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Trading One Addiction For Another

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Trading One Addiction For Another
Trading One Addiction For Another

Trading one addiction for another is a common problem amongst alcoholics, or people with substance use disorders. Just when you think getting sober is your biggest hurdle, you find yourself addicted to something new. Smoking, shopping, eating, gambling, and sex are all potential new addictions. The first step in preventing a new addiction is awareness.

Trading Addictions

Early sobriety can be difficult. You’re learning how to live life on life’s terms, without alcohol. You’ve got new feelings that are coming to the surface. Feelings that, up until now, you’ve pushed deep down inside, and covered up with alcohol. Old memories start to surface. Your past hits you in the face like a glove loaded with ball bearings. After feeling like shit for so long, you just want to be happy. So, you turn to sweets because you heard that sugar is a good way to cope with the alcohol cravings.

Next thing you know, you’re turning to sugar more and more often. What used to be the occasional piece of chocolate turns into a few more, until suddenly you’re consuming a bag of Hershey’s miniatures in one sitting. You find yourself craving that chocolate more frequently. You can’t get through the day without that chocolate fix. And then you realize you’ve become addicted to sweets. This is one example of trading addictions.

If left unchecked, the new addiction could lead into a downward spiral. Instead of facing your feelings, or trauma from the past, you fill the void with something else. By filling the void with something else, your chances of relapsing become greater.

Co-occurring Addictions

Co-occurring addictions are another common problem among alcoholics. A co-occurring addiction is an addiction that was already in place when a person first got sober, and is amplified because the original substance (alcohol) was taken away.

A co-occurring addiction can be an addiction to alcohol, and another addiction like shopping, gambling, or smoking. For example, I was addicted to cigarettes and alcohol. When I stopped drinking, I found myself turning to smoking more often. When I was stressed, or uncomfortable, I would smoke more. If I felt like crying, I would smoke. When I felt anxious around new people, I would smoke. Because I was addicted to alcohol and cigarettes at the same time, I had a co-occurring addiction.

Acknowledging The Problem

Acknowledging the problem is the first step to recovering from the new, or co-occurring addiction. How do you know if you have a new or co-occurring addiction? According to, some common signs are:

  • Constantly thinking about your new activity or vice
  • Losing sleep to participate in new activity
  • Trouble at work, school or at home
  • Relationship issues with spouse or loved ones
  • Neglecting self-care and personal hygiene
  • Experiencing stress or anxiety if unable to complete new activity
  • Development of depression or suicidal thoughts

If any of the above signs are developing in your life, you may have traded one addiction for another. If that is the case, acknowledging there is a problem is the first step to overcoming the new addiction, or co-occurring addiction. Overcoming the denial that you have a problem can be painful, but it is a necessary step.

After you acknowledge the fact that you have a new, or co-occurring addiction, you can start taking steps to overcome the addiction. This is where mindfulness comes in handy. Being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions is critical to overcoming an addiction. Recognizing when you start to crave that chocolate, or want to shop till you drop can be crucial to recognizing, and overcoming, a new addiction.

A good example here is when I go to work, and when I come home. My usual routine used to be one cigarette when I would wake up in the morning, one on the way to work, one when I got off, and then I would wait an hour or two to have another after I got home.

As time went on though, my stress level at work rose. As my stress level rose, I would smoke a cigarette when I got off work, and then smoke another as soon as I pulled in the driveway. That habit then escalated to adding an extra cigarette before I went in to work, making my morning cigarette count three, instead of two.

This process went on for years, until recently. I started noticing that my smoking habit picked up steam. By adding in those extra cigarettes in the morning, and afternoon, I was upping my tolerance. By upping my tolerance, I started craving cigarettes more often. Unfortunately, as of today, I am smoking close to a pack a day. Not good. But, I recognize this as a problem. I recognize that my smoking habit has started to affect my health and breathing. It affects my chores at home because I’m too focused on going outside to smoke, instead of focusing on my housework. The difference here is, I now acknowledge that I have a problem, and see that if I don’t take action to correct this problem, I could develop another addiction, which could lead me back to drinking.

Taking Action

The next step, after acknowledging the problem, is taking action. Unfortunately, this step isn’t black and white. There is no right or wrong way to take action. For some people, taking action might mean switching from sweets to fruits and vegetables. For others, taking action might mean seeing a counselor or therapist to work on underlying issues, if the addiction is serious enough.

Whatever action you decide to take, be sure that it is right for you. What works for one person may not work for you. Thankfully there are many forms of help available. There are support groups like Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and other anonymous 12 Step groups. For the more severe addictions that require a more invasive approach there is counseling, regular therapy, and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). Try a few out and see what works best for you.

It All Begins With You

Trading addictions, and co-occurring addictions don’t affect everyone who is recovering from alcoholism, or a substance use disorder. But, if you find yourself trading addictions after you get sober, or find that you have a co-occurring addiction, remember that you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. But, that first step of reaching out for help must begin with you. Step out of the darkness of denial, and into the light of hope. One step at a time. I believe in you.

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