Why Substituting Addictions Can Doom Your Recovery

Substituting addictions – you see it all the time; gatherings of smokers outside the AA meeting door, boy meets girl on AA campus, maxed out credit cards, a rapid 20 lb weight gain. People seeking to quit an addiction typically lean on other vices to help them cope with their new sobriety.

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It’s even encouraged: the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous recommends stocking up on sweets to curb the alcohol cravings; some doctors might encourage a patient to quell restlessness with “safe” distractions such as shopping,Why Substituting Addictions Can Doom Your Recovery Articles TV or exercise; addiction counselors generally concur it’s better to gain a few pounds than relapse with drugs, alcohol or anorexia, so they sanction the late night Haagen-Dazs binge. Then there are those who, post-treatment, indulge in workaholism and hyper-activity in an attempt to avoid their feelings. (This, of course, only increases stress, which can tip a person closer into the dangerous territory of relapse.)

Sadly, most addicts are satisfied with only stopping their primary addiction while other destructive habits remain unaddressed. Some may even rationalize that no one ever died or was incarcerated for indulging in sugar, caffeine, and cigarettes, so a little latitude should be in order.

No, they may not result in incarceration or job loss, but at what point can these indulgences inhibit true recovery and even be the first step in relapse of one’s main addiction?

People seek recovery in order to stop their addiction and live a new, clean life. Yet if they’re still practicing other addictions, how sober are they? When they still distort their reality with alternate addictions, how much peace of mind can they attain?

As president of The Nelson Center for Emotional Healing I see this all the time. Clients come to us with a laundry list of destructive habits that are making their lives unmanageable. Women, for example, after stopping drinking, will revert to their original addiction to food and practice bulimia or binge-eating for relief. Men and women will seek comfort and escape in sex addiction when they don’t have other addictions to fill the void they feel. We help them face the root cause of their addictions so they can finally get off the addiction merry-go-round and no longer have to escape with any addiction.

Substituting addictions impedes recovery and even causes relapse in two ways: First, if we are using any addiction, obsession or compulsion, it’s on account of a conscious or unconscious desire to cover up pain. If we avoid emotional pain long enough with other addictions and behaviors, that pain may require stronger painkillers and drive us back to our original “drug of choice”.

Second, when we use anything to avoid our feelings, our ability to cope with those feelings diminishes; using substances or unhealthy activities as coping tools precludes us from depending on our new tools of recovery. So when larger issues and troubles come our way, we don’t have the strength or maturity to deal with them. Once again, we turn to our old addictions for a quick fix.

So how does a person break free from all the addictions and unhealthy behaviors instead of “switching deck chairs on the Titanic”?

Instead of rationalizing these “other addictions”, why not treat them as broken coping tools that beg to be replaced with more effective ones, such as writing, meditation, self-expression and connection with others going through similar experiences?

Drawing attention to our lesser addictions and “bad habits”, when appropriate, and at the appropriate time, can help uncover deeper wounds that require healing. Deeper healing ultimately means a greater experience of freedom.

If your channels are blocked, why not explore what habits might be contributing to this block, and see that there is more clearing and subsequent freedom awaiting you? “Happy, joyous and free” is a promise of recovery, but only when addictions are no longer blocking our experience of these gifts.

Subtle Addictions

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Title: Subtle Addictions
Author: Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
E-mail: mailto:[email protected]
Copyright: © 2003 by Margaret Paul
Web Address: http://www.innerbonding.com
Word Count: 642
Category: Personal Growth, Addictions

SUBTLE ADDICTIONS
By Margaret Paul, Ph.D.

Many people are aware of the fact that addictions are used to avoid pain, and most of us are aware of the common addictions: food, alcohol, drugs, gambling, TV, spending, work, sex, rage and so on. Most people, however, are not aware of the more subtle addictions, the addictions that are often so covert and pervasive that they are as invisible to us as the air we breathe. Yet these addictions may be impacting us negatively as much as the more overt addictions.

Take Sam, for example. Sam is the kind of person who ends up doing everything, both at home and at work. Sam works much harder in his retail business than either of his two partners, and often feels overwhelmed by the amount of work he has to do. On weekends, he ends up doing a lot of work around the house, even though he has two strong teenagers who could be helping out. Even when others offer to help, Sam turns them down. Sam is devoted to being a “nice guy” and caretaking others – doing for others what they need to be doing for themselves. On a deeper level, he is always trying to control how others’ perceive him. He wants them to see him as a caring person and often feel victimized when others do not give him the approval he seeks. Then, when others react to his attempts to control how they feel about him with irritation or withdrawal, Sam is angry that they are not approving of him. When he is really upset, he will get drunk. He will often obsessively ruminate about how unjust his wife is or his partners are. If his wife wants to explore their problems, Sam goes into defending, explaining and resisting, stating that she is just trying to control him. When nothing else works, Sam will withdraw.

There are many addictions going on here. The more overt ones are work, anger and drinking. Sam is also addicted to approval, to controlling how others see him through caretaking, to being a victim and blaming others for his misery, to obsessive thinking (ruminating), to defending, explaining, resisting, and withdrawing. All of these addictions serve the same purpose as the more overt addictions. They are all attempts to have control over getting love/approval and avoiding pain.

You might want to honestly look inside and see what some of your covert addictions are. Are you addicted to blaming others for your unhappy feelings? Do you use anger or tears to attempt to make others responsible for you? Are you addicted to illness as a way to avoid personal responsibility for yourself? Do you constantly give yourself up in an attempt to control how others feel about you? Are you more focused on trying to control others feelings about you than you are in taking loving care of yourself? How much of your thinking time is spent in daydreaming about what you want to say to others or how you wish life was instead of actually taking loving action for yourself? Do you get obsessive in your thinking about what you will say or do in a particular situation? How often do you explain and defend yourself rather than open to learning? How often do you get angry or withdraw to avoid dealing with yourself? How much time do you spend analyzing and figuring out yourself and others as a way to have control?

Any behavior other than taking loving, responsible care of yourself and being open to learning with yourself and others is addictive. All addictive behaviors are attempts to control rather than learn. Our intent to control or to learn actually governs all our behavior, and is the basis of the powerful Inner Bonding process that gradu