Healthy Co-Addictions as a Treatment Tool

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While all addictions may share the same root cause, they manifest differently from person-to-person.  Some are addicted to alcohol, others to gambling, some to a particular drug and others to over-eating.  In fact, most people who suffer with addiction usually also struggle with cross-addiction between several or more things, further exacerbating the problem. You see, addiction is a form of obsession. A person gets a chemical jolt in his brain from engaging in a certain behavior, and is then driven by that bolt of adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin, again and again. I got my first taste of this on the front lines in business,  ‘winning or losing’ daily, I really enjoyed the adrenaline rush of ‘winning deals’.  It’s that sensation that drives addiction, and that’s part of the good news; not all addictions are necessarily bad for you.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Finding a healthy co-addiction can actually be a very productive way to re-direct your disease in a positive direction.

An addict’s biggest enemy is boredom; as they say ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop’.  The obsession commandeers your inner voice to the point of blotting out all else.  There’s a very good reason why many treatment centers focus on hobbies and activities as part of the overall treatment.  Whether it’s equine therapy, sculpting, crochet, Tai Chi, painting or just working out, the options are only limited by your interests and imagination. Lately, adult coloring books have been all the rage.  The point is to find something that fulfills you, that keeps your attention in a meaningful way, to otherwise distract you from the negative addiction that drove you to seek treatment.  In certain instances, many patients then become obsessed with this new activity, but that’s not necessarily a negative outcome.  Ideally, of course, the goal is to re-train an addicted mind away from obsession altogether, but that’s not always an attainable goal.  It’s therefore important to be realistic and, on occasion, even enable someone towards a healthy co-addiction, under the right set of circumstances.

One of the difficult challenges then, is actually finding a suitable replacement.  Many addicts have been under the influence of the disease for so long, they don’t even know which way is up.  In addition, while different hobbies may run the gamut, it’s impossible for any given treatment facility to realistically offer more than a few options. It’s therefore often best if family and friends get involved in both selecting the treatment facility and serving as guides in the entire process. It can be confusing, as sobriety kicks in and the person re-discovers himself for the first time in a long while.  It is obviously more helpful for someone in Recovery to share this new part of his life with someone he cares about. It increases the likelihood that this new behavior will stick.

However, despite the benefits, it’s important this new activity be supervised to a certain extent, because even a healthy co-addiction can be problematic if taken to the extreme. Everything is best in moderation, but addicts generally don’t do well with moderation. They also don’t do well in supervising themselves. Too much working out can be dangerous, being engaged in artwork to the exclusion of all else can make someone overly vulnerable. Yet, I’ve met dozens of addicts who go to AA meetings 5-7 times a week and sponsor as many as 10 sponsees; they make helping others their new addiction.  Few people would consider that unhealthy. There is a fine line to be drawn, and that can only be done on a case-by-case basis. There’s no single correct answer but, as with most things, I find that mindfulness and common sense rule the day.

Addiction is a tricky foe. An addict’s brain is not wired the same way as the average person. There are no easy steps or quick fixes. Getting to the point of sobriety is a huge challenge, but it typically occurs under strict supervision in a controlled environment. The true tests arise once intensive treatment is complete.  That can be the scariest part. People in Recovery need viable alternatives to keep their former lives at bay. The biggest impediment to staying clean are past ‘people, places and things’. By providing new habits and offering attractive ‘other’ choices, we better assist addicts in re-starting their lives on a new foot on their long road to a lifetime of Recovery.

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