How One Addiction Leads to Another..and Another..and Another
How many of you have seen a group of people gathered outside a bar or nondescript building, puffing away on cigarettes? Or known a formerly overweight person who loses 100 lbs and two years later becomes obsessed with running marathons? Perhaps you tend to blame your string of one-night stands on the booze you always over-consume the night before. These are examples of addiction interaction.
I want to bring up this topic because I have worked with many people who think that they can simply quit their addictions without doing the messy work of actually figuring out what purpose the addiction held for them. I wish it were only that easy, but white-knuckling it only gets you so far. Eventually, things get sticky and you find yourself slowly sliding back to your old, unhealthy ways.
The real change is made by addressing the pain (yes, PAIN) you are trying to avoid. Painful feelings like sadness from trauma or loss, loneliness, insecurity, anxiety, depression, and fear.
You see, our brains are funny. They remember things. Little tiny grooves are paved in our brains the more we do things, especially when things are done compulsively, aka A LOT. For example, if you are a sex addict who compulsively seeks out men to have sex with, the ritual of just getting ready is triggering that compulsive brain response. Even though you may not consciously be aware of it, whenever you put on that certain outfit, smoke a joint, and listen to that special song, you're training your brain (and firing off excitement neurotransmitters). It's related to the neural pathways that are formed when we engage in addictive activities.*
One addiction triggers another, and together they become even stronger and harder to quit.
*Below are a list of the different types of addiction interaction to look out for. Rarely do addicts have only one addictive behavior. I encourage you to take a good look at what activities inyour life are similar to these patterns. Ask yourself, "Do I do these things because I want to or because they are habits?"
Perhaps maybe even,"Have they led me to do things I regret?" Finally, extra points if you go deeper and confront possible denial by asking,"nWhat am I really feeling when I engage in these things?"
If the answer is "I feel happy, life is great!" then keep doing you! But if your life is being negatively affected (or hurting another person's life), then it may be time to get some help for your addictions. Especially try to look at how they interact and trigger each other.
*(adapted from "Recovery Zone: Volume 1," by Dr.Patrick Carnes, 2009)
1. Cross Tolerance: When both addictions increase simultaneously. Example: alcohol use increasing the more intense online poker game addiction does
2. Withdrawal Mediation: One addiction used to cushion blow of stopping another addiction. Example: giving up soda but adding regular coffee runs instead
3. Replacement: One addiction takes the place of another after time has passed since giving up initial addiction. Example: as mentioned above, trading food binges for exercise binges after 2 years of sobriety
4. Alternating Cycles: Going back and forth between addictive patterns. Example: studying obsessively during school year then partying every night during summer break
5. Masking: Using one addiction to cover-up another. Example: using work addiction to cover up eating disorder due to being "too busy to eat"
6. Rituals: When rituals for one addiction are same for other addiction. Example: also as mentioned above, a sex addict needing to engage in rituals that trigger both addictions (smoking marijuana and having compulsive sex)
7. Fusing: One addiction ramps up the impact of another. Example: binging on cocaine and risky, adrenaline-junkie behavior, such as snorting a line and jumping off a dangerous cliff (you wouldn't do one without the other)
8. Numbing: High risk behaviors followed by soothing behaviors. Example: going on a spending spree then binging on a gallon of ice cream to soothe the shame of spending $3,000
9. Disinhibiting: One addiction helps you feel disinhibited enough to engage in another. Example: as mentioned above, getting drunk on alcohol to 'allow' yourself to have sex
10. Combining: When addictions are combined for the desired affect. Example: mixing alcohol with marijuana with dangerous sex and gambling
11. Inclusive: One addiction is always present and all others just supplement it. Example: compulsively working, no matter if you're at home or on vacation, must always be working even when engaging in other addictions of getting high and working out