Anyone who has ever gained weight as a side-effect of smoking cessation has experienced addiction replacement. Addiction replacement is the term that refers to when someone replaces one addiction with another — such as eating candy or other foods to help them quit smoking. Replacements like exercise or reading can be healthy, but other replacements, such as replacing opioids with alcohol for pain management are often unhealthy.
Addiction replacement can lead to the same negative consequences that were previously experienced before getting treatment for the original addiction. It may seem like a step towards healing to give up one substance for something “less dangerous,” but that is typically not the case.
Addiction replacement can lead to more problems, including addiction to multiple substances. Using multiple substances can lower a person’s tolerance and speed the rate of dependency or lead to mental health disorders.
People in recovery programs receive a lot of valuable information about preventing relapse, but not all treatment programs provide the tools for avoiding addiction replacement.
Understanding Addiction Replacement
If a person does not deal with the underlying causes of addiction, including the emotional or physical pain that led to substance use, they are at higher risk for relapsing. They may not relapse with the same substance they sought treatment for but will find another way to relieve their pain.
In the healthiest possible scenario, people who undergo addiction treatment learn how to replace dysfunctional, self-destructive habits with healthy habits. Going to the gym, being of service, or engaging in daily meditation practice may become someone’s new “addiction.” These healthy behaviors still provide the pleasurable rush of endorphins that substances once provided, but in a safe, positive way.
However, many people revert back to unhealthy methods of coping and find another self-destructive replacement for their previous addiction. In addition to swapping one substance for another, addiction replacement includes replacing a substance use disorder with a process disorder, such as:
- Eating disorders
- Work addiction
- Shopping addiction
- Self-harming behaviors
- Gambling addiction
- Gaming/internet addiction
- Love and sex addictions
Healing from addiction is not a feat of willpower. Biology, genetics, environment, past experiences, and other factors play a part in who is susceptible to developing addiction and how completely they recover.
Addiction replacement therapy can be a helpful tool in recovery. For example, people struggling with opioid use disorder can benefit from medication-assisted treatment programs where Suboxone or other medications are used to help the person taper off more dangerous drugs. However, this type of addiction replacement is meant to be temporary. The medications are strictly regulated, and participants are closely monitored.
Addiction Replacement and Dopamine
Dopamine is known as the “feel-good” hormone. It is a brain neurotransmitter that passes messages between the brain’s nerve cells. When people engage in activities they find pleasurable, such as exercising or participating in a hobby they enjoy, dopamine levels rise.
The same happens with some substances. Opioids and other drugs increase dopamine levels while inhibiting the brain’s ability to produce dopamine independently. In time, a person with a substance use disorder begins to rely on a substance to experience the euphoria of a dopamine rush because their brain can no longer supply it naturally.
Not only do substances create dopamine; activities can also provide the pleasurable feelings associated with dopamine. That’s what makes it possible for process disorders to substitute for substances.
If you are substituting a new substance or behavior for an old addiction, pay attention to the following warning signs of addiction:
- Neglecting self-care and personal hygiene
- Experiencing stress or anxiety when unable to engage in the new substance/activity
- Performance problems at work or school
- Obsessively thinking about the substance/activity
- Neglecting relationships and responsibilities in favor of the new substance/activity
Addictive behaviors are similar even when the addiction takes a new form. Any behavior that reminds you of how your life was prior to treatment should be taken as a warning sign.
Regardless of the substance, addiction eventually takes over your life. You may convince yourself that the new substance isn’t as dangerous, but addiction to any substance or activity can negatively affect your health, relationships, and happiness.
If you’re concerned you’re showing signs of addiction replacement, reach out to your recovery community or find help at a qualified addiction treatment center.
Avoiding Addiction Replacement
Addictive behaviors don’t simply disappear after treatment. It takes vigilance and commitment to free yourself from unwanted, unhealthy behaviors. Returning to an addiction treatment program for extra support could be the best decision for your health.
Seeking the high level of professional support that’s found at a treatment center isn’t a failure. It doesn’t mean your recovery treatment didn’t work. It means you are being proactive and taking the necessary steps to protect your health.
Other tips for avoiding addiction replacement include:
- Identify your triggers — the people, places, or events that make you feel stressed or think about substance use
- Have a plan for dealing with triggers, such as calling your sponsor or going for a walk
- Let friends and family members know what’s going on and ask for help
- Stay connected with your recovery network, attend meetings, and help others
Spending time with other sober friends who support your recovery is one of the best ways to avoid addiction replacement and stay sober. Managing addictive behaviors is a lifelong process for some people. Surrounding yourself with others who understand the struggle and know how to respond will help you stay on a healthy path.
Find Help for Addiction Replacement at Clear Life Recovery
At Clear Life Recovery in Costa Mesa, we understand that there is no magic cure for addiction. Our comprehensive programming and dedicated team are here to help when you need professional support for treating addiction replacement. Contact us today for more information about avoiding or treating addiction, regardless of its form.