When We Replace Our Addictions with Unhealthy Anxiety Responses

It’s common to replace one addictive behavior with another. This is a dive into some unhealthy anxiety responses and ways to avoid them. 

Sometimes in recovery, we find that we’re ultimately replacing one addiction with another, and using unhealthy coping strategies for our anxiety to replace our addictive drugs of choice. We might stop drinking but then start compulsively overeating. We might stop using drugs only to start smoking cigarettes. Maybe we were already engaging in these behaviors, but then they worsened once we get sober. Other times, these addictive habits are entirely new to us, and we feel drawn to them because they seem to ease our anxiety the way our drugs or alcohol did. 

These new habits become our replacement addictions and ways to cope with anxiety. Many of us used our drugs of choice not only to cope with anxiety but also our depression, loneliness, sadness, grief, anger, boredom, social anxiety, relationship problems, or any number of mental health issues or stressful situations. We used our substance of choice to avoid certain emotions or thoughts. Once we’re sober, we still have all these difficult feelings that we don’t understand or know how to face. We don’t necessarily have the emotional tools or experience, and we might not have learned healthy emotional coping skills, so we turn to anything we can find in order to dull our pain and ease our anxiety.

Over or undereating is a common anxiety response that many of us engage in unconsciously and compulsively. We’ll eat well past the point of feeling full and even cause ourselves physical pain. We might develop eating disorders and starve ourselves or binge and purge. We can develop chronic medical conditions as a result, including hormonal imbalance and vitamin and nutrient deficiencies, for example, which cause our mental and emotional health to deteriorate even more. Our inability to cope with our anxiety can literally kill us.

 Sometimes our addictions are replaced by overspending, gambling, excessive shopping, and compulsive buying. We give in to what many people refer to as “retail therapy.” We seek the thrill of gambling and the challenge of the games. We buy things we don’t need. We spend extraneously, lavishly, and frivolously. Shopping, gambling, gaming, and spending replace our former addictions. When we feel sad, we go shopping instead of drinking or using drugs. Likewise, when we’re bored or seeking a thrill, we might gamble. These patterns can be just as destructive as any other addiction, though, because we become dependent upon them. They become compulsory, and we feel as though we can’t stop ourselves, no matter how much our new addictions are interfering with our lives or causing us difficulty. These new habits become our default coping mechanisms for our anxiety and other difficult emotions. We can cause ourselves extreme financial hardship if we gamble our life savings away, lose our homes, our marriages, our families, or custody of our children. 

Other anxiety coping mechanisms are internal and might not be as outwardly obvious as disordered eating or gambling. We might develop anxiety disorders such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, in which we obsess about something to a painful and debilitating degree, and may or may not have accompanying compulsions that other people can recognize. Our compulsions might have to do with certain external behaviors, but they might also have to do with thought patterns and responses to our obsessive thoughts. We might develop other anxiety disorders such as phobias, complexes, or neuroses, all of which can be paralyzing responses to our inability to handle our anxiety.

These destructive ways of handling our anxiety not only worsen our mental health issues, but they also threaten our sobriety. It’s so much harder to stay sober when we’re unable to control our anxiety when our thoughts are all over the place and out of our control when we don’t feel like ourselves and are struggling to function. We’re especially vulnerable to relapse when we’re feeling overly anxious, panicked, or depressed.

There are so many healthy and sustainable ways to cope with our anxiety that don’t derail our sobriety, and instead, keep us on track with our recovery goals. These coping mechanisms can also bolster our healing and contribute to our sobriety. Energy healing practices such as acupuncture, acupressure, tapping, Reiki, and sound healing are all powerful examples. Meditation, yoga, journaling, songwriting and other forms of creative self-expression, gardening, exercise, and spending time in nature are all incredibly beneficial to our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. As we know, the better we feel overall, the more likely we are to stay sober, resist temptation, and prevent relapse. When we’re feeling at peace and grounded within ourselves, it’s much easier to resist temptation and fall back on our drugs of choice to cope with our anxiety. Managing our sobriety effectively often means tackling our anxiety holistically and finding lasting, sustainable remedies for it.

We have personal experience with both addiction and recovery, and we’re committed to helping you uncover the issues fueling your addictions. Our treatment programs include multiple forms of therapy, family workshops, and mindfulness-based relapse prevention education. We believe in the importance of holistic healing and education, mindfulness and mind-body-spirit wellness. Call (800) 871-5440 for more information on our treatment programs.

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Riverside Recovery of Tampa understands all of the emotional challenges of addiction recovery and is here to support you or your loved one. Contact us today for more information.