Are You Substituting One Addiction for Another?

Are You Substituting One Addiction for Another?

Updated on April 16th, 2021

Some activities such as excessive exercise, gambling, binge eating, and sex affect the brain’s pleasure center in the same way drugs and alcohol do, making it easy for some individuals in recovery to replace a substance abuse problem with another addiction. If you’re a Eudaimonia sober living resident or you’re currently in recovery from addiction, here’s what you need to know about substituting one addiction for another and why it can be dangerous for your well-being and your recovery.

What Is Cross-Addiction?

Cross-addiction is a term that conveys the idea that a person in recovery can transfer their addiction from one substance to another. The replacement addiction could also take the form of an activity that is typically okay but is otherwise unhealthy in excess. Many individuals in recovery experience this because the activity or thing replacing their drug addiction provides the same sort of “high” they used to get when doing drugs or drinking alcohol. This makes it easier to cope with the loss of that habit.

But what are the dangers of substituting one addiction for another? If you’re a Eudaimonia sober living resident or you’re currently in recovery from addiction, here’s what you need to know about substituting addictions.

What Causes Cross-Addiction?

There are several reasons someone may develop a cross-addiction after recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction.

  • Lack of understanding: A person may not understand the risks of taking certain types of medications or using certain drugs, especially as it pertains to their likelihood of becoming addicted. For example, someone who has struggled with alcohol addiction in the past may be more likely to become addicted to painkillers, especially if they aren’t aware of the risks of taking them regularly.
  • Unresolved mental health issues: If someone is struggling with unresolved anxiety, depression, or other mental health problems, they may be more likely to engage in compulsive behaviors to try to make themselves feel better. This could quickly lead to a cross-addiction.
  • Accidental addiction: Someone may take a prescription painkiller after surgery and decide that they like the way the effects of the drug make them feel. As a result, the person may start misusing them to feel good, which can lead to addiction.

What Are Some Frequently Substituted Addictions?

Anyone may struggle with substituting one addiction for another. Even residents of a sober living home or others who have completed an inpatient rehab program may find themselves replacing their substance abuse with another unhealthy addiction. In many instances, these substitutions may simply begin as hobbies and gradually progress into excessive, unhealthy behaviors. A few common replacement addictions are as follows:

  • Exercise addiction – Regular exercise is a great thing but when it turns into an obsessive behavior, it can become very unhealthy and result in physical injury or negative social, psychological, or interpersonal problems.1
  • Food addiction – Compulsive overeating of foods that are rich in sugar, fat, and salt is fueled by the release of chemicals like dopamine in the brain. These chemicals create an impulsive need to continue eating, which can cause unhealthy weight gain and other physical problems.2
  • Sex/love addiction – Sexual addiction is characterized by compulsive sexual thoughts and acts. Some individuals in recovery may find that the “high” frequent sexual interaction or a romantic relationship provides offers the same mental and emotional escape that drugs and alcohol used to.3
  • Shopping addiction – For some, compulsive shopping and spending is a way to reduce emotional distress or simply experience pleasurable feelings, but it can lead to deceptive behaviors, guilt, and self-isolation.4
  • Gambling addiction – Compulsive gambling is a very destructive behavior that can wreak havoc financially and within interpersonal relationships. This activity also provides some of the same pleasurable feelings as doing drugs so it frequently replaces prior substance abuse.5
  • Nicotine addiction – Many individuals give up drug and alcohol abuse and end up adopting a smoking habit. Nicotine addiction is just as unhealthy as drug and alcohol abuse and negatively affects just about every organ in the body.
  • Work addiction – Some individuals in recovery may end up placing an unhealthy emphasis on their professional success and replacing substance abuse with workaholism. This addiction is characterized by an uncontrollable need to achieve success, escape emotional stress, or reach a certain status.6

What Are the Dangers of Replacing One Addiction With Another?

If you are currently enrolled in a sober living program, you are most likely very focused on your recovery. Unfortunately, even the most dedicated and focused individuals may find themselves substituting one addiction for another without even realizing it.

If you’re concerned about yourself or another sober living roommate, here are a few signs that a person may be replacing one addiction with another unhealthy habit:

  • Feeling depressed or experiencing suicidal thoughts
  • Being unable to think about anything else but shopping/eating/gambling/etc.
  • Having relational problems with friends, family, and co-workers
  • Neglecting important responsibilities
  • Feeling anxious when not engaged in a particular activity (exercising, eating, gambling, etc.)

Common replacements, such as excessive exercise, gambling, overeating, and sex affect the brain’s pleasure center in the same way drugs and alcohol do, which is why it’s so natural for some people to transition from one to the other.7 But replacing one addiction with another essentially just glossing over the main problem.

Although a shopping addiction may not have the same physical effects as methamphetamine abuse, both addictions can result in similar social, interpersonal, and psychological consequences. In order to really treat an addiction, whether it involves an illicit substance or food, you must first uncover the root causes and contributing factors. By addressing the underlying problem, you’re not just treating the symptoms of the addiction, you’re resolving the core of the problem.

How to Prevent Cross-Addiction

Preventing addiction replacement while in recovery at a transitional living home is entirely possible. Eudaimonia Recovery Homes provides a Certified Peer Recovery Program as well as an Intensive Outpatient Program to help clients stay on track and accountable to their sober peers, recovery coach, and program coordinator.

If you find that you tend to replace your drug or alcohol addiction with another activity or substance, there are many ways you can curb that habit and modify your behaviors both now and in the future.

Address the underlying causes of your addiction. Although you should have already done this in your drug and alcohol rehab program, returning to address the root causes of your addiction again will be an ongoing process. Just as recovery is a lifelong journey, you will have to remain vigilant and fight to overcome your personal struggles each and every day.

Become aware of your unhealthy habits and develop strategies to counteract them. Your recovery coach can help you develop self-awareness of harmful habits as well as help you develop coping strategies to maintain your sobriety. In all Eudaimonia transitional living programs, residents are automatically enrolled in our Addiction Monitoring Program, Three Phase Program, and Support Employment Volunteering Program which provide ongoing support and relapse prevention education.

Mentally practice by visualizing yourself making healthy decisions. Enrolling in a sober living program provides you with an excellent opportunity to practice making healthy decisions, as each home is built on a foundation of peer support, guided structure, and accountability. During this time, it’s also helpful to mentally practice making healthy choices by visualizing yourself doing just that.

Recognize the difference between a healthy activity or hobby and an addiction. We all know exercise is a very healthy habit, just as eating is essential for life as well. But the key to living a healthy life in recovery is maintaining a balance. You may not always be able to see when a hobby or activity turns into an unhealthy addiction but a sober living roommate or a recovery coach will be able to recognize this harmful behavior and keep you accountable so you can quickly curb the habit.

What Is the Best Treatment for Cross-Addiction?

If you or a loved one has replaced one addiction with another, an addiction treatment program that uses evidence-based therapy may be an ideal way to curb addictive behaviors and uncover the root of these behaviors. Sometimes it’s also necessary to use medication in conjunction with therapy. An addiction treatment expert will be able to provide an individualized treatment plan that meets your specific needs.

After completing a residential or outpatient rehab program, choosing to stay in treatment will also improve the likelihood that you will stay sober and find healthy ways to cope with triggers and high-risk situations, instead of developing another addiction. IOP and sober living are two types of programs that are designed to help people in recovery adjust to a sober lifestyle and establish a firm foundation in sobriety.

If you’ve recently completed an inpatient rehab program but you need some additional support in your recovery, please don’t hesitate to call our admissions staff. Our sober living programs provide essential support services for individuals in early recovery and our transitional homes offer a safe, structured living environment during the vulnerable first few months of recovery. Contact us today to learn more.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3210598/
  2. http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/binge-eating-disorder/mental-health-food-addiction#1
  3. https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-sexual-addiction/
  4. http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/features/shopping-spree-addiction#2
  5. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/addictions/gambling-addiction-and-problem-gambling.htm
  6. http://www.healthline.com/health/addiction/work#overview1
  7. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2012/01/breaking-bad-habits
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