Substitute Addictions

There are two kinds of addictions. Substance Addictions create pleasure through the use of products that are taken into the body. and include all mood-altering drugs (caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, etc.), food-related disorders such as overeating, and so forth.

Process Addictions, in contrast, consist of behavior that leads to mood-altering events that provide pleasure and distraction from our core issues, to which we can also become addicted.

imagesWhen we get right down to it, recovery from addiction is about learning to deal with the stresses of life in a healthy way, “living life on life’s terms,” as they say in the 12-Step rooms. Early in recovery these stresses include the process of learning to do without our drugs of choice, whether chemical or external. This is withdrawal, and it creates a very real chance that we may look for and find other addictions to take their place.

Some of the activities that frequently become substitute addictions are listed below.

  • Gambling — provides the up-and-down thrill of intermittent reward.  Win or lose, it stimulates our brains in a manner similar to chemical drugs.  Because of the circumstances, it often leads to relapse into our previous addictions as well.
  • Video games – in addition to allowing us to escape from reality, the rewards are similar to those achieved in gambling.  In some cases they may help to cover up poor self-esteem, as can most addictions.
  • Internet (Internet Addiction Disorder) — escaping into cyberspace for long periods.  Internet addiction combined with sex addiction (porn, in particular) can lead to real trouble emotionally, legally and can affect our ability to have healthy relationships.
  • Sex and relationships — What’s more mood-altering than romance and the thrill of the chase? Relationships are the number-one cause of relapse.  Once we’re involved, it’s nearly impossible to concentrate on our recovery. Additionally, the quest for the right partner or circumstances can prevent us from developing healthy, adult relationships (Cinderella syndrome).
  • Work — to the extent that the preoccupation interferes with other parts of life.
  • Exercise is not only distracting, but produces endocannabinoids, powerful chemicals that produce effects similar to marijuana use.  Some exercise, of course is necessary, but if it’s taking the place of other healthy behaviors we need to take a look.  A walk in the park soothes the soul far better than the machines in the gym.
  • Compulsive shopping and spending — characterized by a compulsion to buy and later dissatisfaction with purchases.  Compulsive shoppers, like other addicts, try to fill inner needs with things from outside.  Doesn’t work.
  • Obsession with religion allows practitioners to flee from painful realities and put the responsibility for living their lives on a supernatural being instead of meeting their own obligations.  That is not to say that religion is a bad thing, but only that we need to take a careful look when our practice edges out other healthy behavior.

The concept of moderation is foreign to all addicts. When we find ourselves engaging in any sort of activity to the point that it interferes with our program of recovery, our life in general, or that causes us other problems, we need to look at it carefully. If we find ourselves reluctant to stop, being secretive about our activities, and keeping on despite the negative effects on our everyday lives, we may well be involved in another addiction.

At that point, we need to consider applying the tools of our recovery program in yet another direction, by talking about it with another recovering person or a therapist, and sharing with our support group.  If we find ourselves unwilling to talk about it, we know we are in trouble, and once the interference begins to create disruption and chaos — those old familiar feelings — we are at real risk of deciding to deal with them in the old, all-too-familiar ways by using our other drugs of choice.

It is easy to see how a person who feels an empty place in his or her life could easily fall into the trap of filling it with one of these — or other — distractions, instead of working on the emotional, social and spiritual aspects of life that allow us to function normally in society.  Making those sorts of changes take a lot of work and can be painful, but so can the results of looking for love and fulfillment in all the wrong places, which is what most addiction is about.

3 thoughts on “Substitute Addictions

  1. Bill Post author

    I totally understand. As I’ve written before at some length, I was 23+ years sober before I began to deal meaningfully with my real issues. It isn’t what you know, it’s what you understand — and it’s really hard to do that without outside help.

    Frankly, I think every addict needs therapy, not just a program. Why settle for less than full recovery?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. feelingmywaybackintolife

    :-/ Working on it. :-( I find it tough, it is like I have to turn back 45 years of misunderstanding the terms of life. It is so engrained in my being that, well, it’s tough. It is tough to notice that I go from alcohol to ‘relation’, to my personal version of ‘religion’, to ‘sugar’, to my personal version of ‘eating’. I guess I will just have to unveil them one by one.


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