contributing author: Katie McGrath
It’s easy to see why some people search for ways to escape their everyday life. Daily obstacles and challenges are common, and sometimes, life can seem like a difficult, if not impossible, test of wills. Addiction recovery help is about finding another option.
People turn to many different coping methods, including addictive behaviors such as drinking alcohol, using drugs, or gambling (1). But many other behaviors that aren’t considered as deviant as those just mentioned can also develop unhealthy patterns, including excessive work, promiscuous or risky sex, and high adrenalin activities like car and motorcycle racing, skydiving, rock climbing, and other forms of “extreme sports.”
In fact, researchers have found that drug users and extreme sports athletes rationalize their respective involvements in very similar ways (2).
Unfortunately, if the activities are used for escape, people usually find the relief they get to be temporary. When the “high” is finished, they find their problems alive and well as life comes back at them full-force. A temporary distraction, no matter how exciting or effective (like extreme sports, alcohol, or drug use) is just that – temporary.
The idea of “switching addictions” has come up in psychological research in the past (4). The question is: Can addicts substitute their choice addiction for a behavior that is actually beneficial?
Some research suggests that they can.
Activities like exercise (running, yoga, and such), art (painting, photography), and other hobbies (such as gardening), may provide a source of comfort for drug users looking for a way to “fill in” the void left by drugs and/or alcohol. Each of these activities may provide the repetitive, mindful, pursuit that people who are prone to addiction may seek without many of the harms and dangers.
When I stopped getting high, one of the hardest things was figuring out what to do with my free time that didn’t involve using drugs. It was what I was used to doing when I was happy, sad, or bored. Now, I would be all those things, but the drugs weren’t there. It took me more than a year to get comfortable with movies, the gym, and books as replacements for what I knew how to do best – using drugs.
In future posts, we’ll go over some specific ideas for changing behavior that may be useful for addicts trying to stop. We’ll also suggest specific strategies to keep from developing unhealthy habits even in these new, more constructive habits, while keeping them long-term. Addiction recovery can be tough, but actively replacing activities can help.
Question of the day:
If you’ve quit drugs or other addiction, do you have any suggestions regarding new habits you picked up that helped you in developing a new, healthier life?
1. Hart, A. D. When coping becomes addiction.
2. Larkin, M., Griffiths, M. D. (2004). Dangerous sports and recreational drug-use: Rationalizing and contextualizing risk. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 14, pp. 215-232.