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Addiction Substitution and Recovery


It is possible for people to walk away from their alcohol or drug addiction but still find that life is a real struggle. The usual reason for this is that the person has become physically sober, but they have not made any attempt to change the way they deal with life. In many instances these individuals will find a new way to hide from life and avoid dealing with their problems. This type of behaviour is sometimes referred to as addiction substitution.

What are Addiction Substitutions?

The usual reason for why people begin abusing a substance is that it helps them avoid things that have been making them feel uncomfortable. The individual may have many problems in their life, but when they drink alcohol or use drugs they will be able to forget about these. In the beginning the chemical numbness can feel like it is making things easier, but the individual will need to keep taking more and more of these substances in order to get the same effect. Eventually they will become addicted, and their life becomes worse than they ever imagined. The fortunate ones will recognise how bad their life has become, and they will be able to break away from addiction. In some cases though, they will give up one addiction only to get caught up in another.

When people enter early sobriety they will need to face many different challenges. If they fail to face these obstacles in the path to recovery, they will not be able to make progress. This means that the person can begin to feel uncomfortable, and they will look for things that will make them feel better. The individual is not intending to substitute their addictions, but their desire to escape reality makes them highly susceptible to this. It isn’t just alcohol and drugs that they can turn to because it is possible for the individual to become addicted to many different types of behaviour.

Common Examples of Addiction Substitutions

Addictive behaviour can occur in relation to many different things, but some of the most likely things that people will turn to in recovery will include:

  • Workaholism
  • Exercise addiction
  • Internet addiction
  • Porn addiction
  • Sex addiction
  • Relationship addiction
  • Comfort eating
  • Gambling addiction
  • Becoming obsessed with hobbies

New Drugs as Addiction Substitutes

One of the most dangerous forms of addiction substitute does involve alcohol or drugs. If the individual has been addicted to one type of drug, they may feel that it is still OK for them to use other substances. After all, they may have used these substances in the past without any problems. So for example, the former alcoholic may feel safe to use cannabis, and the former heroin abuser may feel safe to alcohol. The problem with this type of thinking is that the fact that the person was able to control their use of these other substances in the past does not mean that they will be able to do so in the future.

All substance abusers will have their drug of choice. This will be their favourite substance, and the one they want to use the most. It can mean that the individual will be able to use other substances in a controlled manner because they are getting what they need from their drug of choice. Once this drug is removed though, the individual will no longer be getting their needs met, and they will be open to a new drug of choice. So in the case of the recovering alcoholic who uses cannabis, with the excuse that they were previously able to use this drug sensibly, they will now have a new drug of choice. This new substance will can cause as much problems for them as the one it replaced.

Another reason for why replacement alcohol or drugs is a particularly bad form of addiction substitution is that it will make the person far more likely to relapse. This is because these substances will make the individual inebriated so that they will struggle to make good choices. If the person is high on this new drug, the idea of relapsing will not seem like such a big deal.

Dangers of Addiction Substitution

All types of addiction substitution are dangerous because:

  • It means that the individual will not be making any more progress in recovery. This is dangerous because it will greatly increase their risk of relapse. It will also mean that the individual will not be doing the things they need to do in order to improve their life.
  • If the individual is using replacement alcohol or drugs they will not be sober, and there can be no real recovery. They can also be doing great damage to their body and mind.
  • The dangers of addiction substitutions like workaholism or excessive exercise can be severe. The individual can also do damage to their physical and mental health this way, and it will usually mean that they are neglecting their family.
  • When people give up an addiction they will usually be looking for a new and better way of living. If that person ends up falling into another addiction it will mean that they are just getting more of the same. They will once again be trapped in a downward spiral, and it is going to take them somewhere that they do not want to be.
  • If the person becomes trapped in another addiction, they may use this as evidence that recovery is not very satisfying. This could mean that they then relapse and never again become willing to give sobriety a try.

When the individual moves from one addiction to another it can be a crushing blow to family and friends. They will have put their faith in their loved one’s recovery but now they see that it is just business as usual. It may be very hard for these people to ever trust that individual again.

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