Nearly 23 million Americans are said to be addicted to alcohol or drugs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines drug addiction as a chronic disease characterized by seeking and using drugs or other addictive substances, despite their harmful consequences on the body and the brain. Following this definition, modern science came to identify other addictive substances and triggers, such as video games, smartphones, sugar, food, shopping and many others.
Although psychological aspects of addictions are not yet fully researched, we know that addictions stimulate the part of the brain responsible for pleasure or relief. Those feelings are strongly tied to speedy dopamine release to nucleus accumbens, often called the reward center, which causes instant satisfaction. By repeated exposure to addictive substances and behaviors, the brain stores memories of pleasure, develops tolerance and ultimately builds compulsion and cravings. Considering that, addiction recovery takes many forms and sizes, but there is no denying that the process is timely and very demanding. It may have many twists and turns, and relapses may happen to everyone, even the most motivated people. It is not uncommon for addiction-prone individuals to find themselves substituting one addiction with another, especially if they are currently going through recovery. The brain is programmed to look for substitutes for things that once brought peace of mind or instant gratification. Nevertheless, it is possible to stop the vicious addiction cycle and avoid cross-addiction. These 5 strategies will set you off for success.
Do regular physical and emotional check-ups
Recognizing your current physical and emotional condition is an important factor in battling any addiction and stopping cross-addiction. Whenever you are feeling anxious or wanting to engage in a risky behavior, it is recommended to pause whatever you are doing and do a quick check-up. Ask yourself a set of simple questions to assess your physical state:
Have I eaten a healthy meal and had enough water?
Have I been outside?
Have I interacted with other people today?
After that, assess your mental state by asking:
Am I stressed out?
Am I overthinking a certain situation from the past?
Am I concerned about a situation that may happen in the future?
Listen to what your body is saying and reflect on it. Also, do write your findings down in a journal for future reference. If you find a safe, effective and healthy coping method, put it next to the feelings you experienced. By asking those questions you give yourself the opportunity to assess the situation and regain control. With time, you will be able to learn the reactions of your body and establish effective ways of dealing with negative emotions.
Each person is triggered into addiction by different things, therefore it is essential to identify the emotions or situations that have direct impact on your feelings. Single out instances when you think about substance abuse and recognize which situations make you want to go back to your addiction or cross-addiction. There may also be some environmental triggers, such as meeting the people or visiting places that remind you of addictive behavior or threaten your sobriety. The most common triggering factor is stress. As the brain looks for immediate stress relief, take a step back from what you were doing, talk it through with a confidant and, if possible, try to distract yourself or take up different activity. It is best to stay busy, so keep a list of activities that you enjoy.
Redirect your energy
Most common replacement addictions include work, food, exercise and sex. In theory, exercising is good for the brain and for the body, however when done excessively it still becomes an addiction. No matter what the object of the compulsion may be, it still is a building block for a new addiction. In order to support your path to recovery, find some healthy dopamine sources in a form of a new hobby or volunteering. It may also be a good idea to change your day job into something less stressful and more rewarding. In order to minimize the compulsion, use fixed schedule of activities and stick to it. It will act as a preventive measure to control the cravings and limit the time you spend on new projects.
Find the right support group
Organized support groups have a positive effect on avoiding cross-addiction. By attending support group meetings you build a sense of community with people who hold you accountable for your actions and, consequently, you avoid the feeling of loneliness and isolation as you surround yourself with people who experience the same struggles. During the meetings you will be able to speak openly about your issues and by that relieve stress and anxiety that may be pushing you towards substitute addiction. The important thing is that you will not be judged. Instead, you will be able to get a new perspective on addictive behaviors, learn new skills to conquer your cravings, as well as get referrals for therapists, new treatment options and doctors who can help you on your path to full recovery.
Look for balance
There is a strong link between depression or anxiety and addictions. If you feel that some psychological support is needed, do not hesitate and make an appointment with a specialist. Apart from professional help, finding balance is crucial to your mental well-being. Start with evaluating your space and decluttering. Getting rid of things that carry negative memories, donating clothes that do not fit you anymore, or throwing out paraphernalia that remind you of your previous addiction can be truly therapeutic. Physical organizing is something that you can fully control and it brings quick and visible results. After you are done with your space, look for emotional balance. Give every day a structure and make room for the activities that fulfill all your needs, such as relaxing, working, eating well, getting enough sleep and interacting with others. Living a balanced lifestyle will require some effort, therefore find activities that bring you joy and maintain relationships that have uplifting effect on your emotions.
Many recovering addicts struggle not to transfer their compulsive behaviors onto a new object of addiction. These five strategies will help you grow awareness about addictive activities and, when combined with your hard work and determination, support your journey towards healthy and happy life.