Five of the most common substitute addictions, learn how to avoid them

Male binge eating while in recovery from substance abuse

Avoiding substitute addictions in recovery is essential to ensuring mental wellness and preventing subsequent behavioral issues.

While many of these behaviors are less severe than drug and alcohol abuse, they can affect your quality of life and contribute to the overall detriment of your mental health. 

Substitute addictions are a way for your brain to find a new source of those feel-good neurotransmitters stimulated with substances. Many people with drug or alcohol addictions discover that they begin participating in other types of compulsive behavior in sobriety.

While sobriety can make you feel optimistic and like nothing can go wrong, inevitably, life will present you with challenges, whether they be unexpected substance cravings or outside stressors that contribute to poor mental health. At this point, people in recovery tend to falter. Most commonly, they relapse or pick up a substitute addiction. 

Below are the five most common substitute addictions and information on avoiding them. 

Five most common substitute addictions

There are endless possibilities when it comes to behavioral addictions. A replacement addiction can occur any time a behavior is activating the reward system in a way that results in a compulsion. 

However, a few behaviors are considered the most common among individuals with substance use disorders.

Here are the most common substitute addictions experienced in recovery:

  • Binge eating
  • Excessive shopping
  • Uncontrolled gambling
  • Extreme amounts of exercise
  • Lack of control over sexual thoughts & impulses

Binge eating is typical behavior in this group, as the brain can learn to use food the same way it once used substances. Eating in excess, especially when consuming foods high in fat and sugar, can stimulate the same circuits in the brain as drugs and alcohol.

Also, many people find a replacement addiction in shopping. We have all had the experience of buying something for ourselves or someone else to improve our mood. This behavior can become problematic if it becomes a compulsion. Spending money stimulates the reward system in the brain as well, and some people become addicted to the feeling of purchasing items. 

While excessive shopping may not seem as big a problem compared to substance abuse, it can become severe, threatening a person’s financial stability and family life.

As stated above, some of the other common substitute addictions include exercise, sex, and gambling, which are acceptable behaviors, and healthy when done in moderation. But, when these behaviors become compulsive and extreme, they can take a significant toll on your mental health and the lives of those around you. 

Tips to avoid substitute addictions

The first step in avoiding substitute addictions is to educate yourself and those closest to you about this recovery issue. It’s imperative to keep an eye out for signs of problematic behavior. 

If you pay attention, your intuition can tell you when a response becomes unhealthy or threatens your mental health. For example, maybe you’ve always shopped online but are suddenly shopping at odd hours, hiding your purchases from loved ones, and applying for credit cards that you don’t need. 

At this point, your behavior is most likely becoming a problem; the way you feel when participating in these behaviors can also clue you in. For example, people who develop behavioral addictions often report feeling out of control or euphoric during the activity. Afterward, they often feel a deep sense of guilt and shame, just like the highs and lows of alcohol and drug use.

Staying on top of your recovery work even when you’re feeling secure in sobriety can prevent substitute addictions. Quitting drugs or alcohol often makes users feel as if there’s a void that needs to be filled by a new vice. 

Remember, even the healthiest people find outlets to work through emotional and mental hardships. Moreover, healthy people can do so in a way that doesn’t harm themselves or others. 

Be sure that as you move forward, explore new ways to combat stress by exercising regularly, meditating, or doing something creative. The key to mental wellness is balance, and our addiction and mental health experts at First Responder Wellness are always here to support you in achieving that balance for your long-term recovery. 

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