Substitute Addictions

There are two kinds of addictions. Substance Addictions create pleasure through the use of products that are taken into the body. and include all mood-altering products, drugs (caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, etc.), food-related disorders such as overeating, and so forth.

Process Addictions, in contrast, consist of behavior that leads to mood-altering events that provide pleasure, and to which we can also become addicted.

When we get right down to it, recovery from addiction is about learning to deal with the stresses of life in a healthy way, “living life on life's terms,” as they say in the 12-Step rooms. Early in recovery these stresses include the process of learning to do without our drugs of choice. They create a very real chance that we may look for and find other addictions to take their place.

Some of the activities that can become substitute addictions are listed below.

  • Video games – in addition to allowing us to escape from reality, the rewards are similar to those achieved in gambling
  • Internet (Internet Addiction Disorder) — escaping into cyberspace for long periods
  • Gambling — providing thrills and the up-and-down of intermittent reward
  • Sex and relationships — What's more mood-altering than those?  Relationships are the number-one cause of relapse.  Once we're involved, it's nearly impossible to concentrate on our recovery.
  • Work — to the extent that the preoccupation interfers with other parts of life
  • Exercise — not only distracting, but producing endorphins, powerful brain chemicals similar to morphine
  • Compulsive shopping and spending — characterized by a compulsion to buy and later dissatisfaction with purchases
  • Obsession with religion — allows the practitioner to flee from painful realities and put the responsibility for living their life off on a supernatural being instead of meeting their own obligations.

It is easy to see how a person who feels an empty place in his or her life could easily fall into the trap of filling it with one of these — or other — distractions, instead of working on the emotional, social and spiritual aspects of life that allow us to function normally in society.

The concept of moderation is foreign to all addicts. When we find ourselves engaging in any sort of activity to the point that it interferes with our program of recovery, our life in general, or that causes us problems, we need to look at it carefully. If we find ourselves reluctant to stop, being secretive about our activities, and keep on despite the negative effects on our everyday lives, we may well be involved in a substitute addiction.

At that point, we need to consider applying the tools of our recovery program in yet another direction, by talking about it with another recovering person or a therapist, and sharing with our support group.  If we find ourselves unwilling to talk about it, we know we are in trouble, and once the interference begins to create disruption and chaos — those old familiar feelings — we are at real risk of deciding to deal with them in the old, all-too-familiar ways.