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Switching One Addiction for Another

Are you happy about how things are going on your road to recovery? Hopefully you’re involved in a good residential treatment program and seeing a counselor regularly. If not, you might be in danger of switching one addiction for another.

Addiction is a medical diagnosis. If a person has an addictive personality, he or she stands at risk of simply moving from one addiction to another.

Abusing Other Substances

Some addicts, especially if they are controlling their substance abuse on their own without the help of a professional, will simply start using a different substance. The wine drinker thinks he can just switch to beer. The beer drinker decides he will only smoke pot. And so it goes.

The brain physiology involved in addiction means that a person is addicted not just to one substance but rather to the pleasurable response his brain gets from using it. As his use of alcohol or a drug stimulates production of neurotransmitters like endorphins and dopamine, his brain’s production of those beneficial biochemical stops. He must continue use of that substance in order to achieve that “feel-good” feeling.

People with addictive personalities who are not getting their high from substances will find other ways to set off that pleasure response within the brain. Look for some of these common addictive substitute behaviors:


For many people, gambling is a primary addiction. For others, it becomes the substitute for the addiction they’ve given up. Gambling destroys lives every bit as much as alcohol or drugs. A gambler loves the feeling he gets when he wins, and when he loses he tells himself the next win is right around the corner. He will bet more and more of his money including his monthly bill money and even cashing in his financial assets in order to keep gambling.


Workaholism refers to compulsive work behaviors from someone who has stopped using drugs or alcohol. This person will spend all his time working, and when he’s not working he’ll be talking about working. Even though it’s not illegal, it can destroy his family every bit as much as substance abuse.


In 1968 a group of people from Alcoholics Anonymous began discussing their shared difficulties in managing spending, and they formed Debtors Anonymous. They realized that the act of going into debt was as characteristic of disease as substance abuse, and for many people spending money endlessly is a substitute.

Other Compulsive Behaviors

Some people overeat compulsively once they give up alcohol. There is a biochemical component to this, because people who stop drinking are no longer ingesting the same amount of sugars found in alcohol, and their cravings may lean toward sweets. However, when it extends beyond the occasional stop at the local sundae shop to compulsive overeating, then it needs to be addressed.

Other compulsive behaviors can include increased tobacco use. Most people in recovery are well familiar with the smoky air at a 12-step meeting. It might be wise to look for smoke-free 12-step meetings, which do exist.

Some people become compulsively promiscuous. For some, it may be a response in their changed biochemical climate, but for others compulsive sexual habits become dangerous, especially if multiple partners or prostitutes, pornography, phone sex, or other behaviors develop.

What You Can Do

The best recovery programs offer classes in physical movement such as yoga, exercise, or other types of movement classes. They provide treatment options such as acupuncture, meditation, psychodrama, or other methods and they ensure the best ways to establish resistance to all addictions. Look for a residential treatment program with a well-rounded curriculum for the best management of addictive behavior, for yourself or for your loved one. 

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