October 22, 2015 by Alexis Franzi at Lakeview Health in Eating Disorder Treatment One thing that can happen to an addict during the recovery process is the substituting, or replacing of one addiction for another. While not all replacement addictions start out as unhealthy, such as picking up a gym routine, or meditating, they can quickly turn into behavioral obsessions if you’re not careful. We are all aware by now that addiction is a brain disease, therefore the chemical reasons that led you to being an addict in the first place are the same reasons that could lead you to filling the void of the addiction you’re working on overcoming with another one. In life, and especially in recovery, you need to always remember to do everything in moderation and to be aware that you’re susceptible to developing a replacement addiction.
Believe it or not, a common replacement addiction can come in the form of an eating disorder. According to the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, overeating is a common substitute addiction for drug abuse, particularly for drinkers. Both eating disorders and chemical addiction share similar traits such as imbalances in brain chemistry, both are compulsive behaviors, both stem from depression and anxiety, and they can both produce potentially fatal side effects if not treated properly. Being as how the chemical makeup of eating disorders and substance abuse disorders are so similar, it’s not uncommon for someone with a drug or alcohol addiction to get treatment for their substance abuse and replace it with an eating disorder.
Many people, after getting sober, suffer from a lack of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is a chemical that plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Many addictive drugs increase dopamine activity, so when you go to treatment and detox off of these drugs, your brain and your body miss the over-release of dopamine and you feel like you need to compensate for that loss. An eating disorder is another type of compulsive behavior that can increase the levels of dopamine in the brain and fills that void now gone after being treated for substance abuse.
It’s important for someone to be aware of this type of replacement addiction behavior and acknowledge that it is becoming a problem. You can try being proactive and use what you’ve learned in treatment for substance abuse to try and refocus on exhibiting healthy behavior. You’re never alone and there is always help available if you feel like you’re in over your head. Never hesitate to reach out for help and acknowledge your replacement addiction before it gets out of control.