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Addiction Replacement: How to Spot and Stop It

When addicts attempt to recover from addiction, they may find themselves substituting their former addiction with another in an effort to stay sober or to lessen the stress of treatment. Sometimes, the addiction replacement is obvious, but other times, the patients are not aware of the substitution.

This is especially the case when the substituted behaviour seems like a positive activity, like exercising, for example. Even if exercising is a healthy activity, compulsive exercising can lead to injury and health problems. It can also disrupt the individual’s daily life as it increasingly interferes with normal functioning, just like any form of addiction.

The Beginnings of Addiction Replacement

Addiction replacement happens when the recovering addict attempts to stop an addiction without addressing the underlying condition that makes them vulnerable to addiction.

It is helpful to understand that addiction replacement is motivated by the individual’s intentional or unintentional attempt to get a similar “high” or pleasure from activities or substances that make them feel as good as their previous addiction, all while trying to survive their journey to recovery.

These activities or things stimulate the pleasure centre of the brain, which encourages the recovering addict to repeat the behaviour. As the addict pursues the new pleasurable activity or substance, the brain experiences an overabundance of dopamine, and tries to control the situation by producing less.

A frustrated person undergoing stress.

As the brain produces less dopamine, the body crashes, and the recovering addict experiences fatigue, mood swings and other symptoms. In order to feel better again, the addict will need to repeat or increase the frequency of the new behaviour, which develops into a new addiction. 

This is why, although essential, abstinence alone does not work.

Abstinence does help prevent further physical and psychological trauma, but it might not heal all the pains and injuries the person has already suffered. Without proper support, a recovering addict might get trapped in an addiction loop, never really recovering and only getting addicted to different things at a time.

In order to actually recover, an addict must undergo the required lifestyle change. This includes abstinence, substance detoxification (in the case of substance abuse), adopting healthy coping mechanisms, learning how to identify and avoid potential triggers, and getting medical treatment for any internal issues.

Recognizing Addiction Replacement Behaviours When They Happen

Being self-aware helps a recovering addict recognize when an addiction replacement behaviour is starting or has already started. While triggers can be different, the typical warning signs of addiction and addiction replacement are:

  • Mood swings
  • Changes in attitude (e.g., obsessing over something, like food, work or a particular substance)
  • Being reckless (e.g., driving under the influence, having unprotected sex)
  • Neglecting or abandoning responsibilities (e.g., missing school , leaving kids unattended)
  • Changes in appetite and sleeping patterns e.g., (insomnia or too much sleep, unusual cravings)
  • Paranoia or anxiety
  • Decreased coordination and mental sharpness (in cases of substance abuse)
  • Lying or denying to justify unacceptable behaviour, or to prevent confrontation or shaming
  • Intense urges to repeat the activity or retake the substance
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop substance use or activity

Friends and loved ones must take extra effort to note these signs when they appear to help the recovering addict maintain sobriety and refrain from encouraging new addictive behaviours.

It is likewise important to note common activities or substances involved in addiction replacement. These are:

  • Increased use of cigarettes or tobacco
  • Overworking
  • Overeating or binge eating
  • Gambling or excessive gaming
  • Compulsive exercising
  • Obsession with sex or pornography
  • Misuse of pain relievers 
  • Abusing sleeping pills
  • Misuse of prescription medications
  • Excessive shopping
  • Codependency

a man over exercising to the point of exhaustion

A recovering addict is prone to addictive patterns. It is recommended that, in addition to treating underlying compulsive behaviours, the exposure to the above substances or activities be limited or monitored to prevent a potential addiction replacement.

What to Do When It Happens

When addiction replacement is suspected, it is important to call your physician right away to prevent a potential relapse and avoid multiple addictions.

Attempting to treat it on your own can be dangerous for you and for others, so it is best to do it under the care of a medical professional. With medical supervision, you or your loved one can safely undergo detoxification and therapy, and increase your chances of survival from withdrawal and full recovery.

Freedom From Addiction specializes in treating different kinds of addiction and can safely guide you through the transition. Our programs are designed not only to treat existing addictions but also to maintain sobriety through trauma-informed care.

Don’t let an addiction replacement throw you off track. Call us today or leave a message and we’ll help preserve the efforts and accomplishments you and your loved ones have already made in battling addiction.


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