5 Common Substitute Addictions and How to Avoid Them

Common Substitute Addictions

Once you go into treatment for alcoholism or drug addiction, your hope is that you have overcome the compulsion to turn to your substance of choice. In recovery, you learn new coping skills and you surround yourself with people who understand what it’s like to rely on alcohol or drugs to get through the day. You want to believe that your struggles with addiction are behind you.

Addiction goes beyond using too much of a single substance, and if your recovery doesn’t address your inner emptiness or desire to run away from problems or negative feelings, you may find yourself turning to a substitute addiction. Here are some of the most common substitute addictions that may signify problems you still need to work on.

Food Addiction

One of the most common substitutes that people in recovery end up turning to is food. It’s easily available, it’s legal and it’s something you have to have every day. Now that you can’t drink or drug, you may find yourself reaching for extra cookies, cake or ice cream. You might open the refrigerator in the middle of the night and console yourself with leftovers or whatever else you might find. You are trying to fill a gnawing hunger that you are still dealing with that you don’t really understand. All you know is overeating makes you feel better now that you can’t numb your feelings in any other way, and you may turn to food more frequently than you should, particularly high-sugar foods.

Gambling Addiction 

Some people may feel like a sober life needs a little emotional excitement, and they may turn to gambling. You might turn to scratch tickets, sports betting, online gambling or casinos. At first it may seem like innocent fun, but at some point you may realize that you have started to gamble in a compulsive way. When you can’t control the impulse to gamble, and when you continue to gamble even though you are experiencing negative consequences such as financial loss or conflict in your closest relationships, you may have replaced your addiction to alcohol or drugs with a compulsion to gamble.

Sex and Relationship Addiction 

Turning to sex, pornography or one relationship after another is a way to put yourself on an emotional roller coaster. These behaviors could be a sign that you are still looking for something or someone outside yourself to make everything better, but sex and relationship addiction can lead to problems that are pretty similar to those caused by alcohol and drug addiction. If you are having a problem with these behaviors, you may find that you focus on sex, porn or relationships obsessively and lose interest in other areas of your life. You are unable to stop the behavior even when it becomes apparent that there are negative consequences. 

Work Addiction

Working too much can be another sign that you are trying to fill an emptiness inside and that you could be using work as a substitute for your drug of choice. After years spent drinking too much or chasing drugs, you might feel like your career has suffered and you want to prove to others that you can be successful at your chosen career. You may start to approach work in a compulsive way and find that you are unable to stop working all the time, and that other aspects of your life are being neglected. 

Shopping Addiction

If the substitute you turn to is shopping, you suddenly want to participate in every sale you see, and you buy a multitude of things that you don’t need and can’t afford. Being unable to stop shopping, especially when this behavior is causing financial difficulties, is a sign that shopping has become an addiction and needs to be brought under control in the same way that you have brought your drug or alcohol addiction under control.

Recovering From Your Drug of Choice and Substitutes

You may turn to any of these or other substitutes to numb your feelings and to try to escape from reality. You may even bounce from one substitute to another. It’s important to recognize when you are substituting your drug of choice with a different substance or behavior to an unhealthy degree.

Whatever your drug of choice and whatever you may be trying to replace it with, the road to recovery means living a life of moderation, free of compulsion. The same things that have helped you to let go of your drug of choice can help you to avoid turning to substitutes or becoming dependent on them. Go to meetings and other support groups. Talk to your sponsor, counselor or other people in recovery. Write in a journal and get in touch with the feelings you are trying to run from. Awareness that you are behaving in an addictive way is the first step toward healthier behavior. You can overcome your compulsion to rely on substitutes.

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