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07-03 The danger in replacing one addiction with another

The danger in replacing one addiction with another
Addictions are complicated. Naturally, individuals with addictive personalities are more prone to struggling with addiction. Approximately 10 to 15 percent of the population is believed to have addictive personalities. During or after treatment, it is common for these individuals to replace the addiction for which they are in recovery with another. This is especially true for young adults who might not be armed with the healthy coping skills to navigate their way through adolescence. Any behavior, even those which are generally considered healthy, can be destructive when turned into an obsession or addiction.

When struggling with addiction, those with substance abuse problems typically hit rock bottom before seeking professional help. While in recovery, individuals often subconsciously feel the need to fill the void left by their addiction with an alternate fix. This is why it is common to develop a replacement addiction. An essential part of the recovery process is the individual understanding addiction and what led him or her to turn to negative behaviors in an effort to avoid recreating the past with a new but equally destructive addiction.

Even with this understanding of an individual’s actions, those with addictive personalities can rationalize any behavioral addiction. This is why many turn to seemingly “healthy” behaviors for their replacement addictions. For instance, many individuals with a history of substance abuse become workaholics once in recovery. They overwork to escape the same triggers and underlying issues that first led to substance abuse. This might not seem like a problem, but it becomes one when it negatively affects an individual’s relationships, academic life, work and/or health.

Otherwise healthy behaviors become addictions when there is a lack of balance or moderation. Beverly Rapp, a LMFT in Oklahoma City states, “Once a person is addicted to a substance or behavior, they are vulnerable to other substances and behaviors. The person may believe they have corrected their addictive behavior while they have replaced it with another unhealthy behavior.” These often begin innocently and without the knowledge of the individual, but can easily snowball into self-destruction.

For example, many recovering addicts turn to exercise to aid their recovery process. They use exercise as a coping mechanism instead of turning to drugs and alcohol. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states, “Understanding the biology of how we develop routines that may be harmful to us, and how to break those routines and embrace new ones, could help us change our lifestyles and adopt healthier behaviors.” It is true that exercise has proven to be beneficial to many recovering addicts. However, the key is in understanding that any routine can be harmful if it turns into an obsession. While exercise is an immeasurably healthier coping mechanism in moderation than substance abuse, it can become equally destructive if it develops into compulsive over-exercise and/or an alternative eating disorder.

Replacement addictions are common among all individuals who struggle with addictive personalities, but especially so among teens concurrently struggling with mental health disorders. Addiction and mental health disorders are closely linked, as many turn to substances or compulsive behaviors to reduce the symptoms of their disorders, including anxiety or depression. Their symptoms are exacerbated in the long-run, resulting in a dangerous cycle in which they turn to the substance or behavior continuously for temporary relief. Unless strong coping skills are developed in treatment and even if they are, teens are at high risk for addiction swapping.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction or is in recovery and exhibiting signs of another developing addiction, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in treating adolescents and teenagers struggling with substance abuse and mental health disorders. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

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