Substitute Addiction in Recovery

Substitute Addiction in Recovery

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It’s not unusual for people in recovery to struggle with substitute addiction. Unfortunately, many of those who succeed in giving up their drug of choice hold on to addictive behaviors and find themselves switching addictions. One study showed this number to be 1 out of 5 at the three-year mark. 1

This neverending merry-go-round of addiction replacement is a threat to true recovery. It can also increase the negative symptoms of co-existing disorders such as depression and anxiety.

This leads us to the following:

  • Why does addiction replacement happen?
  • Who is at risk for substitute addiction?
  • What can be done to reduce the risk?

At Desert Cove Recovery, we have the answers to such questions and help those in recovery avoid pitfalls like substitute addiction through education and comprehensive and personalized treatment plans.

Read on to learn more about addictive behaviors and how people in recovery can avoid addiction replacement.

What is Substitute Addiction?

Substitute addiction is exchanging one drug or habit for another to serve the same function. An example is when a person in recovery replaces their drug of choice with another drug or activity.

Activity is an important term because addiction replacement doesn’t always involve substances. For example, someone who has given up drinking may pick up a compulsive shopping habit instead.

There are many causes of addiction replacement, but most lead back to one factor: an unfulfilled emotional need. In the early stages, individuals in recovery also experience lower dopamine levels in the brain. This can lead to dopamine deficiency and symptoms like:

  • Depressed mood and feelings of hopelessness
  • Exhaustion and lack of motivation
  • Anxiety and the inability to concentrate
  • Little to no sex drive

To boost their dopamine levels and feel better, people in recovery may find themselves taking part in other addictive behaviors. This isn’t always a conscious choice, though.

For example, someone who is trying to kick drugs for good might find themselves working out a lot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, exercise is a healthy habit. However, when it is taken to an extreme level, it may qualify as a substitute addiction.

So, how can one tell if a new activity is a healthy way to cope or a replacement vice? You can start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Are you neglecting your self-care or hygiene because of _____?
  • Are you neglecting paying bills or other responsibilities because of _____?
  • Do you find yourself constantly thinking about _____?
  • Do you lose sleep or spend too much money to do _____?
  • Does _____ cause you trouble at work, school, or at home?
  • Is _____ causing relationship issues with your partner or loved ones?
  • Do you experience stress or anxiety if you’re unable to _____?

Answering yes to several of the questions above may suggest a probable transfer addiction.

Types of Substitute Addictions

According to addiction specialists and clinical research, substitute addictions can be split into two main categories:

  • Hedonistic motivated addictions
  • Nurturance motivated addictions

The first has excitement motivations and includes things like drug and alcohol use, sex, love, relationships, and gambling. The second category includes substitute addictions that have a basis in providing for self or others. These include things like shopping, working, exercising, and eating.

Science is yet to be able to pinpoint why people in recovery may struggle with one kind of addiction and not be susceptible to another. For example, a person who struggles with illicit drug use may not have a problem with gambling, even if they gamble occasionally.

However, there does seem to be a susceptibility to switching addictions by people in recovery. Experts contribute this to a few factors, including:

  • Stress
  • Lack of coping skills
  • Cognitive and affective responses
  • Access to substances and behavior
  • History and pattern of appetitive effects

When combined with isolation and lack of support, these factors can lead to new addictive behavior or relapse.

Treating Substitute Addictions

The treatment of substitute addictions focuses on finding and addressing the underlying cause of the compulsion. Is underlying trauma at the root? Are there co-existing factors like depression and anxiety?

Although some substitute addictions may seem healthy on the surface, if the activity becomes a compulsion, it may stir up an already pre-disposed dopamine sensitivity. It may also diminish one’s self-control and lead to a relapse of the original drug of choice.

Because each individual and addiction is unique, the first step to getting help is contacting an addiction specialist.

Desert Cove Recovery offers individualized treatment options for both primary and substitute additions. So we have options available if you need holistic treatments, therapy, or a combination. Call us or visit us online, and our team can help develop a tailored plan to ensure you have the best shot at lasting recovery.