Trading Addictions – Why Does Addiction Transfer Happen?

So you’ve stopped drinking alcohol. You’re alcohol free and feeling great. Except suddenly you’re binging on ice cream and Netflix. You realize you’re trading addictions! What is addiction transfer and why does it happen?

Addiction transfer definitely happens. I am not an expert but I feel there are two areas to explore in terms of behavior transfer. 

Addiction Transfer and Habits
Experts such as Charles Duhigg – author of the Power of Habit say that you can’t eliminate habits – only replace them with better habits. This theory seems to prove true, so you can replace a mid-afternoon sugary snack habit with a mid-afternoon 5 min walk outside. So, if you are not happy about your Ice Cream and Netflix habit you can replace it with a reading and herbal tea habit. Finding a place where you really feel good. It’s not really about what you are doing, it’s about the feelings you associate with it.My book talks heavily about habits, addiction and the psychology behind it. You can start reading it now and find out more about This Naked Mind and changing your unconscious mind.

Addiction Transfer and Self-Medication
The second aspect of addiction transfer is the aspect of replacing a self-medication, which is what addiction often is.A study in 2007 of gastric bypass showed some patients who, once food was no longer a option, turned to alcohol or cigarettes. It was only 5% of the patients, but for that 5% the surgery to get rid of the mechanism for food addiction quickly transferred to another addiction. According to David Sack M.D. board certified in addiction psychiatry – 

This is where one compulsive behavior morphs into the next “a phenomenon sometimes called cross-addiction or addiction transfer” and the cycle continues because Ann isn’t addressing the underlying issues. She just moves from one coping mechanism to another, never realizing the true extent of her problem.”

In recent years, we’ve moved toward a view of addiction that encompasses not only drugs and alcohol; but also compulsive behaviors such as gambling, eating, sex , work and spending. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction broadly to include “process addictions,” a view that is backed by research showing that certain pleasurable behaviors affect the same reward centers of the brain as drugs of abuse.

Addiction is more than a disease, it’s a lifestyle. Lasting change only happens when you address the core issues driving you to seek comfort or pleasure from a destructive source outside yourself. In some cases, the core issue may be an underlying mental health issue such as depression or anxiety that must be managed alongside the addiction (rather than treating each issue separately).

If you’re concerned about addiction transfer ask yourself these questions –

What is your level of compulsion? Are you doing it even when you don’t want to?

Is it effecting other areas of your life – negatively – including your inner peace? For example are you at peace with watching loads of Netflix or are you beating yourself up about it?

Try and be honest with yourself, are there issues that need to be dealt with?

Most importantly be gentle with yourself. Getting to know yourself is one of the most beautiful gifts of living an alcohol free life. If you were using alcohol to self-medicate you MUST deal now with the issues below the surface.

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Remember – you are not alone when dealing with all of the newness of becoming alcohol free. Addiction transfer happens to the best of us. Working your way through feelings and issues you’ve been suppressing for years takes time. You’ve already shown how strong you are, you’ll get through this too!