By LYLE R. FRIED, CAP, ICADC, CHC In Addiction Recovery, Addiction Withdrawal, Relapse Prevention
Posted September 15, 2017
Sometimes, addiction is viewed as dependency on a single vice, generally alcohol or a specific drug. Some people feel that once they have overcome their problems with this one substance, their addiction is “cured.”
In reality, addiction is a disease that often stems from underlying issues, certain personality traits, or even heredity. For these reasons, it’s common for addicts to substitute one addiction for another.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common addiction substitutions, plus what you can do to safeguard against this behavior.
From Prescription Opioids to Heroin Addiction
Prescription opioids are one drug that often leads directly to addiction substitution—in this case, heroin. Pain medications like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and many others are opioids, and so is heroin.
Although these pain medications are prescribed by a doctor, they are highly addictive, and many people come to depend on both the pain relief and the feelings of contentment and relaxation that these prescription opioids produce.
When people don’t take these drugs as prescribed, physical dependence can form within days, and users experience withdrawal symptoms when opioid use is stopped.
Ultimately, many people who become addicted to prescription opioids transfer this addiction to heroin. Heroin is cheaper, more powerful, and often easier to obtain illegally. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), three recent studies of young people who inject heroin revealed that 50% of them started with prescription pain medication.
If you’re prescribed prescription opioids for an injury, it’s crucial to take them exactly as directed by your doctor. Thinking, “Just a few more pills won’t hurt,” is inaccurate and dangerous. Research shows that those who abuse prescription opioids can easily travel the path to heroin addiction.
Methadone as a Substitute for Heroin Addiction
When people with heroin addiction decide to stop using, heroin withdrawal is often severe. Heroin withdrawal symptoms include nausea, sweating, shaking, abdominal pain, muscle spasms, agitation, nervousness, and depression.
Methadone is a prescription drug that can stop or lessen heroin withdrawal symptoms. It is often administered to patients at methadone clinics, where they can be assessed and treated with an appropriate dosage of methadone. This is commonly referred to as “replacement therapy.”
Many people stay on methadone long-term. It not only stops heroin withdrawal symptoms, but it can also help patients manage cravings for heroin or other street drugs. Other people gradually reduce their methadone dose and stop using it entirely.
However, methadone itself is also addictive, and long-term usage can lead to dependency. When someone abruptly stops methadone use, they will likely experience withdrawal symptoms. Acute methadone withdrawal can last 2-3 weeks.
While methadone can help people recover from heroin addiction and keep them away from street drugs, it ultimately becomes a substitute addiction that is substantially difficult to quit as well.
Other Addiction Substitutions
As people work to stop using one substance, many find addiction substitutes that may include:
- Binge eating
- Sex or pornography
- Constant working out/trips to the gym
Addicts turn to addiction substitutions to relieve the stress, anxiety, or pain that often occurs among the newly sober.
Additionally, recovering addicts can experience lower levels of dopamine, limiting their ability to feel excited or happy in early recovery. As a result, many turn to new addictions to fill the void left by the previously abused substance, reduce cravings, and deal with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
How to Avoid Addiction Substitution
Addiction shouldn’t be viewed as a temporary dependence on one substance. Instead, it must be viewed as a disease that causes compulsive and addictive behaviors.
The only way to truly prevent addiction substitution is to treat the underlying causes of these behaviors. A therapist can help addicts address unconscious emotions and issues, as well as identify triggers and addictive patterns of thought.
Addiction substitution is extremely common among addicts, who often project underlying emotions and problems onto other activities or substances.
Common addiction substitutions include heroin for prescription opioids, and later methadone for heroin addiction. Recovering addicts may also become addicted to habits like gambling, shopping, drinking caffeine, or smoking cigarettes.
In order to safeguard against addiction substitution, addicts should enter therapy to address the unconscious emotions at the root of their addictive and compulsive behavior.