Smoking marijuana instead of drinking alcohol might initially lessen the negative impacts of one addictive behavior, but it is still an addictive behavior. The same goes for any substitute addiction including activities that may seem harmless such as eating or exercising. This is because substitute addictions don’t get to the root of the problem, which is the addictive behavior. Unfortunately, this can make people who trade one addiction for another more likely to relapse. The substitute addiction is a guise for recovery, and it will eventually fail. 

Why Do Substitute Addictions Fail? 

As with all addiction, each person on the road to recovery has different triggers and a different story. Some people have co-occurring mental health conditions that complicate the addiction and the treatment. These variables make almost any activity a potential substitute addiction. The lack of limitations when it comes to addictive activities highlight the reasons they fail. 

When people engage in addictive behavior, they are activating the rewards centers in their brains. They are experiencing something that is perceived as pleasure despite any consequences. The brain is wired to return to behavior it deems pleasurable. It becomes an addiction when the brain cannot control the behavior despite negative consequences. As with most things in life, everything should be taken with some degree of moderation. The person with a substitute addiction cannot moderate their new addictive behavior any better than they could the first. 

So why wouldn’t a less harmful activity be a suitable substitute? Because, if it is a new addiction, the addictive pathway is still in full motion. The brain is not learning self-regulation or control. When presented with the initial addiction, the brain will not have the tools or learned behavior modification to prevent relapse. Additionally, the adaptive mechanisms in the brain will call for more and more time spent doing the new activity. Eventually, even the best substitutes yield poor results. 

What Are the Most Common Substitute Addictions? 

Substitute addictions are not completely ill-conceived. In fact, physicians in treatment centers have used methadone treatments as a substitute for heroin addiction for many years. Using drugs as substitutions for other drugs has had some success increasing safety and reducing drug cravings. In this respect, sometimes substitutions are a suitable band-aid, but people must remember that they aren’t treating the problem of addiction. There is still more work to be done. 

Aside from prescription medications prescribed at treatment facilities, common substitute addictions include: 

  • food 
  • shopping
  • pornography
  • internet 
  • sex
  • gambling
  • marijuana
  • tobacco 
  • religion
  • relationships
  • work

Again, practically anything can become a substitute addiction as long as it fits the parameters of addiction. 

Parameters of Addiction

Just like the person who has a drink at dinner may not have an addiction, people engage in many of the above behaviors every day without becoming addicted. But for the person who is using an alternative behavior as a substitute addiction, the behavior will fit into the following parameters: 

  • behavior is compulsive
  • continues behavior despite negative consequences
  • preoccupation with the behavior
  • loss of control over how and when the behavior occurs

Imagine the negative impacts any addiction can have. For example, an exercise addiction may cause the loss fo relationships, overuse injuries, loss of work, and loss of life experiences. These consequences can eventually become as bad as the initial addiction. 

Why Substitute Addictions Lead to Relapse

The negative impacts of a healthier addiction are sometimes better than the negative impacts of the initial addiction (i.e. reduced risk for disease or physical harm), but substitute addictions can lead a person to relapse. 

This is because the cessation of the initial addiction is fully dependent on the new addiction. What if the gym is closed? What if there aren’t any cigarettes available? People suffering from addiction will go to great lengths to activate the brain’s reward center, and relapse is a common way to do it. 

All of a sudden, the person who thinks they are in recovery is back to square one. 

Why Addiction Treatment Works

The want for a substitute addiction is understandable. Maybe a person thinks they are strong enough to stop the addictive behavior on their own. Maybe they fear the stigma of therapy. But the logic behind substitute addictions is flawed. 

Addiction treatment works because it connects people suffering from addiction with the support necessary to combat the brain’s addictive reasoning. It provides the person with a community of empathetic, non-judgmental listeners who are guaranteed to listen. The ability to open up about one’s story of addiction is one of the most promising paths toward defeating it. 

Finding Joy Again

Many people who are in recovery have trouble finding the same enjoyment from everyday life that they found in their addiction. They must challenge that way of thinking, and an addiction treatment center is an excellent place to start. 

The person seeking joy should not engage in thrill seeking activities meant to overpower the senses but rather experiences that are mildly pleasurable, such as painting or going for a walk (maybe even exercise!) But following the activity, even for the person who is reluctant, they must evaluate whether they enjoyed it. Chances are that they did, but the brain is so focused on addiction that they didn’t realize the joy without a conscious effort.

Eventually, it becomes easier to recognize the joy, and the person becomes less connected to the addiction and more connected to their life. This is recovery, and there is no substitute for it. 

Addiction Treatment in Orange County

No part of the county is a stranger to addiction, and Orange County is no exception. Drugs and alcohol are often normalized in peer groups, and it is relatively easy to slip into addiction without realizing it. Everyone suffering with addiction can treat it and enjoy the rest of their lives free from its destruction, but it takes hard work and a support system. 

Covenant Hills is an addiction treatment program that offers religious and non-religious options for addiction treatment that will help get to the root of addiction and help you or your loved one to avoid substitute addictions. If you are looking for quality addiction treatment services with long-term results, contact us today. 

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