Recovery from substance use is a road that has hidden perils all along the way. One of the unseen dangers is replacement addiction, or substituting one addiction with another addiction. This is not true recovery, as we are still trying to fill those emotional needs with something, we have merely changed from substance use to another habit.
Recovery involves more than just sobriety, recovery is healing from past loss, trauma, abuse, or other emotional pain that is the root of our addictive behaviors. When we truly dig deep and address our emotional pain, then we can also heal from that pain and eliminate the cause of our addictions. When we truly recover, then we can avoid the perils of replacement addictions.
Why We Substitute Addictions
In addition to the healing of emotional pain that is necessary to recover, our bodies and especially our brains are wired for addiction. The reward center pathway in our brain creates a need for some sort of pleasurable experience, often initially a substance. So naturally, as we enter sobriety, our bodies crave something similar. This is the physiological reason that we might try to find a replacement addiction.
Some of the more common replacement addictions include:
• Nicotine – whether or not we smoked or vaped prior to entering treatment, many people will pick up smoking or vaping during treatment, without considering that nicotine is just another substance. Unfortunately, nicotine is an incredibly addictive substance, so this is yet another habit that becomes very difficult to break.
• Food – food is often used in addictive ways without any awareness. People will “stuff” their emotional pain with food, which often does provide some pleasure in the brain’s reward center. This addiction is tricky because food is something we all need every day, so it becomes a matter of being more aware and disciplined about what foods we are consuming, as well as the portions and timing. Food is also more difficult to identify as an addiction, and therefore can be more difficult to get help with.
• Sex – sex is another activity that we all typically have some kind of appetite for. However, when we hide or lie about our sexual activities, are significantly preoccupied with sex, or if sex impacts our relationships, health, job, or legal status, or if it conflicts with our moral or spiritual belief systems, then we may have a sexual addiction. Again, this one is difficult, as sobriety does not necessarily equate to total abstinence. But it is a common replacement addiction after treatment for substance use.
• Gambling – the obvious rewards of gambling make it a very addictive activity. Because it does not involve putting something in our bodies, we do not always acknowledge it as an addiction. But it definitely impacts the reward center in our brain as much as a substance would, and can be very damaging to our temporal welfare and relationships.
• Pornography – often classified as a sex addiction, the imagery of pornography is very addictive. It can also be difficult to see the ways it can harm our lives, livelihood, and the people we love.
• Video Games – gaming is very addictive, both for the way that the games are designed to impact our brains and also for the constant rewards we receive. We can see those rewards in medals and other achievements as we play, which only makes us want to play more.
• Social Media – social media is actually designed to make us check it frequently, with some apps offering content that disappears if you don’t check daily or more often. We may think that we are recovered from addiction, but the appeal of social media can keep us coming back for more until we cannot stay away.
• Shopping – again, although we are not putting something directly into our bodies, that reward of spending money and getting something, whether online or in person, can fulfill that need that we have created to constantly reward our brains. Unfortunately, most of us do not have unlimited funds or space to support a shopping addiction.
• Work – most of us need to work, and many of us have jobs that require more than 40 hours of work per week. However, especially if we are trying to heal from another addiction, we may actually become addicted to our work, ignoring our own self-care as well as other needs and relationships in our lives.
Many people will replace substance use with positive activities, such as exercise. As we learn in treatment, exercise can be a powerful tool for us to heal our bodies and our minds. Exercise also releases endorphins in the brain, which is like a natural high. Becoming addicted to exercise might not be a bad thing for some people, but for others, it might lead to ignoring other needs, harming our bodies by pushing ourselves to far, or harming important relationships.
Replacement addictions merely prolong your healing. You can find all of the tools you need to heal your emotional pain now, and be free of all addictions. As you truly recover from the substance use that has been weighing you down, you can become free to experience life without any replacement weights or habits. Find your emotional healing. Find the tools for a lifelong recovery. Find the freedom that comes when you can live free of all addictions.
Replace your substance use with healing. Learn how by calling AToN Center at (888) 535-1516. Find your emotional happy place and don’t accept any substitutes.