There are plenty of moments in life when a substitution is called for.

If you are a teacher and you come down with a cold, a substitute teacher is needed.

If you are a coach and your starters are tired, some substitute players are needed.

If you are watching your weight and the meal comes with fries, a substitute side dish might be the way to go.

And if you are using drugs or alcohol, a substitution of sobriety is a life-changing improvement.

But there are other times when a substitution is not such a great thing. If you are a person who is in recovery from a substance use disorder, for example, a substitute addiction might threaten to get its hooks in you.

What is a Substitute Addiction?

A substitute addiction is exactly what it sounds like—you find yourself trading an addiction to drugs or alcohol for an addiction to something else. You are, thankfully, still sober, but you’ve also developed a new issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. That’s because a substitute addiction can cause many of the same sorts of problems that drugs or alcohol caused in your life—problems that can impact your physical health, your mental well-being, your relationships, your financial situation, and more.

Let’s take a look at some examples of what we mean.

Sober—But Constantly Working Out

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you have no doubt encountered our advice regarding exercise for a person in recovery. In most cases, regular exercise is a good thing. It supports your physical and mental health—both of which underpin your sobriety. Generally speaking, there are very few downsides to exercise.

But for some people, the urge to exercise starts to take on a life of its own. A person with a substitute addiction centered on exercise might find themselves working out for hours and hours each day. They might exercise even when it means ignoring other responsibilities. They might exercise to the point of exhaustion—and beyond—putting themselves at risk for serious injury. They might be tempted to dabble with performance-enhancing drugs, putting their sobriety at risk in service of this substitute addiction.

Sober—But Betting All the Time

Gambling, arguably, is becoming more and more prevalent now that online gambling sites are legal in many places. You can now make all kinds of bets on sports of every variety with a few clicks while sitting on your couch. And, of course, that’s hardly the only way to gamble. You might enjoy buying lottery tickets and dreaming of winning big. Or you might head to a nearby casino with your buddies from time to time. Or you might have a weekly poker game with some pals.

For many people, gambling is simply a way to inject a little excitement into day-to-day life. They never risk money they can’t afford to lose, so it is just a pastime like many others. But gambling is a common type of substitute addiction and the kind of activity a person in recovery from a substance use disorder must be extremely careful about. 

If you find yourself gambling frequently and often alone, losing money you don’t have, or lying about gambling, you may well have developed a substitute addiction—an addiction that can be absolutely ruinous for you and those who depend on you. As things get more dire, you may find yourself tempted to return to drugs or alcohol as an escape from the situation in which you find yourself.

Sober—But Always in the Office

A little ambition at work is, generally speaking, a good thing. And there are plenty of times in many jobs when some extra effort—long hours, a skipped lunch break, etc.—is required to get something important done. Pitching in during those moments is what good coworkers do.

But for some, the rigors of work can become a substitute addiction. You might be working longer hours than anyone else on your team. You might always eat at your desk—or not eat at all. You might be sacrificing your weekends to the job, meaning you don’t get a chance to relax and recharge or to spend time with friends and family. You might even wake up in the middle of the night and grab your phone to check your email. This approach to work inevitably leads to increased stress levels and increases the likelihood that you will experience burnout—which increases your risk of experiencing a relapse.

There is No Substitute for Effective Treatment

At Wooded Glen Recovery Center in Indiana, we offer personalized treatment for substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, or trauma-based conditions. We are also equipped to help you overcome a substitute addiction or to help you restart your recovery journey after a relapse. If you are struggling with drugs, alcohol, or a substitute addiction like those we have considered here, we are ready to help.