What defines success in recovery?
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At the most obvious level, success in recovery could probably be defined simply as not using drugs or alcohol. If you are maintaining your sobriety, you are succeeding in recovery, right?
In many cases, that formula—not drinking or using drugs = recovery success—is sufficient. But some people in recovery find themselves sober but not truly out of the clutches of addiction. While in recovery, it is possible to replace one addiction with another. Substitute addictions can be just as problematic as a substance use disorder—and they can pave the way for a relapse.
We have addressed this issue in previous blog posts, and here we will gather together some of that content. We will share excerpts here, but encourage you to follow the links to the full entries.
Scratch ‘Shopping Addiction’ Off of Your Shopping List
Here’s an example of a substitute addiction from an entry titled, “There Is No Substitute for Vigilance When It Comes to Substitute Addictions.”
Many people enjoy shopping as a recreational activity…But sometimes shopping can get out of control. For someone in recovery for a substance use disorder, shopping might become a substitute addiction. The pleasurable feeling of finding something wonderful in a store is the main appeal of recreational shopping. But for someone in recovery, that feeling may stand in for the good feelings they used to associate with drugs or alcohol. When that happens, the desire to shop might grow and grow as the person seeks that rush of good feeling.
The results can, of course, be disastrous. An addiction to shopping can quickly result in serious financial difficulties, can damage relationships, and can lead to anxiety and depression as a person shuttles between the excitement of shopping and the remorse of spending too much or acquiring things they neither need nor have space for.
At that same link, we explore the idea of exercise as a substitute addiction. We are normally big fans of the ways in which exercise can support your sobriety, but it is, in fact, possible for working out to devolve into an addiction.
When Working Hard Results in Working Up a Substitute Addiction
Here’s another example from an entry titled, “Accept No Substitutes: Substitute Addictions Can Upend Your Recovery.”
[T]here is nothing wrong with showing some initiative in the workplace…But if you are a person in recovery and you find yourself arriving at the office before anyone else, eating lunch at your desk, and heading home long after everyone else has left, it is time to take stock of what you are actually up to.
Do you find yourself feeling anxious when you are not at work? Do you think about work all of the time and have trouble unplugging from your email or office messaging system even when you are home or over the weekends? Are you passing up on other opportunities—dinner with friends, volunteering at your child’s school, enjoying your favorite show—because you feel as though you simply have to work all of the time?
If so, you have likely developed a substitute addiction centered on work.
At the same link, we also explore gambling as a substitute addiction.
Exploring Adjacent Issues
In an entry titled, “Not Wholly Sober: Functioning Alcoholics, Dry Drunks, and Those Making Substitutions,” we noted:
[T]he truth is that sobriety is not always as clear cut as it might first seem to be.
A person might be under the influence of drugs or alcohol but appear sober to most people they encounter. Or a person might be drug and alcohol free but still exhibiting the signs of addiction. Or a person might have traded drugs or alcohol for a substitute addiction.
While two of those three scenarios involve people who are technically sober and the third involves a person who seems sober to most observers, the fact is that a person who falls into any of these three categories still has work to do to achieve real and lasting sobriety.
Fortunately, real and lasting sobriety is possible. And we are committed to helping you achieve it.
The Help You Need is on Offer at Bel Aire Recovery Center
The entire team at Bel Aire Recovery Center in Kansas is focused on helping the people we treat reclaim and maintain their sobriety. Via medically supervised detoxification, a rehabilitation program that also addresses co-occurring mental health disorders, and a continuum of care designed to provide ongoing support, we help individuals restart their lives without drugs or alcohol. When you are ready to get to work, we are ready to help.