If you’ve been in recovery for a little while, you probably already understand that while drugs and alcohol were a big problem, they weren’t the only problem. And, you probably already know that just because you’re sober, doesn’t mean that addiction can’t return. Recovery comes with the caveat of a daily reprieve from the disease. Admittedly, it’s a frustrating aspect of the disease.The hard truth is that just about anything can be taken to the extreme and abused, causing unmanageability in your life, and even leading you back to abusing substances. Hopefully while you were in treatment you heard about the risk of these becoming a problem during sobriety. Listed below are some common ways that addiction can manifest, and how to deal with it, or avoid it all together.
Process or Behavioral Addictions
When a person becomes addicted to something that isn’t a substance like alcohol or drugs, it’s known as process addiction or behavioral addiction. Some examples of process addiction include gambling, sex, shopping, internet activities or even exercise. Basically, anything that triggers the brain’s reward system can pose the risk of addiction. Just like drug or alcohol addiction there are treatment programs for process addictions.
Gambling, Sex and Shopping
These are three common process addictions. All three of these activities trigger the same dopamine reward system. They make us feel good. When you get a shiny new toy, or are in the midst of a passionate, new romance, your brain is flooded with dopamine. When you hit even a small jackpot at the casino, the same thing happens. Even when you pull the lever and hear a little “ding-ding” noise without winning, it still activates the reward. The reward is addicting, just as it is when you take a drink or get high.
Now, what makes process addiction so tricky is that the activities themselves aren’t necessarily detrimental. It’s easy to look at heroin and say, yeah…I shouldn’t do this anymore, it’s really bad for me. It’s a no-brainer. There are no benefits to using heroin or methamphetamines. You don’t need them in your life.
But, what about shopping? Sex? These are not “bad” activities. You’re still going to need shoes, right? The problem occurs when you are only triggering your reward system by doing these activities. In other words, you just can’t seem to get happy without spending money, or pursuing a new sexual conquest. Other activities, such as hobbies or spending time with family no longer satisfy you, because your brain simply doesn’t see them as rewarding.
Behavioral Addiction In Recovery
As a recovering addict, it’s a good idea to be aware of this pitfall. It’s a common occurrence to get clean and sober only to find that your addiction has manifested in other ways. From Candy Crush Saga to binge-watching Netflix to lifting weights, you can easily slip into addictive behavior. So does that mean you can’t play video games or go to the gym or ever set foot in a mall again? Of course not, but you do need to remain aware that behavioral addiction can happen.
How Do You Know If You Are Engaged In Behavioral Addiction?
How do you know when your addiction is manifesting itself in one or more areas of your life? How can you tell when you’ve crossed the line from simply enjoying and engaging in an activity, and engaging in addictive behavior?
It’s much easier to tell when your drug or alcohol problem is out of control. Things like DUI’s, overdoses, loss of employment or arrests are good indicators that you have a problem. With process addictions, it’s not always as clear.\
The best way to determine if something has crossed the line into addictive behavior is to do a regular inventory of your life. Is it balanced? While few of us are ever able to achieve perfect balance in our lives at all times, we can be on the lookout for unmanageability.
Unmanageability is a good indicator that something is out of whack, or spiraling out of control. It’s fine to enjoy shopping and even to splurge once in a while. But if you’ve maxed out your credit cards or can’t buy groceries because you’ve just purchased your 100th pair of black flats, you might want to look at that.
Engaging in risky sexual behaviors, or creating wreckage as a result of your sexual behavior is another good indicator that you may simply be swapping out one addiction for another.
If you can’t seem to enjoy other areas of your life because all you can think about is what you want to buy next, or when you can hit the gym again, you should take some time to explore what’s going on in your life. Are you actively working on your recovery? Are you practicing good self-care and getting plenty of support in your life? Are you nurturing your spirituality?
What To Do When Addiction Manifests Itself In Your Life
If you find that addiction has manifested itself in other ways, there are steps you can take to restore balance to your life.
One of the first things you can do is to simply acknowledge that you have a problem. This is going back to basics. Just as you had to admit you had a drug or alcohol problem in order to move into the solution, the same goes for things like gambling, overeating and excessive spending.
But, what else can you do about it? You can’t stop eating, right? You still need to buy stuff? Of course you do. Unlike abstinence from substances, dealing with behavioral addiction is about healthy moderation. The approach is similar, though. Here are steps you can take:
Recommit Yourself To Your Recovery
Chances are, you might be slacking in one or more areas of your recovery. It happens. You get busy, you get complacent. Perhaps you aren’t attending meetings or talking with your sponsor or support group. Now that you have acknowledged that you have a problem, it’s time to take action. Ramp up meeting attendance, call your sponsor and pick up that step work.
The beauty of the twelve steps is that they can apply to any area of your life, not just drugs and alcohol. If your problem is shopping, work your steps around it.
Get Lots Of Support
It’s important that you don’t isolate, and it’s important that you don’t hide your behavior from your support group. No matter how embarrassed you might be, it’s important to talk about it. Tell your sponsor, at the very least. Spend more time with your friends, speak up at meetings, stay connected.
As you progress in your recovery, you’ll find an increased level of self-awareness that allows you to better determine when you are heading down a slippery slope, or when you are using outside things to fix something that’s wrong on the inside.
This is a process, one that takes practice. We all have times when we get out of balance, and for people with the disease of addiction, well, we can take it to the next level. Over time, though, you’ll find that you are able to “catch” things before they wreak too much havoc in your life. Sometimes, you’ll find that you are lacking in some area of your life, and using behaviors to fill the void. For example, if your romantic exploits are leaving a trail of wreckage, it may be time to ask yourself what you are trying to achieve with this behavior. It may be that you are searching for meaning or connection, or avoiding real intimacy for fear of getting hurt or allowing yourself to become vulnerable.
Be Willing To Get Outside Help
Part of the beauty of the steps is that they can be applied to just about any situation. Between step work, a supportive recovery community and a relationship with your higher power, you will often be able to work through bouts of addictive behavior using the tools you’ve developed so far. However, if you find that you aren’t able to break free from destructive behaviors on your own, you may need to seek outside counseling or treatment.