Recovery from substance abuse can often be a very stressful process, as it involves letting go of a coping mechanism from which the user was able to deal with and escape from the stresses of life. Letting go of an addiction means that something that used to be an obsession and dictate your every move has been taken away, and new things can sometimes creep in, creating what is called a substitute addiction.
These substitute addictions can impede true recovery, since they can cause someone to fall right back into patterns of substance abuse.
How a Substitute Addiction Can Develop
Sometimes, in the process of recovery, you may get so focused on not going back to the one thing that used to control your life that you end up falling back into addictive behavior, only with a different substance. For example, someone abusing a pain medication may, in the middle of going through the intense withdraw symptoms, turn to alcoholic beverages as a way to "take the edge off."
Gradually, this person may start drinking compulsively, just as addicted as before, only with a new substance. The pattern hasn't changed, and that means it's not a true recovery.
Addiction is not just a matter of "willpower," but one of brain chemistry. Substance abuse denies or floods the brain with an imbalance of hormones, leading to cravings.
Simply switching substances does nothing to change how the brain is acting.
While trying to "kick a habit" you've had after a long time of abusing a particular substance, take time to be aware of other behaviors or substances that can still be used compulsively. If you find yourself obsessing over how long before you can take another pill, or have another cigarette, with all your mental energy being expended on satisfying a craving, then you are still addicted.
Sometimes it can also be helpful to have trusted and honest friends willing to walk with you through the recovery process, and tell you if they feel like your addictive patterns are reemerging.
True Recovery Means Having Real Alternatives, Not Just New Addictions
The best way to avoid substitute addictions is with a great deal of self-awareness and self-honesty. You are already know what going down the path of addiction feels like, so by carefully examining your behavior over the past few weeks.
If you recognize the feeling of compulsion towards getting a particular substance, a fear of withdraw with a cigarette, drink, or pill, even if it feels small or in the beginning stages, expand your treatment to go after that behavior as well.
True coping mechanisms should be ones that help you deal with your internal feelings and compulsions at their root cause, and ones that encourage you to take care of yourself. Encouraging self-talk, healthy eating, gentle exercise, an adequate amount of sleep, and encouraging interactions with supportive friends and family are just some of the healthy ways you can learn how to truly recover.
Hiding behind a new substance simply deals with the surface issue of not "using." To truly commit to being free of substitute addictions of all kinds can be a long process of a lot of hard work, but the resources, support and encouragement to make it there are available.
It's easy for an addiction to take you away from other aspects of your life, such as work, family, relationships, and enjoyable hobbies, so perusing those can be an important way to avoid substitution, and instead be on a path of true recovery. Furthermore, keep in mind that addictive behavior need not be limited to substances. Eating, work, exercise, gambling, or television watching can all become physiological addictions in their own right if they become the sole focus of your attention.
A recovery life is a balanced life that keeps everything in perspective.