If you have given up abusing drugs and alcohol, you have taken the first step toward a sober life.
You have learned that the most important thing you need to accomplish each day is to stay away from a drink or a drug.
You may hear people in meetings say that each day they ask for help to stay away from a drink, a drug or a substitute. What exactly is a substitute?
A substitute addiction is something you turn to consciously or subconsciously in an addictive way. If you have an addictive personality, you probably have a tendency to be obsessive about just about anything you approach. Some people give up drugs and alcohol only to become addicted to or obsessive about something else.
One of the most common substitutes that recovering alcoholics and addicts turn to is food. If you have this problem, you may find yourself eating large quantities of food, particularly if you are feeling bored or stressed.
Food, particularly sugar, can have a mind-altering effect. Are you eating too much or too often? If you are, what is really motivating you to keep eating? Chances are you are chasing a sense of comfort. The root of the problem is that you are still turning to something outside yourself to make you feel better.
If you’re newly sober and single, you have probably been advised to avoid getting involved in a new relationship for at least a year. You may feel this advice is inappropriate and resent being told what to do in such a personal area of your life.
When people who are experienced at living sober tell you this, there is a good reason for it. Addicts early in recovery tend to treat relationships the same way they treat drugs. They want their significant other to make them feel better at all times. They spend so much time focused on their partner and the relationship that if it ends, they have no idea how to live sober and have a very high risk of relapse. Their relationship ends up more closely resembling taking a hostage than having a partner.
Gambling is another common substitute for alcohol or drugs. From online gambling to betting on sports to visiting casinos to playing poker, gambling is a behavior that can quickly spiral out of control and lead to financial and emotional disaster.
If you develop a gambling problem, you still have the same problem with impulse control that you had when drinking or drugging. You may end up stealing from family and friends, lying to loved ones or jeopardizing your job or reputation, all while being drug-free.
Other Possible Substitutes
You can treat just about anything addictively, from religion to working to exercising, and many addicts move from one substance or behavior to another. Drug addicts sometimes try to substitute strong drugs such as heroin with alcohol or marijuana. Alcoholics may try to switch to prescription drugs, thinking they are less dangerous, and they may use the drugs to get high while trying to convince themselves that they are only after pain relief. Once they are drug-free, they may move on to behavior addiction, such as addiction to sex, gambling or food.
What you’re addicted to isn’t as important as being aware that if you’re doing this, you are continuing to behave in an addictive and unhealthy way. The reason you may turn to substitutes is because the underlying causes of your addictive behavior haven’t been addressed. Recovery requires you to face your feelings and not try to run from them or numb them. It requires building a support network and learning new coping skills.
Addicts go through life wanting to be addicted to something or someone. As an addict, you need to be aware that you have a tendency to be constantly looking for something outside yourself to make everything easier and better, something to take the pain away or fill a void. Recognizing that you may be doing this is the first step toward correcting the behavior and leading a life that is free of a drink, a drug or a substitute.