What is Substitute Addictions and How Deal with It?

Addicts in recovery, along with their loved ones, close friends, and co-workers, often wonder if the recovering individual will develop new or substitute addictions once treatment has been completed for the initial addiction. In other words, how likely is it that the person who received treatment for alcohol addiction or drug addiction will move on to another type of addiction? A substitute addiction is substituting one form of addiction for another. The experts at Great Oaks Recovery say that it is not really the substance that is the problem but the behavior.

Let’s take the example of an individual who entered treatment for alcohol dependency or addiction. After going through the treatment, during which the addict learned about coping mechanisms, practiced how to steer clear of triggers and deal with stress, he or she generally felt comfortable enough to resume daily living at the conclusion of treatment.

Things go along okay for the first couple of weeks, during which the person in recovery goes back to work and settles in again with the family at home. Then, the stress begins to build. Anxiety develops. The person can’t sleep or starts to feel depressed or incapable of dealing with even minor frustrations and everyday situations. He or she may start to smoke cigarettes or increase the frequency if already a smoker. Fearing relapse for alcohol addiction, he or she may resort to smoking marijuana to calm the nerves, to mellow out. Prescription medication, especially sedatives, tranquilizers, or painkillers, taken for nonmedical purposes may also ensue. This is classic substitute addiction.

Dealing with Substitute Addictions

If you’ve been honest with yourself, you’ll know pretty quickly if you have developed a substitute addiction – or if you are going down the path toward doing so. Look at what you’ve been doing in the past several weeks. You should notice a pattern of consistency with respect to a substitute addiction.

If you can’t bear to run out of cigarettes and will go out at all hours of the night to buy a pack or a carton – that’s a substitute addiction. It’s the compulsion that you absolutely have to have that nicotine in order to feel calm, or you believe that you’ll suffer withdrawal without your stash of tobacco that makes it addictive.

If you find yourself staying up all night working on various projects – night after night – you’re into workaholism.

You get the idea. Anything that you do that’s compulsive that you can’t live without, that you do despite the consequences that ensue, that endangers your health, destroys your finances, damages your reputation – that’s a substitute addiction.

Let’s say that you’ve identified what you’ve substituted for alcohol or drugs. Now, what do you do about it? You certainly don’t have the time or money to go back into treatment. That’s out of the question.

Well, it depends on how long you’ve been involved in the new addiction, how chronic it’s become, how frequently you engage in it, and the consequences that have started to add up. If you substituted OxyContin for alcohol as a way to take a flyer from responsibility or alleviate pain, you’d need to go through medically supervised detox in order to get off the powerful opiate. But just detoxing won’t be enough. You’ll need to get at the behavior by changing your unhealthy behavior to behavior that is healthy and appropriate. This is best accomplished by getting additional counseling in the form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). If you have aftercare or continuing care as part of your overall treatment program, this is a good place to start. If not, you can probably get a referral from the treatment facility to a therapist that practices CBT. If finances are a problem, look for low-cost or programs that are underwritten by various federal, state, or local agencies. Again, your treatment facility, like Great Oaks Recovery, can help you with this.

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