Often, people turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism when faced with stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, or other painful emotions. If they don’t develop strong coping skills while attending residential treatment, they are at risk of a substitute addiction. This is sometimes referred to as cross addiction or replacement addiction.
About Substitute Addictions
Substitute addictions are behavioral addictions that a person develops when they are trying to fill the void in their life that is left from no longer abusing drugs and alcohol. They often involve common everyday activities and behaviors that may even be positive in moderation. Common substitute addictions include:
- Food addiction: We all need to eat, but someone with a food addiction will overindulge in fatty or sugary foods to provide emotional comfort—sometimes to the extent of making themselves feel physically ill.
- Shopping addiction: A shopping addiction is often thought of as compulsively buying clothing, shoes, and accessories, but any type of unnecessary and unaffordable purchase is problematic. Collectibles, sporting equipment, home decor, or gifts for others can all be the focus of a shopping addiction.
- Gambling addiction: What starts off as purchasing a few scratch tickets here and there may progress into online gambling or regular casino trips. In some cases, a person may cross the line into illegal forms of gambling.
- Work addiction: We often praise people who put in long hours at work, but someone who is regularly working so much that they are ignoring their physical and mental health may have a deeper problem.
- Exercise addiction: Closely linked to disordered eating or poor body image, exercise addiction involves excessively long workouts and unrealistic fitness goals.
- Sex addiction: A person may seek out risky sexual encounters, including unprotected sex or cheating on a spouse. Sex addiction may also involve an addiction to pornography.
- Video game addiction: Being immersed in the fantasy world of gaming can provide a high, much like what is experienced when a person uses
drugs or alcohol.
- Social media addiction: Someone who is addicted to social media sites such as Instagram or Twitter may stay up all hours of night scrolling, plan their activities around their social media updates, and become mentally distressed when others don’t engage with their posts.
Signs of a Substitute Addiction
How can you tell the difference between a newfound passion for a particular activity and the beginnings of a substitute addiction? The signs are often subtle, but here are some indicators that your behavior may be a problem:
- When you can’t engage in the behavior, you feel anxious and irritable.
- You don’t feel like yourself unless you’re engaging in the behavior.
- You are neglecting other responsibilities to engage in your behavior.
- You’re lying to your friends and family about your behavior.
- You feel embarrassed or ashamed of your actions.
- You want to change your behavior, but you feel powerless.
- You have tried to change your behavior but haven’t been successful.
Consequences of a Substitute Addiction
At first glance, a substitute addiction may seem to be harmless. After all, there’s no risk of a fatal overdose when you’re addicted to work or exercise.
However, substitute addictions can still have serious impacts on a person’s life that are similar to what happens when they abuse drugs and alcohol. For example:
- Just as substance abuse increases a person’s risk of accidental injury, someone with an exercise addiction may suffer injuries from training too hard or pushing their body to continue exercising while already injured.
- Food addiction can lead to dramatic weight gain, just as an addiction to alcohol often causes a person to struggle with their weight due to the overconsumption of extra calories.
- Shopping addiction or gambling addiction can lead you to spend money to excess or to take on added debt, just as drug and alcohol abuse often leads to financial difficulty.
- Your relationships with friends and family may suffer as a result of your behavior as you become more preoccupied with your addiction.
Substitute addictions are treated with cognitive behavioral therapy. Your care provider may also recommend medications to treat any co-occurring mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD.
At Mountain Laurel Recovery Center, we understand that the process of building a life free from the burden of addictive substances is full of challenges. We’ll work with you to create a customized treatment program that promotes the use of healthy coping mechanisms to reduce the risk of a substitute addiction. Contact our admissions representatives to learn more about the programs available at our Pennsylvania residential addiction treatment center.