“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.