When you (or a loved one) finish a rehab program for drugs or alcohol and rejoin society as a committed, sober individual, the road back to where you once were can seem both long and arduous. It’s no sinecure, maintaining sobriety in a world that is brimful of temptation; it’s only to be expected that you will want to get on with your life and resume normality as soon as possible (with the new addition of meetings and perhaps therapy, of course).
Unfortunately, however, no matter how hard you resist alcohol or drugs, other behaviors can take the place these substances one held in your life. Replacement addictions can, in some cases, become just as problematic as drugs or alcohol. If left untreated on their own accord, they also may result in ruin.
What Are Replacement Addictions?
To understand how replacement addictions take hold, you must understand the nature of addiction to begin with. There are a wealth of factors that may have contributed to your addiction, among them environment and, it has been suggested, a genetic predisposition for addictive behaviors. Perhaps you were a risk taker or a thrill and pleasure seeker. In almost all cases, drug and alcohol addicts are hiding from, numbing or trying to ignore problems or stressors with substance abuse.
Once that original substance has been eliminated, however, and the addict rejoins society, he or she may take up with new behaviors or impulses: shopping, eating, smoking cigarettes (common for alcoholics), playing video games, gambling, work or exercising. These are just a few examples – many different activities can be turned into replacement addictions, addictions which form in place of the now-suppressed original one. Recovering addicts might even form codependent relationships that become somewhat obsessive and addictive.
Why Do People “Switch”?
The exchanging of addictions is known as “switching.” And the reasons people switch can be as different as their individual personalities. For some, the stress of giving up drugs and alcohol and maintaining sobriety causes them to seek out a new, less socially taboo addiction. For others, “natural” highs – like the dopamine from exercise – replace drug-induced ones. What is the same, across all switched addicts, is that the new behavior takes on the same obsessive and detrimental dimension that the old one did; the recovering addict spends all of his or her time either thinking about or participating in the activity, or monitoring the whereabouts of the person with whom they have formed a codependent relationship and spending all their time with that person.
Could You Have Switched?
It might not be easy for your loved ones to recognize that you have switched addictions. Exercise in particular is a positive thing, but when the behavior concerning it turns to addiction, what might be healthy for the body is, in fact, unhealthy for the mind. Things like shopping, eating and gambling are all healthy and fun – but lack of moderation can quickly turn these activities into nightmares, with huge credit card bills, debts owed or obesity at stake.
If someone you love and care about who feels the same for you, be it family member or friend, comes to you expressing concern over a switched addiction, take them seriously. These people are well within their rights to show their concern. You might get angry and self-righteous because they suggested you have another problem, but remember: one of the top 10 things to avoid after addiction treatment is arrogant thinking.
Can Addicts Change Their Behavior?
So the question remains: can you really change your behavior? Science suggests yes. The chemical alterations which take place in your brain when you rely on a drug or alcohol can eventually, scientists have found, return closer to their normal, pre-substance state. The process takes a long time, but still, it’s reason enough to hope.
If deadly substances like drugs and alcohol can be overcome, so can other behaviors. You must be willing to admit to the new addiction and willing to change. 12 step meetings or other support groups can be helpful, as many recovering addicts go through what you are. If you have a therapist, make sure he or she knows, so they can help you learn to moderate. Finally, healthy diet and meditation can produce a myriad of positive effects for the recovering addict; there are tons of literature in book, magazine and online form to help you decide what’s right for you.
William Mansfield is a contributing writer who knows the pain and suffering of addicts all too well – two members of his immediate family have successfully completed drug rehabilitation.