Using drugs and alcohol is one of the ways that many people cope with unpleasant emotions, traumatic events, and trouble adjusting to the circumstances in their lives. For addicts and alcoholics, ultimately substances become the only way that they know how to live and function, and they become life-threatening. When an addict or an alcoholic gets sober, the feelings they were attempting to cover up by drinking and drugging don’t automatically go away. It takes time and hard work to deal with them and to learn new, healthy ways to cope. That’s why behavioral addictions can crop up in early sobriety. “Outside issues”, or habits and patterns that don’t involve substances but are nevertheless destructive, can become dangerous and unhealthy when they are used to cope with the feelings that come up in early sobriety.

What are Behavioral Addictions?

Addiction is usually used to refer to a dependence on a substance, like alcohol or cocaine. However, behaviors and actions can become addictive similarly to the way that drugs and alcohol can. Engaging in the same behavior over and over again can make it a tough habit to break, and can also cause the brain to rewire similarly to the way it does with substance use. The “high” that some people get from doing certain behaviors, like stealing or shopping, can become something that they chase after by repeating the same action. Over time, these behavioral addictions can make someone’s life unmanageable. Examples of behavioral addictions include:

  • Sex and relationship/love addiction
  • Shopping addiction
  • Video game/internet/electronics addiction
  • Gambling addiction
  • Food addiction
  • Exercise addiction

Any of these behaviors, if they are done compulsively and obsessively and cause negative consequences, can be considered an addiction.

Why Do People Develop Behavioral Addictions in Sobriety?

Behavioral addictions can come up for anyone, including people who don’t suffer from an addiction to a substance. However, they do commonly impact people in early sobriety because they are another way to escape, to numb feelings, and to cope with fear, uncertainty, sadness, depression, or any other emotion that arises during this period.

When people become addicted to drugs or alcohol, they are able to numb any negative feelings for a period of time. Ultimately, those feelings do come back, and their addictive substance use usually creates far bigger problems, but the addict or alcoholic is accustomed to having an escape through a drink or a drug. When they get sober, that coping skill- sometimes the only coping skill someone has- is taken away, and all of the emotions they tried to escape from come flooding back. On top of that, normal life happens, with all of its ups and downs. For people who choose recovery, substances aren’t an option for dealing with any of it. Sometimes, escaping through a spending spree, a one night stand, or a Netflix binge can provide a temporary distraction and relief. The problem is that when these things become a habit, they can turn into behavioral addictions, complete with negative consequences and inner turmoil.

Dealing With Behavioral Addictions

The first step to addressing behavioral addictions is similar to the first step in sobriety: admitting that there is a problem. Once you have identified that there is an issue with eating, shopping, or any other habitual behavior in your life, you can take steps to address it. The following actions can help someone to get free of a behavioral addiction:

  • Talking to your sober living house manager, who may be able to create an accountability process or keep an eye on your behavior and hold you to a standard that you set for yourself.
  • Talking with your sponsor and sober supports, who can help you to process your feelings and find alternative coping mechanisms.
  • Joining a twelve step fellowship or alternative support group that can help you address behavioral addictions, such as Overeaters Anonymous or Sex Addicts Anonymous.
  • Keeping a journal of your feelings before and after engaging in your behavioral addiction, so that you can better identify triggers in order to prepare for them.

At the Lilly Pad, we offer structured sober living for women in order to help them recover from addiction as well as to heal from the destructive habits that made their lives unmanageable over time. We offer such a highly structured program because we believe that emotional sobriety and healing in every aspect of life- not just with substance addiction- is what every woman in recovery deserves. If you want to know more about our sober living options, call us today at 561-758-1011.