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The Dangers of Substitute Addiction

The Dangers of Substitute Addiction Resurgence Behavioral Health

What is Substitute Addiction?

Addiction takes many forms and goes far beyond alcohol and drug addiction. When you embark on a life in addiction recovery, it is important that you take the time to address and heal from the underlying causes of your drugs and alcohol addiction as it is easy to form secondary or substitute addictions if your root causes of addiction go unresolved. While many places an emphasis on overcoming their alcohol or drug addiction as that is the main presenting concern, if you do not address what is at the core of your addiction, you can easily turn to other mood-altering substances, behaviors, or activities to reach the same desired outcome of escape and numbing your emotions. 

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No matter what your age, ethnicity, gender, or socio-economic status is, substitute addiction can occur within anyone who is susceptible to addictive behaviors due to unresolved emotions, traumas, and memories that have impacted your ability to manage unpleasant emotions, thoughts, or situations. Similar to drug and alcohol addiction, there are certain risk factors for developing a substitute addiction. For individuals that are prone to impulsive behaviors, sensation seeking, or non-conforming, these factors can increase their chances of developing a substitute addiction. Studies have shown that individuals living with a co-occurring disorder including a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression are at higher risk for incurring a substitute addiction. 

There is hope to overcome our substitute addiction through effective evidence-based therapies that include behavioral therapy, dual diagnosis treatment, and holistic therapy methods. Through these comprehensive approaches to treatment, patients are able to identify problematic behaviors and responses to stressors and triggers that have contributed to their substitute addictive behaviors. Resurgence Behavioral Health provides patients with unique, personalized treatment plans that will address their specific needs, behaviors, and overarching goals for sobriety and a balanced lifestyle. 

Substitute Addictions For People in Recovery

Substitute addictions, otherwise known as process addictions,  are common among individuals who have experienced substance use disorders and are wanting to end their use of drugs and alcohol. As you move away from substance abuse, many will turn to other dependencies towards any habit-forming behavior or mood-altering substance. Most people will exhibit some forms of unhealthy dependence or choices, for those individuals that have a history of alcohol or drug addiction, develop a stronger urge to continue engaging in these unhealthy behaviors even when these actions begin to cause disruptions and problems within their lives. 

People in recovery often turn to the following substitute addictions:


For many people, food provides a sense of comfort and home. When you are experiencing emotional strife and unpleasant thoughts, attempting to find something that helps to alleviate the burden of emotions is normal. However, engaging in binge eating behaviors on unhealthy foods such as junk food, fast food, or overeating can create significant physical side effects that impact your ability to function throughout the day including weight gain, low nutritional value causing deficiencies, and low energy levels. Binge eating or unhealthy eating patterns have also been shown to negatively impact a person’s mental health as your energy and physical appearance change so do your self-esteem and perception. These factors can significantly impact your ability to stay focused on your alcohol or drug addiction recovery program. 


Many Americans turn to caffeinated beverages to help peak their energy for the day and keep them focused on the task at hand. However, large amounts of caffeine can impact a person’s levels of anxiety, worry, or nervousness which can be worrisome and triggering to those that are going through a drug and alcohol withdrawal.


Shifting your addictive behaviors to compulsive shopping habits provides individuals with a quick thrill similar to what you would have when using alcohol or drugs. While shopping will not impact your physical health, there is a risk of emotional or mental obsessions occurring as well as financial difficulties. 


The thrill of a potential win or winning a monetary or specific prize can easily hook someone to continue to push the limits to keep gambling with the hopes of obtaining a new win. This desperate cycle of gambling can be damaging to a person’s mental health and financial stability. 


Engaging in sexual activity provides individuals with a rush of natural endorphins that creates a similar euphoric feeling that drugs or alcohol produces. If you have a sex addiction, you will be seeking that same rush through unsafe sexual habits and activities. 

Video Games

Millions of Americans are beginning to experience the negative side effects of a  video game addiction. Shifting your substance use disorder to focus on video games puts you at risk of becoming socially isolated from others leading to a domino effect where your addiction recovery aftercare plans are no longer being met.


Shifting your focus to your work and excelling in your performance is not always a cause for concern. But when you become addicted to work, your focus will become solely on your employment causing you to work long hours, and avoid engaging in relationships with your loved ones and taking care of yourself. 


A healthy, balanced life in recovery will incorporate some form of physical activity. However, when you begin to overdo it and excessively exercise, it has the potential of causing physical harm as well as contributing to negative body image or eating disorder behaviors. 

Signs of Substitute Addiction

Each person’s story with addiction is unique to them and will occur for their own set of underlying causes. With that said, there are some common signs that individuals will exhibit that often mirror similar signs of alcohol and drug addiction. Individuals that are living with a substitute addiction often show these signs indicating a substitute addiction: 

  • Attempting to quit or cut back on your substitute behavior but experiencing failed attempts 
  • Feeling high levels of shame and embarrassment when you reflect on your behaviors 
  • Lying or attempting to hide your behavior from loved ones 
  • Engaging in high-risk behavior including criminal activity or dangerous activities in an effort to support your substitute behavior 
  • Avoiding personal self-care or activities that bring you joy such as engaging with loved ones, taking the time to have proper hygiene, and emotional self-care in an effort to support your behavior. 
  • Experiencing financial difficulties and health concerns due to your addictive behaviors 

Causes of Substitute Addiction

Substitute addiction derives from similar causes of addiction and abuse of drugs and alcohol. Common causes for substitute addiction are:

  • Past history of trauma or living with a co-occurring disorder of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Living with a dual diagnosis with a mental health disorder and addiction. 
  • Environmental factors include peer pressure from others or exposure to addictive behaviors. 
  • Family history of addiction and substitute addiction 
  • Early exposure to addictive behaviors including drugs and alcohol 
  • Lack of family involvement or strong social connection causes feelings of isolation. As you disconnect with others, engaging in high-risk addictive behaviors can often feel like a way to connect with others 

Is Substitute Addiction Treatable?

Similar to drug and alcohol addiction, substitute addiction can be treated as long as the patient is ready and willing to address the underlying causes of the addictive behaviors. With the support of expert counselors who use evidence-based methods of cognitive-behavioral therapy to gain perspective on how your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors contribute to and impact your addictive behaviors. As you establish your triggers that impact your negative response, you will be able to develop positive coping mechanisms for the future that will help you overcome temptations and stay true to your goals of physical and emotional sobriety. 

Finding Support For Addiction Replacement

To address addiction replacement there is support within an addiction treatment center either through an inpatient rehab program or choosing an outpatient rehab method. Either method of the rehab program will provide. Patients with access to individual therapy sessions and group therapeutic processes that offer guidance and support to heal from the deep-rooted emotions and behaviors that have impacted your addictive behaviors. After completing your addiction treatment program, it is highly suggested that patients continue with aftercare treatment processes that provide continuous support as you navigate  your way through life emotionally and physically sober. 

Getting Help for Substitute Addiction at Resurgence

At Resurgence Behavioral Health, our compassionate team is highly trained and educated in methods of treating both alcohol and drug addiction and common substitute addictions or behavioral addictions. We value the unique set of needs and stories that every patient has and work hard to provide a comprehensive treatment plan that incorporates varying levels of care to promote emotional and personal growth including art therapy, behavioral therapy, holistic treatments, and the development of tools for relapse prevention and effective emotional regulation. Our team provides each patient with a whole-person integrated approach to healing that will empower each patient to develop a healthy life foundation in addiction recovery and happiness. Contact Resurgence today to find out more about substitute addictions and the individualized treatment program that can be formulated for you and your healing needs.

Addiction Treatment that
Just Works

Individualized treatment programs delivered in a comfortable, relaxed setting promote healing in your recovery journey.

Alexa Iocco

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