Substituting Addictions- when one addiction takes the place of another - Miracle Recovery Center
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Substituting Addictions– when one addiction takes the place of another

Substituting Addictions– when one addiction takes the place of another

In 2015, a shocking 50,000 Americans died from a drug overdose. Let’s face it, relapse happens, more than most people care to admit. But how healthy is quitting one addiction just to replace it with ANOTHER different addiction and is that solid sobriety? Substitute Addictions prevent recovering addicts from true recovery and freedom from bondage.

It is a common problem that once you’ve become addicted to one thing, you are more susceptible to becoming addicted in another. The concept of an “addictive personality” has been around for decades—and, it might show up the “once an addict, always an addict” ideology of 12-step programs. It is actually true that many people, while in the recovery process, will most likely substitute one addiction for another. In a way, it’s like you’re peeling an onion- as soon as you get rid of one layer, there’s only another layer waiting to be discovered underneath that layer!

In drug and alcohol treatment, programs teach that addiction substitution is a real threat to a person in recovery. Physical sobriety is one thing, but what about emotional and spiritual sobriety? Is someone truly sober and recovering if they are merely filling this “god shaped hole” with another obsessive behavior or way of thinking? Almost everyone in recovery from a substance use disorder knows that they need to give significant thought and be very careful if they decide to engage in behaviors that are known to have addictive potential.

What is Addiction Substitution?

I heard in a meeting the other day, “We put down the drink and pick of the fork.” I chuckled as I thought about this concept: we are going through the process of addiction recovery, but it somehow can stimulate other addictions or underlying obsessive behaviors without us even realizing it.

There are 2 separate methods to going about getting sober:

Cold Turkey Method: This is the way of putting down all addictions at once and in a sense, white knuckling through the first painful and challenging portion of sobriety and recovery. It by all means will test you and push you to your limits. In a smoking study that was done recently, it found that 68.5 percent of the smokers surveyed made an attempt to quit using the cold turkey method, and of those, 22 percent succeeded after the second contact with researchers and 27 percent succeeded after the third contact. Another way to look at it is that 90% of ex smokers, quit cold turkey. That’s pretty successful!

The Gradual/Taper Method: This involves cutting down or decreasing the dose of the addictive substance little by little, until there is nothing left to use. This is how many process addictions are stopped. Often times it is too shocking to a person’s lifestyle or system to quit everything cold turkey. This method allows the individual to get prepared mentally and physically to stop all together. This method is more commonly used in process addictions or behavioral issues.

The 2 Types of Addiction

Process Addiction: Evidence shows people who excessively participate in non-substance-related pleasurable activities undergo lasting chemical changes in the neural pathway of the reward system in the brain. There is increasing evidence individuals with a genetic predisposition to addictive behaviors have an inadequate number of dopamine receptors or have an insufficient amount of serotonin/dopamine. Therefore they cannot experience normal levels of pleasure from pursuits most people would find rewarding and seek out pleasure through activities that can be highly addictive. Examples of Process Addictions are:

  • Gambling Addiction
  • Sex or Porn Addiction
  • Relationship Addiction
  • Eating Disorders: anorexia and bulimia or compulsive eating
  • Workaholism
  • Shopping Addiction/Compulsive Spending
  • Internet Addiction
  • Video Game Addiction

Drug and or Alcohol Addiction: Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disorder, because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control, and those changes may last a long time after a person has stopped taking drugs (including alcohol). Examples of different drug addictions include:

  • Meth Addiction
  • Alcohol Addiction
  • Marijuana Addiction
  • Heroin and Opioid Addiction
  • Cocaine Addiction
  • Benzodiazepine Addiction


Why We Substitute Addictions

I think it’s important to distinguish addictions that occur at the same time—co-occurring—and substitute addictions. There are a few relatively common addictive behaviors that may go hand in hand such as: tobacco use, alcohol use, illicit drug use, binge-eating, gambling, Internet use, love, sex, exercise, work, and shopping. In a study done by Steven Sussman of a group of 500 Americans, he found that out of the group, 23% of people had one or more addictions—or, co-occurring addictions, and a big 47% of all US adults had at least one.

Substitute addictions serve the same purpose as the original addiction did: dopamine plays a large role, as the same mesolimbic pathways are activated in most addictions, whether substance or behavioral. Usually when people get sober, they feel the lack of dopamine in their systems from the abusive behavior or substances. This causes anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure in positive life events.

A common co-addiction is over eating or food addiction. Researchers have found that up to 25% of alcoholics sampled in a study group, who had at least one year of sobriety, substituted eating desserts, smoking cigarettes, and working more for up to 36 months.

Studies have also shown that smoking is a common co-addiction in alcoholics who are in recovery, saying that it eases anxiety and stress. This is a good alternative to use of anti anxiety medication which are quite addictive physically such as benzodiazepines.

Just an Addictive Personality

An addictive personality refers to a particular set of personality traits that make an individual predisposed to developing addictions. However, not all addicts are the same, and not all paths that lead to addiction look alike. Genetics and neurochemistry affect the tendency toward addiction, as well as environmental and social factors.

Research suggests that there are some people who may be prone to addiction more than others. Although there is not a set of defined characteristics that people who have become addictive have, there definitely some clues as to whether someone may be embarking on addictive behaviors. These include but are not limited to: an unusual tolerance for risk-taking, impulsivity, high sensation seeking, extraversion, depression, problems with authority roles, and a feeling of social isolation or that they don’t fit in or are different from others. In a sense, this addictive personality type almost could be called a syndrome.

But we must understand that just because a person may partake in these character traits, he or she isn’t destined to become an addict.

How to Avoid Substituting Addictions

Whatever your drug of choice and whatever you may be trying to replace it with, the road to recovery means living a life of moderation, free of compulsion. This is usually easier said than done.

Using the same tools that allowed someone to release a drug or alcohol dependency is most helpful with all addictions. Some useful tools for recovery are:

-Go to support meetings regularly
-Get a Sponsor and use the sponsor
-Work the 12 steps
-Connect with a Higher Power
-See a counselor or therapist who specializes in addiction
-Talk to other people who are in recovery and have walked this path before you, that can share their experience, strength and hope.
-Educate yourself on the disease of addiction and other types of addiction- awareness is the first step to getting well.


Recovery from addiction and relying on other substitute addictions is possible. Although sometimes it isn’t always easy, it will indeed be worth the effort. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call us today at Miracle Recovery Center. We can help.



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