Man in museumCertain personality traits have been proven to be associated with the development of substance use disorders. Exposure to trauma and a lack of a strong support system can also contribute to the development of unhealthy coping mechanisms. In some cases, this can include the development of substitute addictions after completing a drug or alcohol rehab program.

About Substitute Addictions

Substitute addictions are behavioral addictions that are used to replace the void left by no longer abusing drugs or alcohol. They may seem to be harmless coping mechanisms at first glance but can cause many of the same negative consequences as substance abuse.

Just as substance abuse affects people from all demographic groups, anyone can develop a substitute addiction after leaving rehab. However, individuals with co-occurring mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression may be slightly more vulnerable to the development of substitute addictions.

Common substitute addictions include:

  • Food addiction: Food addictions are very common in the early stages of recovery. This typically involves binging on sweets or fast food but can include any form of overeating. Food addiction can lead to weight gain, nutritional deficiencies, and a general feeling of low energy or sluggishness.
  • Shopping addiction: Someone with a shopping addiction compulsively purchases items they do not need or want. They may cause harm to their finances, run out of storage space in their home, or hide their purchases from others out of shame or embarrassment.
  • Gambling addiction: Scratch tickets, online casinos, or sports betting offer instant thrills, especially when you win a prize. However, for someone with addictive personality traits, gambling can quickly become an obsession that leads to significant financial troubles.
  • Work addiction: Being devoted to your career is admirable, but not at the expense of maintaining relationships with loved ones. Work addiction can also cause problems if you’re not sleeping, eating, and engaging in appropriate self-care activities to promote recovery from substance abuse.

Video game addiction, social media addiction, or exercise addiction may also be considered types of substitute addictions for people in recovery. Any activity done to excess has the potential to cause mental distress and negative consequences.

Signs of a Substitute Addiction

The signs of a substitute addiction are quite similar to those of an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Your behavior may be considered a substitute addiction if you agree with the following statements:

  • You feel embarrassed, guilty, or ashamed by your behavior.
  • You lie to friends and family about your activities.
  • You’ve experienced negative consequences, such as health problems or financial difficulty, due to your behavior but feel powerless to stop.
  • You find yourself neglecting other areas of your life to engage in the desired behavior.
  • You’ve engaged in illegal or unethical actions, such as stealing, to support your behavior.
  • You have tried to cut back or change your behavior patterns without success.

A Note About Medication Assisted Treatment

Medication assisted treatment refers to the practice of using prescription medications to manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce the urge to use an addictive substance. MAT is often associated with opioid use disorders but can be recommended for people in treatment for alcohol addiction as well.

A common misconception about MAT is that it promotes the development of a substitute addiction. It’s understandable to be nervous about prescription medication if you developed an accidental addiction to opioids, but MAT is closely monitored. You can’t get “high” from any of the medications being used and counseling is provided as part of the care plan. The goal is to use MAT as a stepping stone to recovery.

A substance use disorder is a biologically-based disease that affects the brain. If your care provider believes you are a good candidate for MAT, this is no different than taking medication to treat a chronic illness such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

Promoting a Lasting Recovery

True recovery involves more than just abstaining from drugs or alcohol. Achieving wellness means breaking negative behavior patterns and building a lifestyle that promotes total body healing. This includes:

  • Learning how to express your emotions
  • Finding healthy ways to cope with stress
  • Building strong relationships with others
  • Engaging in self-care activities as needed

If you are worried that your behavior patterns suggest the development of a substitute addiction, this is a sign that your continuing care plan should be reevaluated. Behavioral addictions can cause significant distress, so your concerns shouldn’t be swept under the rug. Prompt treatment can help you get back on track with your sobriety.

St. Joseph Institute offers a full continuum of care for individuals with substance use disorders, including access to ongoing support to help you address any obstacles you may encounter in your first year of recovery.

By Dana Hinders

To learn more about our programs, please visit our website.

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