Do Addictions Transfer?
Whether you're in the recovery world, or not, I'm sure you've heard that people new in recovery - or just people who've stopped drinking - take up eating non-nutritious foods to replace their old habits.
It's a common thought that once we stop one thing, we just pick up another. I've often heard other addicts say that they traded their drugs for work-outs, or for shopping, or for sex . . . the list could go on forever. I'm sure you just thought of something you've been over-doing and added it to my list mentally.
But here's something a lot of people just don't think about. First of all, people new to quitting (and yes I do think of QUITTING as an Olympic Sport - it's hard to do) most often are clinically malnourished - along with a potential host of micronutrient imbalances (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrient imbalances (carbohydrates, fat, protein). They have mostly survived on highly-processed, high-added-sugar foods and typically don't eat meals on a regular schedule. Secondly - when a person doesn't eat meals regularly, is malnourished, and doesn't know what a balanced meal actually looks like - they will put on weight when they find a place like a treatment center to learn about not using their substance of choice.
In an ideal world, that treatment center will educate their clientele on healthy eating habits and how to select the healthiest options. They will also feed their patients healthy and appropriate meals. That ideal world isn't available to regular folks like you and me though, so treatment centers will often feed their clients what they want to eat. That's where you're going to see a lot of weight coming on in a rather quick time period. I think this is where the idea that people will trade their addictions comes into play - think about yourself or a friend you have who quit smoking, did you/they put on some weight? You see where I'm going? Yeah, we think that only the very rich, or very famous people who have chefs and trainers, are capable of staying in their tip-top shape (that's an entirely OTHER blog I'll have to write someday - so don't get me started!). We quit smoking, and then we maybe became stressed, or bored, or just still have the habit of putting our hand up to our mouths - and we may eat to relieve these symptoms. That may not be the best example, but you/they/me didn't necessarily trade smoking for eating pork rinds - instead we potentially selected a way to cope momentarily.
People new to recovery, and even some of us with a few years, will put on weight when correcting for missed meals, low caloric intake, and nutrient imbalances. But it may not really be about transferring one addiction for another. It may be what's called in this article I'm going to link, a propensity for behavioral addiction, which in laymen's terms really only means we can tend to binge eat from time to time. What I am telling you happens - in my layman's opinion - is that we may get stressed from time to time, and we reach for something that soothes us. Especially in our current stress model called COVID-19, we are reaching more and more for what soothes us.
Remember earlier how I mentioned shopping, sex, etc., and you mentally added your own items to the list? Right! That's what I'm saying - we're bored, we're stressed, we reach for something and will binge on it. Netflix and Chill come to mind? We even binge TV, and it's okay. People new in recovery, me, and probably you, all use things to help us cope with our feelings. Consistently relying on these things is when it's a problem and addiction to substances MAY appear. I'll just add this caveat that addiction is multi-layered and I am not an expert.
But let me get back on track to my original point. Addiction may not transfer, even though it's a commonly held belief. The study I'm linking below even reported that when addicts/alcoholics were having moments of cravings for their substance, they actually tended to eat less added sugars and calories. It's not a monumental study and it has it's flaws, but it says something that I personally believe - addicts/alcoholics don't trade their addictions, because if they did, we wouldn't ever really recover. That's the beauty of having my own blog, I get to tell you my opinion, and you opted to take it in and synthesize it with what you already believe.
The study didn't focus on triggers, or coping mechanisms, but rather on momentary cravings that can arise whenever we're practicing for the Olympics by QUITTING anything (and I mean anything, because this can apply to more than just substance abuse). I am making the comparison merely to show how we can believe that addictions transfer when what we're really observing in ourselves or others is a way to manage a momentarily uncomfortable situation. That's where the binge comes into play. I really hope I was able to clarify that for you. This is fascinating material for my science-geek brain, and I enjoy sharing it with you. Remember - you signed up for this blog, you aren't being punished.
One last thing before I let you go - be kind to yourself and others, because we're all dealing with demons each other knows nothing about. Use your coping skills, call on others to see how they're doing, and breathe. We're going to be okay. And if you're struggling with substances, please PLEASE PLEASE ask someone for help. We're all here on this blue marble together. Even I struggle with the thoughts my brain comes up with and I'm still sober. You can do this. I believe in you.
I wish you the happiest moments the holiday seasons can give you.
And here's the link I told you about: ttps://doi.org/10.1080/10826084.2018.1536722