5 Substitute Addictions & How To Steer Clear Of Them

A brief look at the common “substitution” addictions that pop up in addiction recovery. Learn what they are and what you can do to prevent them.

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Addiction is Not Going Away

In 2010 a report was released claiming that there were 23.5 million people in America who were at that moment addicted to drugs and alcohol. In 2013, further reports showed that while marijuana use was rising, other drugs remained around the level they had been three years before. What’s the take home? Studies have shown that drug and alcohol use and addiction in the U.S. remain a serious and consistent threat to our society.

When people are diagnosed with an addiction, they often try to break it not by eliminating addictive habits, but by attempting to replace them with other obsessions. Here are five commonly seen addiction substitutes. We briefly describe each and offer a strategy for how to avoid them. Then, we invite your questions in the comments section at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all real life questions with a personal response!


What you eat when you are in recovery is important. Unfortunately, many people will go too far in the wrong direction and begin overeating when they stop using drugs. Additionally, sugar causes surges in dopamine; so do greasy, fatty food. Poor eating habits cause their own health problems, including weight gain.

How To Avoid It: Don’t just stop using, start looking for the source of your emptiness. Note that you are attempting to fill the void with food. Psychotherapy – Talk Therapy – may be a good starting option. Or, seek consultation with a nutritionist.


This type of addiction could also be related to relationships. It is easy to become obsessed with physical release or unhealthy emotional attachments in the wake of an addiction. While sex is a natural part of the human experience, it can become a compulsive behavior.

How To Avoid It: Start looking for patterns in chosen romantic partners or situations. Recognize red flags and triggers, and start focusing on building long lasting, positive relationships that aren’t tied to negative emotions. Work through the 12 Steps and give it at least a year of sobriety before even looking at a sex partner. Continue work with a mentor, a sponsor, or a therapist in order to start attracting healthy relationships before considering sex.


Shopping addiction is all about compulsion. You are compelled to purchase things you don’t actually need, often because you see the price and rationalize the cost. You get a small rush from each purchase, but it can cause serious financial problems.

How To Avoid It: In the same ways you avoid your drug of choice. Start carrying around small amounts of cash, or a prepaid card with limited funds. Avoid triggers, such as shopping when upset. Make lists and stick to them. Go shopping with a responsible buddy who can keep you accountable.


This can mean different things to different people, whether it is gambling addiction, or video game addiction. The point is that you are seeking both the thrill of the challenge, and the escapism it provides. Both can have a serious financial burden, and disconnect you from those you love. Plus, the beeping, buzzing, and blinking are designed to capture your attention…and get you hooked on … losing!

How To Avoid It: Because video gaming and gambling can so easily be done at home, this is a hard one to break. Look into how games are designed to understand the intent behind it – game designers want to get you addicted! It might come down to sheer force of will, but you can also set time limits for yourself…otherwise known as boundaries. In some cases, therapy may be required. For other people, support groups like Gamblers Anonymous, SMART Recovery, or faith-based group meetings can help.

Prescription Drugs

There is a common misconception that if a doctor prescribes a drug, then there is nothing wrong with it. Many people who are diagnosed with Substance Use Disorders or addictions to hard drugs like heroin or meth will “step down” and substitute these street drugs with prescription drugs like hydrocodone, oxycodone, Xanax, or Valium. As a consequence, prescription drug abuse has become one of the biggest epidemics facing the United States.

How To Avoid It: Report your medical history to your doctor honestly. Be careful with prescriptions, take them sparingly, and avoid them if possible – using over the counter medication. Look into other pain coping methods instead.

About the author
Tyler is a freelance writer/journalist, with past experience as the head content writer and outreach coordinator for HelpYourTeenNow. His areas of focus include: parenting, education, social media, addiction, and issues facing teenagers today.
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