Avoid Substituting Addictions to Maintain Abstinence

Swapping one addiction for another can be a real problem. Avoiding compulsive behaviours is key to ongoing success.

Avoid Substituting Addictions to Maintain Abstinence

People who are in recovery from an alcohol or substance use disorder may sometimes substitute one addiction for another. This may sometimes involve becoming compulsively involved in other activities. Activities like work or exercise can be healthy and productive, but if they become a transfer of addictions they may hamper recovery.

One goal of recovery and learning to live a sober lifestyle is to regain control over your life and your choices. Compulsive behaviour, even with productive activities, does not allow you to exercise free choice and is not within your control.

Substituting Compulsive Behaviours

One example of a compulsive activity for people new to recovery is "workaholism" - which means becoming compulsive about your work, career, or job search.

Working and improving your financial situation are noble goals, but if you're working more than full time or spending most of your time thinking or talking about work, the behaviour may become compulsive.

The same is true with working out. Exercise can be beneficial to people in recovery, but research shows that long-term sobriety can be hampered if an exercise program becomes compulsive and a substitute for former addictive behaviours.

Unhealthy Compulsive Behaviours

Sometimes people in recovery substitute addictions that are not productive or healthy. For example, a popular substitute is for alcoholics to begin smoking marijuana.

Equally, people who previously used heroin or methamphetamine might substitute marijuana. They may do this because they believe that marijuana is not nearly as harmful.

There are many other behaviours that can become compulsive such as gambling, sex, video games, shopping.

In the past, it was often suggested that people who had recovered from a substance use disorder were at a greater risk of developing another addiction. However, research suggests that people who have recovered from substance use actually have a lower risk of new substance use disorders.

A 2017 study found that both increases and decreases in other substance use during recovery from cannabis use, for example, were very common. The study also found that factors such as treatment involvement and social influences played important roles in discouraging the use of other substances after recovery from cannabis use disorder.

Try to Find a Balance in Your Life

Your coach may ask you about your activities in recovery and try to determine if you are becoming compulsive with any of your behaviours. This is a topic discussed by most coaches because substituting addictions is such a common occurrence.

Sobrly, for example, will always encourage you to make recovery-related activities a top priority of the structure of your daily schedule. We will always try and remind you of the importance of meeting your personal needs and the benefit of relaxation and leisure activities. Yes, we will!

The key to long term recovery is finding a balance in your life by working, relaxing, eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, and avoiding over-scheduling and overworking.

One Exception to the Substitution Rule

One area of compulsive behaviour that your coach likely won't discourage is getting involved with another "recovery community". There are loads of these - both in the UK and abroad - we'll discuss these together, and you may find just the right one for you. It can be AA, but it doesn't have to be.

If you're interested to know about such communities - you might like to get involved with Sobrly!

Ian Henzell

Ian Henzell

Co-Founder and Navigator

Hi, I'm Ian - recovered alcoholic with over 20 years in education, teaching and developing training and learning plans.