Replacement Addictions: Trading One Addiction for Another

After seeking treatment for alcohol or drug addiction, there are some people who maintain sobriety from those substances. Yet, they may replace their prior addiction with other habits such as work, food, exercise, smoking, shopping, gambling, relationships, sex or internet addiction. Although they may not be using substances and consider themselves sober, they are not in recovery if they simply trade one addiction for another.

Why Replacement Addictions Are a Form of Relapse

Despite common misconceptions about addiction, drugs and alcohol are not the only substances or activities a person can become addicted to. When one’s brain has a history of addiction, the normal reward pathways have been altered to seek certain physical responses from substances or behaviors that may be unhealthy or exceed healthy levels. Simply becoming sober is not enough to change these pathways.

Replacement addictions quickly feed those same needs of the brain with addiction. The action of receiving a pleasurable response from an outside source can shift from substances to behaviors or even become more than one addiction. Some people may refer to this as an “addictive personality,” but the reality is that it has more to do with biology than personality.

All of this means that even when a person is no longer using drugs or alcohol, they replace substance use with other unhealthy habits, creating an addiction relapse.

Common Types of Replacement Addictions

The range of replacement addictions varies from person to person; however, there are many common habits that replace substance abuse:

  • Work – While everyone needs to work for a living, there is such thing as being addicted to work when it is sought after and contributes to the detriment of health or personal relationships.
  • Exercise – While exercise can and should be part of one’s recovery, some people become addicted to exercise to the point that they harm their bodies.
  • Smoking/nicotine – One of the most common replacement addictions is smoking, vaping or other nicotine-based habits that replace other substances.
  • Shopping – For many, the pleasure of buying replaces substances, but for most, they cannot afford the financial consequences and often buy things they do not even need.
  • Gambling – The thrill of any type of gambling can be very addictive, and it is very easy for someone in drug or alcohol recovery to switch to a gambling addiction.
  • Relationships or sex – Despite the fact that these are normal human needs, both relationships and sex can become unhealthy if pursued in an unhealthy manner.
  • Internet – There are many different types of internet addictions, including gaming, shopping, pornography and more, that can replace substance abuse.

Six of One, Half a Dozen of Another

People may try to tell themselves “shopping is healthier than drinking every day,” but the truth is that both can be very detrimental to their health and well-being. Replacement addictions are like comparing six of one to half a dozen of another.

The very definition of addiction is being unable to stop engaging in a behavior or using a substance, although it is causing physical or psychological harm. Replacement addictions literally trade one or more addictions for one or more other addictions.

If a person is in drug or alcohol addiction recovery, but they engage in another addictive behavior, are they actually still in recovery? Addiction relapse does not simply include one’s initial addiction. In order to truly be in recovery, one needs to be honest about any addictions that they are actively experiencing. Sobriety from substance abuse is commendable, but it will not last without a commitment to long-term recovery.

Being Honest with Yourself

Being honest with oneself about addictions may be one of the most difficult aspects of recovery. Going through treatment for substance abuse is so difficult, but to truly be in drug or alcohol addiction recovery, one needs to be sure that they do not fall into another type of addiction relapse. While the fact that they have chosen recovery over addiction may make family or friends happy,  recovery should be something they choose for themselves.

After doing so much work to become sober, it would be a huge disservice to throw that away by not being honest about engaging in a replacement addiction. Everyone deserves to have an ongoing recovery, which is more than just stopping addictive behaviors. Constantly working to protect recovery from an addiction relapse of any kind is so important and will be worthwhile.

Replacement addictions are exactly what they sound like—trading one addiction for another. Being sober is commendable, but it is not likely to last without your ongoing commitment to your own recovery. DiscoveryMD has outpatient treatment centers for substance abuse and co-occurring mental health diagnoses. We offer flexible scheduling for those who have work or family commitments during treatment and offer all the services you need under one roof. Get in touch with one of our compassionate staff members about creating an individualized treatment plan for you. Our goal is to meet you where you are and help you begin a long-term, sustainable recovery. We understand the risks of addiction relapse and replacement addictions because we have been there, done that, and we want to offer you our wisdom and experience. Please contact us today to begin your new life.

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