More Than Abstinence
There’s more to recovery than simply abstaining from drugs or alcohol. If you don’t address the underlying factors that contributed to the development of your substance use disorder, you risk relapsing or developing a substitute addiction.
Just like an addiction to drugs or alcohol, substitute addictions don’t discriminate based on age, race, gender, or socio-economic status. However, you may be more at risk of developing a substitute addiction if you are impulsive, sensation seeking, and non-conforming. People who have co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety may also be especially vulnerable to developing a substitute addiction.
About Substitute Addictions
A substitute addiction is an unhealthy dependence on any habit-forming behavior. The behavior itself may be normal, but a person with an addiction will feel compelled to continue engaging in the behavior even when it starts to cause problems in other areas of their life. Substitute addictions are sometimes referred to as process addictions.
Common substitute addictions for people in recovery include:
- Food. It’s human nature to turn to food for a source of comfort, but binging on sweets or fast food can lead to weight gain, low energy levels, and nutritional deficiencies that will make it harder to stick to your recovery program.
- Caffeine. Coffee, soda, energy drinks, and other caffeinated beverages can provide a quick pick-me-up in the morning, but overdoing it can increase anxiety and nervousness. This is particularly problematic if you’re already experiencing these symptoms due to drug or alcohol withdrawal.
- Shopping. Someone with a shopping addiction will continually buy items they don’t need or want. They are attracted to the thrill they get with each new purchase rather than the items themselves.
- Gambling. Whether it’s purchasing lottery tickets or visiting casinos, the excitement of having a big win can be hard to resist.
- Sex. Sexual activity releases endorphins, which creates a rush similar to what someone experiences using drugs or alcohol. Someone with a sex addiction will seek out this rush by engaging in extreme behaviors such as compulsive masturbation, unprotected casual sex, or utilizing the services of sex workers.
- Video games. The immersive world that video games offer provides instant gratification and an escape from the challenges associated with recovery, but too much screen time can lead to social isolation and neglecting your recovery-related responsibilities.
- Exercise. Regular physical activity offers many stress-relieving and mood-boosting benefits in recovery. However, someone who develops an addiction to exercise risks serious injury from overusing their muscles and joints. Exercise addiction is often tied to body image issues or an eating disorder.
- Work. Enjoying your job and wanting to do your best is admirable, but someone who is addicted to work will put in long hours and obsess about projects to the extent that they neglect self-care and relationships with loved ones.
Identifying a Substitute Addiction
Everyone experiences addiction a bit differently. However, the signs of a substitute addiction are often similar to those of an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Your behavior may be considered a substitute addiction if:
- Your behavior makes you feel embarrassed or ashamed.
- Friends and family have expressed concern over your behavior—causing you to lie or become defensive.
- You’ve tried to cut back or change your behavior without success.
- You’ve experienced negative consequences, such as financial problems or health issues, because of your behavior.
- You are engaging in illegal or unethical actions, such as stealing, to support your behavior.
- You are neglecting vital forms of self-care, such as sufficient time for sleep and meaningful relationships with loved ones, to spend more time on the behavior.
Treating Substitute Addictions
Substitute addictions, even when they involve seemingly benign behaviors such as work or exercise, are dangerous because they prevent you from developing healthy ways to cope with stress and unpleasant emotions. They trap you in the pattern of distracting yourself from your problems instead of dealing with challenges head-on and prevent you from achieving emotional sobriety.
The good news is that the same cognitive behavioral therapy that is used to treat a substance use disorder will help you address a substitute addiction. Discuss how you are feeling with your treatment team, then work together to develop a plan to get your recovery back on track.
At Waypoint Recovery Center‘s South Carolina drug and alcohol addiction treatment program, we are committed to helping our clients find a way to live life to the fullest. If you’re ready to take the first step towards a brighter future, we can help.