, then use more, then isolate more.\u201d Because addiction carries a lot of stigma, most addicts find secretive use and isolation is essential to protect and prolong, according to Jay Reid, MS, a clinical counselor with Well Clinic, a mental health facility in San Francisco. \u201cThis question always becomes a central theme in treatment,\u201d Reid said. \u201cWhen someone becomes addicted to a substance they, in essence, are making the drug their primary relationship \u2014 so relationships with other people tend to fade into the addict\u2019s background.\u201d And Jonas points out, \u201cNot all people who are isolated are addicts. Grizzly Adams comes to mind or today\u2019s example of Bear Grylls. Liking to be alone does not make someone \u2018isolated.\u2019 There is a difference that exists between comfort with oneself and isolation in a crowd.\u201d It is the feeling that you really can\u2019t reach out to other people that makes this such a devastating condition for many people who are addicted. \u201cMost of us are lucky enough to\u00a0learn that the best way to feel better\u00a0is through connection to other people,\u201d says Reid.\u00a0\u201cSome people\u00a0have the misfortune to learn\u00a0that getting close to people results in feeling worse.\u00a0The allure of a substance that consistently and predictably\u00a0makes them feel better is extremely powerful.\u201d What Can You Do If a Loved One Is Isolating? \u201cPay attention to overt and covert changes,\u201d says Jonas. \u201cIf your someone is spending an inordinate amount of time in their room \u2014 red flag. We are social creatures and interaction is required to gain the benefit of being alive. It is not just an added bonus.\u201d It is hard to know what to do to help someone we love who is suffering. Sometimes it is easier to think of things not to do that might make things worse. Here are some of the major ones, according to Koenig: \tDon\u2019t shame them. Saying something like, \u201cIf you were a man, you could do it,\u201d or, \u201cI have been through this and was able to cope,\u201d only makes a person feel worse. \tDon\u2019t be overly enthusiastic. The \u201chail-fellow-well-met\u201d approach, in which you put your arm around the person and act chummy, will be seen for what it is. You have to be real in your dealings with this person. \tDon\u2019t nag. The first time you say something it is new information, and the next time it is nagging. If someone isn\u2019t listening, the more you say it, the less they will listen. \tDon\u2019t be passive-aggressive. Saying something like, \u201cIf you aren\u2019t going to listen to me, then never mind,\u201d really doesn\u2019t help. This makes people feel abandoned. And here are some do\u2019s from Koenig as well: \tBe compassionate. Tell the person you love them and are there for them. \tShare your experience. If you want to help a person get into therapy or a 12-step program, share that you have done it and it has helped you. \tRemind the person of better times. If they have stopped their substance abuse in the past, remind them of what it was like. \tBe proactive. If your loved one is isolating to the degree that he or she isn\u2019t getting out of bed, showering, going to work, going out at all, letting plants die (that is a giveaway), you need to get them help. These are signs of severe depression. \u201cIt comes down to helping a person see that their situation isn\u2019t insurmountable. When you are in a dark spot, it is hard to remember that there is any light out there,\u201d Koenig said.