Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Substitute Addictions: Warning Signs

The holidays are a stressful time for many.  The excess of the season offers great temptations to overindulge, from our spending to our consumption of food and drink.  It is a good time to take note of the risk we face as women in recovery, that of developing a substitute addiction.  We can find ourselves becoming compulsive in everything from our consumption of caffeine, our internet use, eating, shopping, all the way through gambling, sex, working and even the use of other legal and illegal drugs.

We sometimes say, "It is fine for me to do x, as long as it keeps me sober."  There is some truth to this statement; there is also, however, danger here.  According to Terence Gorski in Understanding Addictive Disease, "You can be recovering from a chemical addiction and still act compulsively in other areas of your life."  He goes on to say that while these behaviors do not mean you are not in recovery from your primary addiction, "you will encounter problems in your recovery that you would not have if you were abstinent from both drugs and compulsive behavior."  In essence, the presence of a compulsive behavior in sobriety will put you at a higher risk of relapse to chemicals.

Even things that we might consider as good, such as exercise, dieting, and religion or spiritual seeking, may become problematic if done obsessively.  Anything which alters your mood has the potential for addiction.  These "good" addictions are as dangerous as the more obvious ones; more so, in some ways, because of their apparently benign nature.  We have all heard how we can change our mood with thought.  Behavior can also change our mood, and this is because certain behaviors actually alter the chemistry of our brain in a way similar to the effect of drugs and alcohol.  Using these behaviors excessively eventually interferes with the production of certain chemicals in our brain, says Gorski, effectively prolonging the damage done by our use of alcohol or other drugs.

The following checklist is from the above mentioned booklet, and contains warning signs that a substitute addiction may be developing.  If you identify with several of them, perhaps it is time to reassess your sobriety plan and to tweak it to allow you to continue your recovery in a positive, healthy manner.

  1. Abnormal Reaction to Stress: I overreact or feel numb when I experience stress, pain, or problems.
  2. Urge to Self-Medicate: I feel an urge to use a substitute chemical or behavior to escape from or make my pain and stress go away.
  3. Short-Term Gratification: I use this substitute drug or compulsive behavior that makes my pain and problems go away and lets me change how I feel without having to change what I think and do.
  4. Long-Term Pain: I experience pain when I am not using the substitute compulsive behavior or drug.
  5. Obsession: I find it difficult to stop thinking about how good it feels to use the drug or behavior.
  6. Compulsion: I feel an irrational urge or craving to use the substitute drug or behavior even though I know it will hurt me in the long run.
  7. Increased Tolerance: I notice it takes more and more of the drug or the behavior to give me the same amount of relief or pleasure.
  8. Rationalization: I tend to make excuses for the pain and problems caused by the drug or compulsive behavior.
  9. Denial: I find it difficult to think or talk about the problems caused by the drug or behavior even when other people point them out to me.
  10. Other Problems: I begin to have problems (physical, psychological, or social) as a result of using the drug or compulsive behavior.
  11. Loss of Control: I am unable to stop using the drug or compulsive behavior even though I want to do so.
I recommend this book to anyone looking to gain a better understanding of addiction.

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