Addiction is a terrible affliction that is touching lives in every corner of the US, and those that live with substance abuse or an alcoholic situation can suffer some terrible effects. These effects span an enormously wide range and can be physical, mental, or even emotional. 

If you or someone you know may be living with the burden of addiction, it can have far-reaching consequences for their lives in general. In most cases, the addict suffers from significant physical side effects, as well as emotional, but some people wonder if an addict can also lose their sense of empathy. We’re going to dive into what happens in the mind of an addict, and where their sense of empathy goes while they’re addicted.

What is an Addict?

An addict is someone living with addiction. Addiction is the total inability to cease using a harmful substance or engaging in dangerous behavior, even when the harm is obvious. Addiction doesn’t just refer to substance use disorder, it can also apply to taking part in certain activities. Just as someone can be addicted to cocaine, they can also be addicted to alcohol, gambling, gaming, and even working.

Addiction, and being an addict, is a chronic condition that can come to be in several different ways. One of the most frequently imagined is the tragic drunk or next-door heroin addict. Another common way is for someone to be legitimately prescribed medication, and begin to misuse it due to a developing tolerance or similar circumstances. Another type of addict is the workaholic that continually misses their child’s birthdays and milestones, in favor of working in a high-powered executive position.

Understanding Empathy

Empathy is seen, in the larger sense of the human experience, to be the overall ability of someone to place themselves into another’s shoes, and understand why they would feel as they do. Empathy is used to describe placing someone in another’s place for any reason at all, emotional, physical, psychological, and more. 

While it used to be commonly used for more literal comparisons, today, empathy can mean almost any sense or feeling that someone may be able to identify with, in another person. This often includes the most abstract and emotional feelings that they may not even understand.

Empathy Versus Sympathy

To understand the differences in empathy versus sympathy, we’ll need to define both. They are similar but wildly different terms to use when talking about emotional healing. A succinct writer once wrote “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.” Both of the terms describe how one person has a relationship with the emotional and psychological state of another, but they mean very different things and describe a very different relationship between one person and another.

Empathy is a feeling that indicates someone understands the emotions or experiences, even if they cannot be shared. While you may not necessarily be able to feel the exact same as someone else, putting yourself in their shoes can help you understand how they are feeling, and why those feelings are happening. Sympathy is often seen as looking down on someone in pain and telling them they’re sorry that they are in pain. It does not create the same meaningful emotional connection that empathy does, and it holds no space for healing and recovery.

One of the biggest benefits that empathy can have is helping someone in an emotionally vulnerable or stressed state know that they are not alone. Both addiction and mental illness can be incredibly isolating and being able to empathize with another person can be a significant comfort to them during a time that is loaded with uncertainty.

Can Addicts Lose Empathy?

One of the biggest reasons that addicts and loss of empathy go hand in hand, is that addicts tend to isolate themselves so that there are fewer responsibilities and more opportunities to use. They begin to care more and more about their preferred substance, and less and less about other commitments or relationships. They may also begin binge drinking or otherwise engage in alcohol abuse and alcoholism, as part of a dual diagnosis.

This will increase the risk of more serious substance use and will begin to change the addict’s most core social nature. They will be largely absent from the lives of their friends and family, and when confronted by them, the rebuttal is often denial or rationalization. This is because at that stage, not only is the addict largely blind to the emotions of others, but they will be in denial of the harm they are bringing to themselves.

Is There a Connection Between Mental Health and Empathy?

There will be a marked connection between mental health and empathy. In many cases, the individual that is battling addiction will have co-occurring disorders. This means that those co-occurring disorders will need to be addressed if treatment is going to be successful. 

Regardless of whether the individual is participating in intensive outpatient programs or partial hospitalization programs, one of the treatments is going to be one on one therapy. This individualized treatment by a licensed and experienced clinician will help you both to gain a deeper understanding of the co-occurring disorders that may show up when treatment begins. 

Your clinician partner will help you create your initial treatment plan and will work with you on maintaining it as well. Not only will you need to devote a minimum number of hours each week, but you will need to maintain that schedule for about 90 days of ongoing treatment.

How to Practice Empathy

If you or someone you know may be living with addiction and loss of emotion, it may be time to look at your recovery from a more holistic standpoint. By working with the recovery professionals at Miracles, you’ll be able to participate in a treatment plan that addresses emotional healing in conjunction with physical and psychological recovery.

This can help the individual see a more complete recovery overall, which can mean a much longer-lasting recovery. To speak with a recovery specialist, reach out today and discuss your needs in a confidential environment.