Substituting addictions – you see it all the time; gatherings of smokers outside the AA meeting door, boy meets girl on AA campus (“13 stepping”), maxed out credit cards, a rapid gaining of 20 extra pounds. People entering the rooms of recovery typically lean on other vices to help them cope with their new sobriety. It’s even encouraged: the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous recommends stocking up on sweets to curb the alcohol cravings, they suggest trying to quit smoking while getting sober may send a person back out and in the early days “workaholism” was admired among the sober men enjoying their new leases on life.

Sadly, most people in the rooms are satisfied with stopping their primary addiction while they let other addictions go unaddressed. Sponsors reason it’s better to get fat than drunk so they sanction their pigeon’s eating Ben & Jerry’s at night when feeling restless. Even old-timers may rationalize that no one ever went to jail for indulging in sugar, caffeine, and cigarettes so this should be chalked up as the “joy of living”. In meetings people nervously confess their lesser addictions hoping to find identification among other members, which they usually do.

Going to any lengths to stay sober may include indulging in other less threatening addictions, but at what point can these indulgences inhibit true sobriety and even be the first step in relapse?

I know all about the addiction merry-go-round. When I was stopped drinking, overeating and experienced significant weight loss, I instead smoked, shopped and chased men. When I wasn’t doing those things, I buried my head in work and practiced “people pleasing” as a sport. The internet was always good for wasted nights of online browsing and purchases. I was sober, after all, so why worry?

In my work I see it all the time. As the founder of a non-profit that addresses all addictions, people daily expose a laundry list of destructive habits that are making their lives unmanageable. Women, for example, after stopping drinking, will revert to their original addiction to food and practice bulimia or binge-eating for relief.

I’ve often thought the term “dually-addicted” was a bit ironic. After all, is there anyone out there who’s “singularly-addicted”? I don’t think so. Most addicts end up doing something to take the edge off. While secondary addictions may not be life-threatening (and often they are), the question is, why settle for a life that is less than totally free?

People come into the 12-step rooms to stop the addiction and to live a new sober life. Yet if they’re still practicing other addictions, how sober are they? When they still frantically seek to distort their reality with caffeine, sugar, nicotine, and the adrenaline of illicit or “sport” sex, how peaceful and God-centered can they be? I’m not a witch burner by any means, because I’ve been there myself. But I do know that my spirituality and sobriety are determined by my willingness to show up for life, anaesthetized. It’s only when I’m truly facing life on life’s terms, and seeking help from my higher power to do so (instead of other addictions), that I can really say I’m sober and living as God intends for me to live.

Another important question is can these secondary addictions actually cause a relapse of the primary addiction? The answer is yes. Many people think that so long as they aren’t drinking or using, they are safe to do whatever else they do. Yet when we act out at all we put ourselves in danger of relapse. The main reason is that if we are using any addiction, it’s on account of a conscious or unconscious desire to cover up pain. If we avoid emotional pain long enough with other addictions, that pain may require stronger painkillers and drive us back to our original “drug of choice”. Additionally, when we use anything to avoid our reality (and our feelings); our ability to cope with reality (and our feelings) diminishes. When we use substances and activities to get through our day, we don’t develop and depend on a spiritual program. If we don’t use our spiritual muscles, they atrophy. So when larger issues and troubles come our way, we don’t have the strength or maturity to deal with them; once again we turn to our old addictions for a quick fix. Any addict knows the rest of the story.

So how does a person break free from all the addictions instead of “switching deck chairs on the Titanic”? It is important to know that, just like alcoholism or drug addiction, these secondary addictions aren’t really a choice. When we have emotional pain and unconscious fears, guilt and stress, addicts naturally look for a quick fix. That’s what we do. So quitting these dependencies cold turkey is about as effective as stopping our primary addiction on our own was. It takes a deeper shift, a true psychic change, to overcome ALL of the addictions. It takes more intensive work and connection with those who have successfully overcome a myriad of addictions instead of just one or two.

The first step, as always, is to want to be free from these addictions. So if you’re substituting addictions and feeling like it’s getting harder to rationalize, that’s a good thing! That is your divine spirit urging you to live better and seek a deeper healing. Next is to realize that not only is freedom from all addictions possible, but healing of the pain that drives them is actually possible. That’s what I’ve experienced and it’s my mission to make that experience possible for countless others.

I have learned over the years that the stronger my relationship with God, the more responsibility I have to keep the channels of communication with God open. If I’m using anything to excess, in a self-destructive way, I’m blocking the connection between me and God. If you sense that your channels are blocked, it may be time to take your spirituality to the next level. Don’t sell yourself or your recovery short. You deserve nothing short than total freedom from all addictions that bind you. After all, isn’t that what happy, joyous and free really means?

Author's Bio: 

Having lost 50 lbs. through identifying and addressing the underlying causes of her emotional eating, Tricia Greaves founded Heal Your Hunger an online resource which offers hope and healing for emotional eaters worldwide. Tricia is also the director of The Greaves Foundation for those with nowhere else to turn for help with eating disorders, obesity and addictions. Tricia is the author of many articles on emotional eating, eating disorders, healthy weight loss and addictions. She is also the contributing author of 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health and the popular Thank God I book series in which she writes a chapter called, “Thank God I Was Fat.” To learn more and to register for your free “HYH JumpStart Kit,” visit