While some individuals work through recovery, they replace the time spent misusing alcohol or drugs with different compulsive behaviors in other areas of life. These include excessive exercising, compulsive gambling, food addiction, or shopping addiction.
Replacing substance addiction with compulsive behaviors is a phenomenon also known as “behavioral addiction,” “addiction transfer,” or “cross addiction.” These replacement activities seem to generate the same “rush” to the brain that substances did. Continuing such compulsive behavior may lead to the build-up of anxiety, which may lead to an eventual relapse.
How Post-Sobriety Compulsions Take Hold
People with substance addiction are often fully occupied with getting and using these substances. Their mind and body can become consumed by this activity alone, leaving little time for family responsibilities, physical exercise, interests, or hobbies.
After a person goes through a treatment program, he or she might find it challenging to manage time because now the activity that was the center of their life is gone.
After reaching sobriety, people either face boredom or need to fill their time with other activities. Although detoxification has removed substances from one’s system, this does not mean that the health of the brain has recovered. The levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain’s reward center are still high. As a result, people in early recovery may be unconsciously drawn to certain activities that create similar dopamine bursts.
Post-sobriety compulsions may take different forms. Some recovering individuals participate in physical exercises. They may devote most of their time to working out in the gym, thinking that this is the healthiest way to recover. However, even work-outs can become a compulsive behavior. Other people develop a liking for eating or gaming. They think if these activities do not involve drugs or alcohol, they are safe.
The Harmful Effects of Compulsive Behaviors in Recovery
The most common compulsive behaviors developed during recovery include overworking, shopping, sex addiction, tech use, exercise, and gambling. Some behavioral addictions may seem petty, such as stealing, skin picking, tanning, and hoarding.
These activities induce similar pleasure in the brain as using substances did. Practiced in moderation, they can promote long-term recovery. However, there is a fine line between “normal” and “compulsive” engagement.
Baseline advice for recovering individuals is to avoid behaviors that seem to immediately promote the same type of “rush” as their past addiction. If they find themselves using over-shopping or excessive sex to cope with stress, there might be a new addiction emerging. Moderation is the key.
Preventing Compulsive Behaviors
The best way to prevent these compulsions or new addictions is to continue meeting with a professional therapist. People should be honest and comfortable while working with this person. Identifying the emerging compulsive behavior is key to ongoing care even after treatment.
Getting compulsive behaviors under control is also important for relapse prevention. This is because these compulsive activities are draining and create more stress. While these activities may feel exhausting, the brain does not want to stop.
Sleep patterns may suffer. Preoccupation with this new obsession can cause lost chances to invest and repair relationships. All these are triggers to cravings for the old substance addiction
Warning Signs of Relapse
If people do not move past these compulsive behaviors, it may mean that they are “stuck” in their recovery plan. Stress and pain may build up. Sooner or later, there could be a triggering event that pushes the person over the edge. Negative emotions take over the mind. They lose a sense of control. It is often observed that emotional relapse tends to precede a physical relapse.
Once there is a physical relapse, people often become overwhelmed by a sense of failure. Some may start to hide the problem from their family and therapists. They may discontinue attendance at support groups. The temptation of returning to old contacts and places that provide substances is stronger. Things soon spiral out of control. They are back on the old route again.
Treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder During Recovery
Some people have always had the co-occurring condition of obsessive-compulsive disorder along with substance addiction. If this is the case, both need to be treated simultaneously. During recovery, even when substances are no longer present, the urge to perform specific activities (or rituals) is still there. Not going through these rituals create anxiety.
People should be screened for these tendencies in the wake of completing drug and alcohol treatment. If needed, behavioral health experts can recommend outpatient programs that treat these special conditions. The good news is, through the use of a comprehensive and individualized approach, these addictive compulsive behaviors are treatable.
If you or a loved one is recovering from substance addiction but still struggles with a non-substance-related behavioral addiction, treatment should continue for the second condition. Due to the complexity of compulsive or behavioral addictions, you may want to work with a team of mental health and behavioral health experts. At Casa Recovery, we have health professionals who treat both substance addiction and co-occurring mental health problems, including compulsive behaviors that act like replacement addictions during recovery. Our treatment team is highly experienced in addressing a wide range of emotional and mental health needs. Each client’s treatment team will work with them to provide customized efficient and effective treatment methods that have been developed and applied in clinical settings. Early intervention and comprehensive, individualized treatment give you the best chance at full recovery from substance and/or behavioral addictions. Call Casa Recovery today at (888) 928-2272.