Learn to Identify and Avoid Addiction Trading
We’ve all seen them in our recovery groups: the people that come in with coffees and energy drinks every time, or step out for frequent cigarette breaks. Maybe you’re one of them, yourself. These small pleasures are an easy way to get a little boost through the day while in recovery—but have you just traded one addiction for another?
Of course, don’t get us wrong—coffee is obviously less dangerous than alcohol or hard drugs, and if it helps you deal with withdrawal symptoms in early recovery, then that’s great. The thing is though, you should still make it your goal to eventually wean yourself off of that new “lesser” addiction as well, and not resign yourself to it. Otherwise, you’re holding onto your addictive state of mind.
That’s because addiction isn’t just a temporary need for one particular substance, but a long-standing craving to fulfill an emotional need. Your goal shouldn’t be to just find a safer bad habit to fill that emotional space. Your goal should be, with the help of therapy, to eliminate that emotional void and the compulsion to fill it. That’s a much harder and longer road, but it’s the best path to a recovery that truly leaves you healthy and fulfilled.
There are many common replacement addictions. Some include shopping, overworking, and overeating. Let’s cover four of the ones we see the most: nicotine, caffeine, sex, and gambling.
Cigarettes are one of the most common cross addictions we see. That’s because it’s easy to justify to yourself why it’s okay to smoke cigarettes when you’re in recovery from alcohol or drugs. Unlike those other substances, the negative effects of cigarettes accumulate slowly over years. When someone binge drinks or does heroin, the consequences are immediately apparent. When someone smokes a cigarette, they get a mild stimulant rush and there’s no other visible change. It seems harmless.
However, as you already know, cigarettes are still killing you, only slower. Studies say smoking takes a decade off of your expected life span, and vastly increases your risk of cancer and heart disease, the leading killers of Americans.
Not only that, but you’ll still be stuck in the mindset of addiction. If all you can think about is your next smoke break, it may be time to evaluate this habit and bring it into therapy.
Another one we see a lot of is caffeine. Sometimes it’s drinking coffee all day, but other times it’s energy drinks. Of course, these drinks are less dangerous than alcohol and other drugs. However, if you drink them all the time, they’ll destroy your sleep schedule.
You’ll have trouble sleeping at night, and have sleepiness and low energy throughout the day. You’ll get a small spike of energy while sipping that Monster or Red Bull, but crash soon afterward. You’re still trapped in a cycle of dependency, and feeling tired and miserable. This isn’t conducive to your recovery, so while caffeine may help you get through withdrawal, it’s a habit that needs to go eventually.
When you enter recovery, you stop doing an activity that makes your brain release dopamine, the chemical responsible for pleasure. All of these cross addictions are alternative ways to release dopamine to compensate. Substances aren’t the only way of doing that though—dopamine is also released by activities like shopping, working out, and sex.
However, sex addiction has real consequences. As with any addiction, if you’re distracted throughout the day because your thoughts are dominated by sex, and you lose sleep watching pornography, and you depend on it for daily emotional fulfilment, there’s a problem. Not only that, but sex addiction can get in the way of your ability to maintain healthy, stable relationships. It’s harder to form a personal connection rather than use people to fulfill your needs. This can lead to feelings of isolation and depression, which are definitely bad for your recovery.
This is exactly why you’re told to avoid relationships for your first year of recovery. If you absolutely can’t break the addictive mindset just yet, at least try exercise instead—it offers the same dopamine boost without the interpersonal complications.
A lot of people in recovery tend to replace their addictions with exciting activities like sky diving or skiing, to experience a rush of adrenaline and dopamine. This rush comes from risk and danger—which is why gambling is another common cross addiction.
As with the others on this list, gambling is still a serious addiction with real consequences. It dominates your thoughts, is used to fill emotional needs at the expense of your loved ones, and drives you to risk financial ruin. It’s not for nothing that advertisements for casinos say “gambling problem?” followed by the number for a help line.
Gambling is especially dangerous for two reasons. The first is that gambling often takes place in casinos and other places where people are drinking and inviting you to do the same, risking a relapse. The second is that gambling away your finances can leave you in a difficult and stressful position which may also threaten your recovery.
These addictions may not immediately threaten your life the way that hard drugs do, but they’re still something you’ll have to deal with to ensure a permanent and healthy recovery. Evaluate the habits you’ve picked up since entering recovery, and discuss them in your groups.
If you’re looking for a safe place to talk things out or just have some substance-free fun, come to The Other Side. We’re a sober bar in Crystal Lake, IL with music, pool tables, and regular events. Give us a visit, and enjoy a night out without stressing about the environment. We’ve got your back!
The Other Side
93 E Berkshire Dr, Unit G
Crystal Lake IL 60014