In the recovery process, it is easy to simply become deeply fixated with avoiding a particular drug of choice. Breaking the habit of heavy drinking or drug use can be highly taxing at times, but it is not enough simply to stop using and do nothing else to transform your life. Without realizing it, you may simply pick up a new addiction, transferring addictive personality traits to a new substance, object, or activity.
Sometimes this takes a very literal move from one substance abuse habit to another, such as drinking alcohol to "take the edge off" a withdrawal from prescription painkillers. Other times the addiction may be to other things, things like eating, sex, working, or shopping that are part of a healthy lifestyle but can become addictive if pursued as a craving at the expense of everything else. These transfers of addiction do nothing to solve the underlying causes of an addiction, and so create obstacles to true recovery.
Transferring addictions and the brain
In a study published in the March 2011 Evaluation and Health Professions, Steven Sussman, a professor of preventative medicine at the University of Southern California reviewed 83 studies that looked at 11 common behaviors that can become addictions, including use of tobacco, alcohol, or drugs, binge eating, Internet use, gambling, love, sex, exercise, work and shopping.
He found that 23% have more then one of these addictions. Furthermore, around 50% of adult sex addicts also have a drug addiction. Likewise, many alcoholics also struggle with overeating. This would indicate that even before attempting recovery, addictions can spread to more than one area.
The main biological reasons these substances or activities can become addictive is that they produce high levels of dopamine in the brain, producing strong but fleeting feelings of pleasure and well-being. Going without the substance can produce anhedonia, or a dopamine deficit that can make it very difficult to find life enjoyable. Desperate to regain a sense of pleasure, an addicted person can become very vulnerable to developing substitute addictions.
True lasting recovery
The best way to avoid this is to focus your attention on holistic healing, not merely stopping your use of one substance. Lasting recovery demands getting to the core of an addiction, and responding to your real needs and emotions.
This means deepening your self-awareness, knowing your vulnerabilities and triggers and avoiding even a hint of the thoughts and feelings that lead to addictive behavior. Meditation, journaling, and talking with supportive friends can be excellent ways to get in touch with your true feelings and respond to your real needs, rather than running to the next addiction for temporary relief.
Professional trained in cognitive behavioral therapy or psychotherapy can also help you more deeply analyze the root causes of addiction, avoiding the pitfalls of substitution. Think carefully about why and how often you are doing a particular activity or using a particular substance. If you recognize patterns of compulsion and addiction, including thinking obsessively about it, feeling unable to stop or control it, or continuing in spite of harm, expand the tools of your recovery to conquer this addiction as well.
Transfer your energy to a passion instead
The same impulses that lead to an addiction transfer can also be channeled in a more positive and helpful habit transfer. By focusing excess energy and withdraw into something positive and life-giving, you can learn how to gain a sense of purpose in life, establish a healthy routine, and truly create a positive change to replace your addiction.
In early stages, going to support group meetings may even feel slightly "addictive," but one that leads instead to an extended focus on your recovery. In other areas, the key is to strive for balance, by creating a careful structure and schedule, so that you keep all your activities in balance. In this way, you can truly move beyond a pattern of addiction, into one of taking charge over your life.