“As long as I don’t drink liquor I’m fine”… sorry, it doesn’t work that way!
I’ve learned some things about the laws of substitution in the past few years… namely:
1. When I quit smoking … I gained 25 pounds.
2. When I quit hard liquor and took up beer… I gained 20 pounds
3. When I gave up alcohol and started smoking weed… I gained 10 pounds
4. When I gave up long term relationships for online hook-ups… I lost a lot of stuff out of my apartment!
Battling an addiction, whether to drugs, alcohol, or anything else, is a tough road to travel. It will probably be the hardest thing you do, but also one of the most important. Unfortunately, too many people who are trying to recover from addiction either fail or transfer their compulsive behaviors to something else. If you are aware of all the potential pitfalls and follow the advice of experts, you can beat your addiction and live a normal, healthy, and happy life.
Addiction is not just about the substance or behavior in question. Your addiction has underlying causes, and there are reasons you became an addict while other people never do. This means that if you are susceptible to one type of addiction, it is possible you will form another. It is very common amongst addicts in recovery to transfer their addiction to something else. For instance, if you are giving up alcohol, you may move your addictive behaviors to work and become a workaholic or take up smoking cigarettes.
Often, these substitute addictions seem benign or even healthy. You may turn to exercise, healthy eating, time spent with family, volunteer work, and other productive activities. For the most part, these are good things to do. However, if you become compulsive about them, they are no longer healthy activities. They have become substitutes for your first addiction.
The Danger of Substitutes
Many people make the mistake of ignoring or downplaying these substitute addictions. How, for example, can it be bad to exercise two hours a day, seven days a week if it keeps you from getting drunk every day? The truth is that addictive behaviors are unhealthy regardless of the subject of the fixation. Overcoming an addiction means making significant lifestyle changes. And that means battling compulsive and addictive behaviors in every area of your life. If you do not treat the underlying actions and reasons for addiction, you will never be free from it. Having a substitute addiction means you have not yet learned to live without your compulsive behaviors and that you are at risk of returning to your first addiction.
Many addicts will make the case that they should face one addiction at a time. It is a myth that you can and should take it one at a time. Much of the research into addiction and recovery supports the idea that addiction should be tackled all at once. Those who recover from addiction itself, rather than one substance, are more successful on average. They are more likely to stay sober without repeats than those who take on substitute addictions.
It may not be obvious to you when you develop a replacement addiction. You may just feel as if you are devoting more time to work or honing your crafting skills while others see dangerous compulsions forming. And although you run the risk of forming these unhealthy attachments to new activities, it does not mean you should abstain from them. Getting into a new hobby or taking your exercise routine and health seriously can be beneficial to your recovery. You do need to recognize, though, when these activities turn into substitutes. Keep friends and family close and be open to their opinions. If they tell you that they see your addictive behaviors reemerge, don’t be offended. Listen to what they have to say and reflect on it. If you feel anything similar to your first addiction, such as thinking about your new activity regularly, wanting to get back to it at all times, or otherwise feeling obsessive about it, they may be on to something.
Going through recovery to beat an addiction and avoiding substitutes is all about finding the right balance. You can enjoy new activities that help you keep your mind off of your drug of choice, but keep it all in perspective. To prevent a hobby from becoming an addiction, limit the amount of time you spend on it. Make a schedule and stick with it. Have more than one activity so that you are less likely to obsess over just one.
Living a newly balanced lifestyle will require effort and hard work. Use your 12-step program and your sponsor to help you through this transition phase of your life. If you feel like you are developing substitute behaviors, they can be a valuable source of help. You may also consider getting professional help. Remember that you are attempting to change your whole way of thinking and some very ingrained behaviors. A counselor can be immensely helpful when it comes to finding out why you face addiction over and over again.