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How to Prevent Addiction Substitution in Recovery

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How to Prevent Addiction Substitution in Recovery

“Once an addict, always an addict!”  Recovering addicts throw this phrase around constantly. After the shock of early recovery has worn off, it’s easy to grow comfortable and let the callous of that idea set in. Phrase becomes platitude. And before you know it, the “inevitability” of addiction substitution becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.


But it doesn’t have to be. The phrase often misleads addicts to throw up their hands and resign to the idea that addiction can’t be beaten or managed. But an addict’s identity doesn’t have to be centered solely on their addiction. “Once an addict, always an addict,” is just a roundabout way of addressing the idea of an addictive personality. It’s not a death sentence saying that addicts in recovery will always substitute their drug of choice for another, like food or nicotine. If anything, resigning oneself to “always being an addict” is an enabling thought process.

Why do people switch addictions?

Switching addictions has more to do with addiction behavior than it does with the actual object of addiction. Addiction is a disease that hijacks the control center of the brain. It causes a person to grow unhealthy habits centered on their drug of choice. If those habits are not fully addressed in recovery, the addictive behavior won’t be healed even if the addiction itself is. That’s where the concept of switching addictions – or addiction substitution – comes in.

Switching addictions is basically just substituting one addiction for another. Addicts often adopt another addiction to cope with stress or responsibility when they cannot use their drug of choice anymore. The substitute addiction may not even seem dangerous. For example, a recovered addict can become compulsively focused on exercise as a replacement for his drug addiction. While the exercise may seem healthy, the compulsive behavior is not. Addiction is not healthy even if the activity is.

Common Substitutes:

  • Cigarettes
  • Exercise
  • Food
  • Caffeine
  • Work


How to Prevent Addiction Substitution:

  • Address the root of the problem

    As stated earlier, addictive behavior is what causes a person to switch addictions. There is usually an underlying issue that triggers the addictive behavior to take control as a coping mechanism. The trigger can be a stressor (work, relationships, money) or a past pain that was never addressed. Finding these roots and working to heal them will help to prevent unhealthy coping habits from forming.

  • Try new things

    Adopting a new addiction often comes out of stagnancy. We tend to fill our time with the things we know and like. But our enjoyments can easily become obsessive if they aren’t balanced with other activities. You don’t have to stop doing the things you love, but adding a new activity once or twice a week can help your hobbies from becoming stagnant or compulsive.

  • Use a daily planner

    It’s very helpful to remain aware of how much time you’re putting into each activity. Whether you plan out your days in the morning or recap your days at night, managing your time is the easiest way to open your eyes to unhealthy or compulsive behaviors.

  • Enjoy the simple things

    One of the main reasons that addiction happens is because we try to abuse the pleasure center of our brains. For example, opioid drugs trigger dopamine to release in the brain and cause euphoria. Once learned, the desire for that euphoric effect fuels the addiction. However, there are small and healthy activities that can also release these feel-good endorphins. Hugging, laughing, and exercising will all trigger the brain’s pleasure center. Sufficient participation in these activities can help prevent another unhealthy addiction from forming.

Posted in Addiction, Culture, Featured, Recovery