When a person in recovery from drugs or alcohol replaces their addiction with another one, it is called substitute addiction. It is a complex and potentially dangerous phenomenon, and the biggest danger is that in time the person may relapse and go back to their original addiction. Substitute addiction is also referred to as replacement addiction, process addiction, transfer addiction, and cross-addiction.
What Causes Substitute Addiction?
Substitute addiction typically occurs when the psychological or emotional needs that fed the initial substance use disorder are still present. To meet these needs, the individual transfers addictions. In many instances, people find their new behavior makes it easier for them to resist urges to use their drug of choice. Their substitute addiction gives them a feeling of pleasure and positive sensations. These feelings cause their brain to release the neurotransmitter dopamine, which travels the neural pathways to the brain’s reward center, resulting in a euphoric high feeling. The reward center of the brain is linked closely to motivation and memory. It remembers and seeks out what triggered the high feeling sensation. It is important to remember that the process does not always involve harmful activities or substances. The brain’s reward center is triggered by a wide range of things, such as exercising, eating good food, being in nature, having sex, or listening to music.
Common Substitute Addictions
Many substitute addictions often go unnoticed by loved ones because they do not seem dangerous or unhealthy. Here are a few of the more common replacement addictions.
- Food addiction: This type of addiction is very common when the individual is in the early stages of recovery. Once they are no longer using drugs or drinking alcohol, they find they can eat and enjoy their food. Food addiction includes bingeing on any type of food, such as fast food, foods that are high in sugar or carbohydrates, high-fat foods, or sweets. Depending on the specific food addiction, the individual may have nutritional deficiencies, gain weight, or have a low energy level.
- Work addiction: Sometimes, people dedicate too much of themselves to their work. Often called workaholism, this addictive behavior often comes from the need to escape stress or a compulsive need to achieve success or status. The person often neglects their personal relationships as well as their own self-care.
- Sexual addiction: Sexual addiction is explained by Medical News Today as a condition in which the person is not able to manage their sexual behavior. They may engage in casual unprotected sex, compulsive masturbation, or have sex with professional sex workers. Their compulsive and persistent sexual thoughts and acts interfere with their ability to complete daily activities, maintain relationships, or work.
- Gambling addiction: When a person is gambling, they are risking something valuable with hopes of getting something of higher value. If they have an uncontrollable urge and are not able to stop gambling regardless of negative consequences, they have a gambling addiction. Gambling includes all forms of betting, such as playing games in a casino or an online casino, sports betting, lottery tickets, and scratch tickets.
- Shopping addiction: When a person continually purchases items they do not want or need, they have a shopping addiction. They are not attracted to the item. They are attracted to the thrill they experience with each purchase. Sometimes the individuals hide their purchases from loved ones because they are embarrassed or feel shameful. They are unable to stop even though shopping may damage their relationships or cause financial harm.
Exercise addiction, caffeine addiction, nicotine addiction, video game addiction, porn addiction, and social media addiction are also possible substitute addictions. Essentially, replacement addictions can occur as behaviors, objects, or people.
Identifying a Substitute Addiction
Each person experiences addiction in their own unique way. However, there are signs to watch for to help identify if a substitute addiction has taken place. The individual may be neglecting their personal hygiene and self-care, constantly thinking about the new behavior, or having difficulty at home, work, or school. They may feel ashamed or embarrassed by their behavior. Feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression are common. They may have suicidal thoughts. Regardless of experiencing negative consequences such as financial difficulties, relationship problems, or health issues, they are not able to change or stop the behavior.
Help Is Available
If you or a loved one struggles with a drug or alcohol addiction or are concerned that a substitute addiction may have developed, call and speak to a professional at English Mountain Recovery located in the beautiful Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee. We will take the time to answer your questions and put your mind at ease. At English Mountain, you will receive the care and treatment you need to achieve your goal of living a clean and sober life.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.