We are all familiar with the idea of substitution, particularly in the world of sports. When one player gets tired or hurt or is simply ineffective in the game, the coach will make a substitution, putting in a new player to try to pick up where the original player left off. In sports, substitution is common and usually effective. But in other parts of life, a substitution can make things worse rather than better.
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A Different Form of Substitution
If you’re in recovery from a substance use disorder, for example, substituting one addiction for another is most definitely not effective. And unlike a sports substitution that is seen by everyone—players, officials, opposing coaches, and fans—a substitute addiction can fly under the radar for quite some time.
To lessen the chance that you will swap one addiction for another, it is important to understand what substitute addictions are and how they can undermine your recovery.
What Is a Substitute Addiction?
A substitute addiction is just what it sounds like: an addiction that takes the place of another addiction. But we are not talking about switching from one drug to another. Instead, we are talking about becoming addicted to a behavior in lieu of taking drugs or drinking. At first, it probably would not even occur to you that you could be addicted to the behavior in question. But over time, you (or others around you) may start to notice striking similarities to your substance use disorder.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of possible substitute addictions.
Are You Exercising to Excess?
Taking up a regular exercise routine can be an important recovery support strategy. Exercise boosts both your physical and your mental health and can help keep cravings at bay. Setting exercise goals can give you a positive project to focus on, making it less likely you will fall back into old patterns. All things considered, it might seem like it would be hard to find a downside to exercise.
But imagine that you are working out every day to the point of—or even beyond the point of—exhaustion. You find yourself feeling out of sorts and grumpy when you miss a workout. Maybe you have trouble focusing on tasks at work or school because you are always thinking about your next exercise session. If you start to notice these sorts of things, odds are you getting too much of an otherwise good thing. You have turned exercise into a substitute addiction.
Is Too Much Gambling in the Cards?
Staving off loneliness and engaging in activities that hold your interest are both important parts of the recovery journey. Maybe you find that an occasional trip to the area casino or even some online gambling is an appealing way to spend some time and keep your mind off of drugs or alcohol (though you need a plan for refusing the drinks that will likely be offered to you at any in-person gambling establishment). You have a little extra spending money set aside for gaming, and you like the excitement of games of chance. So far, so good.
But it can be a slippery slope from low stakes fun-and-games to high stakes losses that can lead to severe financial pressures in fairly short order. The thrill of the game can quickly turn into a desperation to make up the money you have lost—and the odds are always stacked against you. You may feel as though you just can’t stop, and if that is the case, you have turned gambling into a substitute addiction.
Are You Working to Live or Living to Work?
If you have had to take time off from your job to get treatment for a substance use disorder, you probably want to do all you can to impress the boss and your coworkers upon your return. They have likely been covering for you while you have been away, so it is only natural to show how much you appreciate their work and support by really pitching once you are back on the job. That is entirely admirable.
But it can also be a first step toward becoming what is commonly called a “workaholic.” If your new routine finds you arriving first in the morning and leaving last in the evening (especially if you are eating all your meals at your desk), it is probably a good idea to take a step back and consider the situation. If your job is the only thing on your mind all day, every day—even when your work day or work week should be over—you have turned your work into a substitute addiction.
Commit to Balance and Perspective
If you are in recovery from a substance use disorder, you already know you are susceptible to addiction. But you also know you can leave addiction in the past if you are vigilant and use your coping strategies to keep balance and perspective at the forefront of your day-to-day life. If you notice signs that might point to a substitute addiction, talk with your therapist or sponsor about your concerns right away. Doing so can help you avoid trading one addiction for another.
Accept No Substitutes: Get Treatment for Your Substance Use Disorder
The best way to get your life back on track if you are struggling with drugs or alcohol is to get treatment right away. At French Creek Recovery Center, we will create a personalized treatment plan that will help you get sober. And once you have achieved sobriety, we will provide the support, strategies, and resources you need to maintain that sobriety—and to avoid substitute addictions.