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Recognizing Replacement Addictions in Recovery

Replacement Addictions: What You Need To Know If You’re In Recovery

The smoker who quits nicotine and becomes an overeater. The drinker who ditches alcohol and turns into a compulsive shopper. Many people in recovery end up replacing one addiction with another, creating a new battle that must be overcome. Is there a way to recognize these replacement addictions? Should you be worried about it—especially if it’s not necessarily causing harm?

What are Replacement Addictions?

Anyone who has battled an addiction is familiar with the basic concept. You go from shooting up to shooting dice at the casino, from chugging beers to chewing fatty foods, from smoking two packs a day to exercising five hours a day. You’re substituting one form of addiction for another in an attempt to cope—psychologically or emotionally. But is there more to it? Can you have an “addictive personality? Studies have found that genetics play a significant role in the probability that someone will become addicted to a substance or behavior.

Take the case of twins, for instance. In one of the largest studies of twins ever conducted, scientists found that as many as 60 percent of twins inherit alcoholism, regardless of their environment. And if one twin is an alcoholic, there is an elevated risk that the other would be as well. Similar research on adopted children found that regardless of whether the adoptive parent was an alcoholic, they were four times more likely to have an alcohol disorder themselves if one of their biological parents was an alcoholic.

You Are Not Doomed to a Life of Addiction

It’s important to remember that having these traits doesn’t doom you to a life of addiction—but you should recognize that it puts you at a higher risk. While there’s no end-all-be-all set of characteristics for those who struggle with addiction, a research paper out of Harvard Medical School noted that many share similar traits, such as genetic predisposition, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. What’s more, many experts believe that once you’ve suffered addiction, you’re at greater risk of developing another. At the same time, a recent study found that those who overcame an addiction were less likely to acquire a new one. So, what gives?

The fact is, replacement addictions have the same goal as the original. When you’re trying to overcome roadblocks like alcohol withdrawal, your mind and body crave the substance that was producing endorphins in the brain and creating the feeling of being high. Add to this the stress of daily life, and the cravings can reach unbearable levels. To cope, many people consciously or subconsciously pick up another habit that alleviates the craving. Others are able to live through sobriety without acquiring a new addiction.

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The Most Common Replacements

One coping mechanism is to engage or partake in “positive” activities, which are likely to mimic the pleasure you received taking that drug or drinking that alcohol. Although some of the following substitutes would be considered healthy, many can have negative effects in abundance.

  • Overeating. A 1993 study found up to 25 percent of the sample group who were sober for one year substituted alcohol with eating more and unhealthier foods.
  • Overworking. The same study found that those out of alcohol or drug rehab spent more time working.
  • Cigarette smoking. While cigarette smoking itself is a tough addiction to break, many will start smoking for the first time or continue smoking in recovery.
  • Exercise. Vigorous exercise releases endorphins, causing you to feel a “runner’s high,” which is the same sensation of euphoria that accompanies a chemical high. Although it may be less intense than what you experience with drugs or alcohol, the effects can be pleasurable both mentally and physically. In fact, one study of patients receiving treatment for substance abuse showed that exercise can lead to a sense of accomplishment and increased confidence in staying sober.
  • Prescription medication. To calm the nerves when cravings or stress are elevated, many people will turn to anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines for relief.
  • Gambling. Groups like Gamblers Anonymous are more popular than ever. The high of hitting Black Jack or rolling the winning number can often replace the high you feel with substance abuse.
  • Intimacy. Sexual intimacy is a natural, healthy part of relationships, but it can also be one cause of relapse among the newly sober. For some, unhealthy intimate behaviors and relationship patterns are replacement addictions that emerge once substance abuse is out of the picture. For others, one bad relationship can trigger a flurry of dysfunctional behaviors and thoughts, eventually leading to relapse.

The key to lasting recovery from alcohol or drug abuse is getting to the heart of what drives your addictive tendencies. Many of these substitutes are only preventing you from taking a proactive approach toward changing your life. If you need addiction help or tips on healthy habits to pick up after detox, call us now at 1-800-910-3734. We can provide the withdrawal help and advice you need to help you achieve lasting recovery.