Man in museumCertain personality traits have been proven to be associated with the development of substance use disorders. Exposure to trauma and a lack of a strong support system can also contribute to the development of unhealthy coping mechanisms. In some cases, this can include the development of substitute addictions after completing a drug or alcohol rehab program.

About Substitute Addictions

Substitute addictions are behavioral addictions that are used to replace the void left by no longer abusing drugs or alcohol. They may seem to be harmless coping mechanisms at first glance but can cause many of the same negative consequences as substance abuse.

Just as substance abuse affects people from all demographic groups, anyone can develop a substitute addiction after leaving rehab. However, individuals with co-occurring mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression may be slightly more vulnerable to the development of substitute addictions.

Common substitute addictions include:

  • Food addiction: Food addictions are very common in the early stages of recovery. This typically involves binging on sweets or fast food but can include any form of overeating. Food addiction can lead to weight gain, nutritional deficiencies, and a general feeling of low energy or sluggishness.
  • Shopping addiction: Someone with a shopping addiction compulsively purchases items they do not need or want. They may cause harm to their finances, run out of storage space in their home, or hide their purchases from others out of shame or embarrassment.
  • Gambling addiction: Scratch tickets, online casinos, or sports betting offer instant thrills, especially when you win a prize. However, for someone with addictive personality traits, gambling can quickly become an obsession that leads to significant financial troubles.
  • Work addiction: Being devoted to your career is admirable, but not at the expense of maintaining relationships with loved ones. Work addiction can also cause problems if you’re not sleeping, eating, and engaging in appropriate self-care activities to promote recovery from substance abuse.

Video game addiction, social media addiction, or exercise addiction may also be considered types of substitute addictions for people in recovery. Any activity done to excess has the potential to cause mental distress and negative consequences.

Signs of a Substitute Addiction

The signs of a substitute addiction are quite similar to those of an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Your behavior may be considered a substitute addiction if you agree with the following statements:

  • You feel embarrassed, guilty, or ashamed by your behavior.
  • You lie to friends and family about your activities.
  • You’ve experienced negative consequences, such as health problems or financial difficulty, due to your behavior but feel powerless to stop.
  • You find yourself neglecting other areas of your life to engage in the desired behavior.
  • You’ve engaged in illegal or unethical actions, such as stealing, to support your behavior.
  • You have tried to cut back or change your behavior patterns without success.

A Note About Medication Assisted Treatment

Medication assisted treatment refers to the practice of using prescription medications to manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce the urge to use an addictive substance. MAT is often associated with opioid use disorders but can be recommended for people in treatment for alcohol addiction as well.

A common misconception about MAT is that it promotes the development of a substitute addiction. It’s understandable to be nervous about prescription medication if you developed an accidental addiction to opioids, but MAT is closely monitored. You can’t get “high” from any of the medications being used and counseling is provided as part of the care plan. The goal is to use MAT as a stepping stone to recovery.

A substance use disorder is a biologically-based disease that affects the brain. If your care provider believes you are a good candidate for MAT, this is no different than taking medication to treat a chronic illness such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

Promoting a Lasting Recovery

True recovery involves more than just abstaining from drugs or alcohol. Achieving wellness means breaking negative behavior patterns and building a lifestyle that promotes total body healing. This includes:

  • Learning how to express your emotions
  • Finding healthy ways to cope with stress
  • Building strong relationships with others
  • Engaging in self-care activities as needed

If you are worried that your behavior patterns suggest the development of a substitute addiction, this is a sign that your continuing care plan should be reevaluated. Behavioral addictions can cause significant distress, so your concerns shouldn’t be swept under the rug. Prompt treatment can help you get back on track with your sobriety.

St. Joseph Institute offers a full continuum of care for individuals with substance use disorders, including access to ongoing support to help you address any obstacles you may encounter in your first year of recovery.

By Dana Hinders

To learn more about our programs, please visit our website.

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perseveranceIt’s important that we understand recovery from drug and alcohol addiction as a complex and challenging journey, one that takes dedication and time.  For many people who struggle with addiction or who love someone who struggles with addiction, the promise of a month spent in concentrated, residential rehabilitation seems like adequate treatment.  And yet, when we consider those who have successfully recovered from addiction, it’s clear that the process of recovery must continue long after such rehabilitation is over.

Unfortunately, a recent study found that 56% of the people who received treatment at a residential facility did not engage in recovery practices after their discharge.  A majority of those individuals relapsed within a few months.  And so we have to acknowledge that without an ongoing set of practices and tools, most people are simply unable to break free from addiction—hardly a surprise, considering how profoundly substance abuse alters the body and mind.

Such mind/body alterations aren’t easily erased, and their vestiges can last a lifetime.  But recovery is possible, and those who do meet their recovery goals do so consciously, with an awareness of their journey as one that requires attention, planning, and care.  In working within the recovery community, I’ve witnessed many processes and tools that can make that journey a successful one; in particular, lasting sobriety usually involves adherence to what I call The Five P’s of Successful Recovery:

  1. Purpose. True change requires not only that we acknowledge where we’ve been, but that we see and understand where we want to go. When we have a sense of purpose—the desire to achieve a deeply-held goal, to pursue a dream, or to accomplish something which holds meaning for us—we find new sources of energy and strength.  With new strength, we’re more able to persevere when challenges arise.  One of the most devastating aspects of addiction is that it fosters a sense of purposelessness. Conversely when someone who struggles with addiction identifies a meaningful direction or a dream, it can be much easier to leave drugs and alcohol behind.  The search for a sense of purpose can be challenging, exciting, and rewarding; it’s also an integral part of the process of recovery.
  2. Practice. The kinds of change that recovery requires—changing the mind’s patterns, shifting the way one acts under stress, and transforming responses to everyday events—do not happen quickly. Such deep-reaching changes call for practice; much like learning to play an instrument or developing skill at a new craft. Recovery asks us to repeat the behaviors we want to develop over and over again. And, in fact, those behaviors could include playing an instrument, singing, or learning to paint—recovery usually involves an ongoing commitment to stress-relieving activities and support systems.  Whether it’s meeting with a support group such as AA or talking with a counselor, meditating or exercising, some kind of continued practice—one that becomes part of daily life—helps to manage addiction-related urges and thoughts and brings clarity, focus, and sense of grounding to the recovery journey.
  3. Perseverance. While I’ve said this before, it’s worth repeating: successful recovery doesn’t happen in 30, 60, or even 90 days. Rather than a sprint, recovery is a marathon—a process that happens slowly, over the course of a lifetime. For many people who live with addiction or who want to help those who do, this can be the most difficult lesson—accepting that recovery, like any worthwhile process, is never fully complete.  Just as an artist never reaches “the end” of their creative journey, a person in recovery never totally sets aside their work.  Each day requires a recommitment to recovery, each day requires the management of stressors and emotions.  No life is absent this kind of humbling cycle: walking on a spiral, we move up, but we pass by the places we’ve been again and again.  Recovery requires one to acknowledge that inevitable cycle, to seek the support of those who can help in difficult times, and to develop the perseverance that, even as we move in circles, keeps us moving up.
  4. Pray. For many people, overcoming addiction requires a sense of something greater than one’s own strength and vision. Whereas feelings of loneliness and isolation can contribute to the damaging effects of addiction, the experiences of connection, care, and love that many find in reaching out to a “higher power” can be a fundamental part of leaving addiction behind. It’s normal for someone who struggles with addiction to feel weak and powerless. As millions of people in recovery have found, acknowledging such feelings of weakness and welcoming the presence of an able, loving God can be one of the most important steps in this sometimes difficult process of change and growth.
  5. Praise. Those who live with addiction often experience great difficulties, and it’s easy to see why addiction can foster negativity. Focused on problems and wrongs, those struggling with addiction are sometimes unable to see that which is good and beautiful in their lives.  As we work to undo those negative patterns, it’s important to make gratitude, positivity, and praise the foundations of recovery.  Simple daily mantras of gratitude—I am fully alive; I am loved and loving; God cares for me and my journey; I have deep value as a person—can keep us alight. If we remember to see our lives, our communities, and the world around us through eyes of praise, addiction loses much of its power.

Purpose, Practice, Perseverance, Pray, and Praise—these Five P’s, along with other tools you may develop and discover throughout your own journey, can provide a powerful framework for recovery.  As you implement them, observe how you change and grow.  Let others know about your commitment to these principles, and ask trusted friends to support your path.  Be kind, careful, and honest with yourself—addiction isn’t a death sentence, but rather a difficult illness that requires attention and ongoing treatment.  Seeking your purpose, developing a regular practice, cultivating perseverance, making time to pray, and remembering to praise—no small tasks, but, applied one day at a time, each of these endeavors can become an integral part of recovery, health, and a bright and balanced future.


The Long Road

Recovery requires hard work and tough choices.

To truly recover from addiction is a process, one that requires deeper and more lasting changes than simply acknowledging the errors of a life controlled by alcohol or drugs.  The process of real recovery involves more than an apology for hurtful behaviors and faulty judgment, more than a moment or a day of clarity, and more than a cry for help, no matter how sincere.  Recovery is a long journey that requires profound and difficult changes, changes both in how the brain works and in how a person responds to life’s events.

Addiction re-programs the brain in ways that make harmful choices seem like appropriate responses to day-to-day experiences.  For a person living with addiction, drug use is neurologically connected to escape, relaxation, and reward; at an unconscious level, part of the brain has learned to define “using” as a valid reaction to challenges.

The ongoing work of recovery is a process of re-training that takes time, practice, and discipline.  Consider similar processes that we experience as we grow up: whether we are learning to ride a bicycle, to swim, or to multiply and divide, we spend time repeating the tasks involved over and over until they become second nature.  Once learned, these skills are hard to forget–years can go by without riding a bicycle, and yet we relearn to ride within a few minutes.  Lessons that are well-established in our memory can be easily recalled.

Now, consider addiction.  Over time, an individual has repeatedly used drugs or alcohol to respond to stress, anger, frustration, boredom, pain, trauma, and many other emotions.  The brain has become programmed, and the individual has developed patterns that encompass addicted behavior.  Knowing what we know about how easily well-learned lessons are recalled, how can we possibly expect change overnight, or in thirty days, or in even a year?  And yet, more than 50% of the people who enter into treatment for addiction have no aftercare.  They have no framework within which to keep their recovery moving forward, and are often unable to continue the serious work of learning to live differently.  It should come as no surprise that relapse rates are high for these individuals.

We hear stories of people who suffer severe physical injuries and we admire their tenacity in regaining the use of their arms and legs.  We know that this type of rehabilitation can take months, or even years. Yet all too often we assume that rehabilitation of the brain can happen in an instant.  We assume that a moment of clear thinking indicates total recovery.  What we forget is that the addicted person’s brain, just like the muscles of a soldier recovering from a battlefield injury, must learn new patterns and new ways to respond.

During the process of recovery, the addicted person must learn to think and respond in intensely different ways; when the brain says, “Go right,” the person must force themselves to go left.  When the voice of their disease is triggered and cries out for alcohol or drugs, when well-worn pathways present themselves, the mind must be led in a new direction.  Finding better responses and more appropriate solutions takes time, retraining, and sustained effort.

Many people struggle to acknowledge the time and practice required for true recovery to take place.  But it is vitally important that those who live with addiction, as well as their families, spouses, and friends, understand just how unrealistic is the notion of the shortcut or the quick fix.  Seeking a quick cure, one is unable to truly walk on the road of recovery.  Addiction is a deadly disease, and the solutions that lead away from its destructive power all require hard work.  It is only when we embrace the reality of recovery’s continuous journey that lasting results will be realized.

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