No one starts using drugs and alcohol with the goal of becoming addicted. But addiction is a disease that affects how the brain operates by altering how dopamine is released and processed. Simply put, this change in the workings of the brain is what makes it so hard to overcome addiction. It is also what causes many individuals in recovery to replace one addiction with another.
Why is Addiction Replacement Common?
Many who start using are just looking for a way to cope with their emotions or to fill a void. The problem is that whatever feelings might have caused them to use don’t just suddenly go away when they quit drugs and alcohol. Because their brain is still trapped in a loop of craving pleasure in some way, their addiction transfers to something else.
Some individuals actively search for another source of pleasure. In these cases, they typically gravitate towards things they deem good for them, such as exercising. While in moderation these activities foster recovery, they can be dangerous when done in excess. It is important to remember that while hobbies can be used as a tool help to manage stress, anxiety, and depression, they shouldn’t be used to numb emotions.
In other cases, addiction replacement occurs without the individual noticing. It usually happens slowly. Someone might start by eating some chocolate when they are having a bad day. Overtime, they find themselves eating more and more sugar because it gives them comfort. And before they realize it, they have substituted their previous addiction for sugar.
Obsessing over anything can be unsafe, even obsessing over “normal” behaviors. For example, while eating is necessary for survival, binge eating could lead to a series of health problems including diabetes and digestive problems. And not only can replacing one addiction for another lead to both physical and mental health problems, it is also a sign that the individual has not properly worked through the underlying cause for their addiction. Instead they are using other substances or activities to mask the problem. Without the tools to properly deal with the root of the problem, the individual could relapse and begin to use drugs and alcohol again.
It is important for individuals in recovery to make sure that they find the right balance in their life. Replacing an addiction for another can easily occur in the early stages of recovery which is why it is important to know what signs to watch out for.
Signs of Addiction Replacement
- Constantly thinking about the substance or activity
- Feelings of anxiety or depression when the substance cannot be consumed/activity cannot be completed
- Neglecting responsibilities to participate in the activity/consume substance
- Neglecting self-care and hygiene
- It negatively affects physical or mental health
- It damages relationships
- Others have expressed concern
Addiction replacement is common for many and there is no shame in it. But it is important for individuals to recognize what is happening and work to treat the root of the issue. This can be done by attending therapy, reaching out to a support group, seeking a sponsor, or a recovery coach. Having the right tools and support system can help them overcome not just their new addiction but strengthen their overall recovery.