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Avoid Substituting Addictions to Maintain Abstinence

Compulsive Behavior Is Not Beneficial to Recovery

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Updated February 11, 2014

It is easy for alcoholics and addicts new to recovery to substitute one addiction for another, becoming compulsively involved in other activities. Although those activities, such as work or exercise, may be otherwise healthy and productive, they can hamper recovery if they become a transfer of addictions.

One goal of recovery and learning to live a sober lifestyle is to regain control over your life and your choices. Compulsive behavior, even with productive activities, does not allow you to exercise free choice and is not within your control. Being out of control in any area of your life does not lead to true sobriety in the long run.

Common Compulsive Behaviors

One common compulsive activity for people new to recovery is "workaholism" -- becoming compulsive about your work, career or job search. Working and improving your financial situation are noble goals, but working more than full time or spending most of your time thinking or talking about work can become compulsive behavior.

The same is true with exercise. While exercise and becoming healthier are beneficial to people in recovery, research shows that your long-term sobriety can be hampered if your exercise program becomes compulsive and a substitute for your former addictive behaviors.

Unhealthy Compulsive Behaviors

Of course, it is also common for alcoholics and addicts in recovery to substitute addictions that are not productive or healthy. For example, one of the more popular substitutions is for alcoholics to begin smoking marijuana, which is known as marijuana maintenance.

Addicts who were strung out on heroin or methamphetamine will also substitute marijuana, using the argument that it is not nearly as harmful. There are many other behaviors that can become compulsive -- gambling, sex, video games, shopping -- that are neither healthy nor productive for someone trying to maintain a sober lifestyle.

If you are in follow-up care in your professional rehab program, your counselor will point out the dangers of these choices, because they can easily lead to a relapse and are counter-productive to your long-term recovery.

Finding a Balance

Your continuing care treatment counselor will ask you about your activities in recovery and try to determine if you are becoming compulsive with any of your behaviors. This is a topic discussed by most counselors because substituting addictions is such a common occurrence.

You will be encouraged to make recovery-related activities a top priority of the structure of your daily schedule. Your counselor will remind you of the importance of meeting your personal needs and the benefit of relaxation and leisure activities.

The key to long-term, healthy recovery is to find a balance in your life by working, relaxing, eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep while avoiding overscheduling and overworking.

An Exception to the Rule

There is one area that you may become compulsive about that your counselor will not discourage -- getting involved in your 12-step or support group program. It is also fairly common for people new to recovery to become compulsive about participating in their support groups, sometimes to the point of attending several meetings a day.

Although this recovery behavior can indeed become compulsive to the point that you develop a dependency on your group, those issues will be addressed by your counselor at a later point in your recovery. In the early months of your rehab, your counselor will probably encourage your active participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous and/or other mutual support groups.

The Third Stage of Rehab: Maintaining Abstinence

Sources:

National Institute on Drug Abuse. "An Individual Drug Counseling Approach to Treat Cocaine Addiction: The Collaborative Cocaine Treatment Study Model." Accessed May 2009.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research Based Guide." Revised 2007.

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