Overcoming an addiction to drugs or alcohol is difficult. Some people may try many times before succeeding. Some substance abusers find themselves substituting one addiction for another addiction in the process. A heroin user turns to alcohol. An alcoholic becomes an exercise-junkie. A methamphetamine addict becomes an over-eater. For friends and family, this can be traumatic, depressing and confusing. For the addict, they may not realize the severity of their substitution or even that it is occurring.
A substitute addiction is defined as the substitution of one addiction for another. Technically speaking, it is not the substance that is the problem in this situation, it is the behavior and actions of the recovering addict. It is apparent when a substitution addiction occurs that the cause, triggers or trauma that all contributed to the original substance abuse problem have not been resolved and the addict needs to fill the void that was left by overcoming their addiction.
Substitute addictions may occur for a number of reasons. The person who has undergone treatment and therapy for their substance abuse problem may come out of formal treatment before they are ready to face the real world. The anxieties and stresses that triggered their original problem are still an issue, but the person has learnt to avoid high-risk situations where they may use their drug of choice again. They know that they cannot go to a bar or be around other drug users. They don’t want to use, but the build of anxiety, depression, fear and cravings push a person to the edge. They may believe that they need something to release the pressure. Some ex-users find themselves binging on food, fighting the desire to push their body to the limit. They will feel the same emotional responses as they did to their other substances – euphoria, rush, comfort, fear, regret and guilt. These emotional responses are comforting and familiar to the recovering addict, and they will subconsciously seek them out again and again.
Many heroin and cocaine users will increase their smoking habits and may begin to use marijuana as a way to calm them during their withdrawals. Marijuana can alleviate some of the anxieties that people experience when undergoing a significant reduction in the use of other substances. But without medical supervision, marijuana can simply become another addiction that a person has. They will begin to use and be obsessed with the substance. They may believe that they have control of the use of the drug, but in most cases, they do not. It is simply being used like another drug to deal with the problems that have caused the addiction issue in the first place.
Prescription medication is another high-risk substitution addiction that can occur. Some people may be prescribed pain killers, sedatives or anti-anxiety medication to assist with their recovery. But because some of these drugs have addictive and abuse potential, the recovering addict can use these drugs for non-medical purposes. They may begin to take more of the drugs to get high while they are pretending to themselves and those around them that they are only taking them to reduce the symptoms of pain, insomnia or anxiety.
Relationships with friends, family members, partners and even work mates can become a problem when someone is substituting their addiction. A codependent relationship can cause significant problems in the future. If a person had an addiction and their partner played the role of an enabler, there can be major problems in the future if there is not a change in the relationship. A wife who covers up her husband’s drinking problem will enable him to abuse other drugs without seeing that there is a problem. A son who has had a drug problem may pressure his father to fuel excessive drinking. Getting involved in family therapy or relationship counseling can help to alleviate the risk of falling into another addiction with all the associated problems.
Work can also be a problem for some recovering addicts. In the face of owning up to their past negative behaviors and actions, they may find themselves becoming a workaholic. A workaholic is someone who obsessively works and becomes totally engrossed in meeting work targets. The behavior becomes negative when work begins to affect a person’s family and social life, and they will use work as an excuse to not be involved in normal activities or attend events. The reality of a workaholic is that it is someone who is simply trying to escape responsibilities. They are using work to fuel their need to ignore what is really going on in their life and to fill the void that the addiction to a substance has left. This behavior is negative and damaging and a sign of someone not being in control of their emotional state.
Recognizing that there is a substitute addiction problem occurring can be a challenge for friends and family and especially for the recovering addict. People close to the person may think that using one substance is better than another. For example, they might believe that it is ok for an ex-heroin addict to drink heavily, or for an ex-alcoholic to use marijuana. But the core issues at the center of the addiction are still there causing problems. The reasons that a person needs to use drugs or alcohol have not be resolved and may cause a person to spiral out of control into another addiction. The behavior associated with the drug or alcohol abuse is damaging and manipulative and will cause harm to the addict and those around them.
Most people can take steps to identify that they are losing control and falling into another addiction. By taking time to sit and think about their behavior, an addict can see that they need help. Because the recovering addict has gone through treatment they can use the tools that they have learnt to help them rid themselves of the new addiction.
In most cases, a substitute addiction can be as serious as the original addiction so medical detoxification, therapy and medication may be required to treat the addiction. Cognitive behavior therapy and psychotherapy may not have been used in the original treatment plan for the substance abuser. However, these treatments can significantly improve the future of a recovering addict.
Cognitive behavior therapy has two key elements that are beneficial for recovering substance abusers: functional analysis and skills training. Functional analysis is where the thoughts, feelings and situation of the individual are analyzed. This is a process in which both therapist and patient work closely together to identify the reasons for the patient’s behavior. It can help give the individual an insight into the nature and cause of their problems, and also identify the situations that give rise to the patient’s negative behaviors, such as substitute addiction. The second element of skills training is all about unlearning old habits and learning new coping skills. The idea is to get the individual to discover new ways of reflecting on, and coping with, those situations that led to their addiction.
Psychotherapy is an effective treatment for substance abuse and may offer especially good recovery rates for those who have been substituting their addiction. Psychotherapy delves into the reasons that a person abuses substances and why they wish to cause themselves harm. Psychotherapy aims to get to the root cause of problems and anxieties and resolve them in the most comprehensive manner. It is believed that certain illnesses or behaviors are manifestations of unresolved problems which may have begun early in life and will continue to cause problems unless they are dealt with. Therapy sessions include discussions about dreams and fantasies, which are analyzed with the client. Many clients state that the action of talking is therapeutic in and of itself, and they feel a sense of relief after sessions.
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