The Danger Of Trading Your Addictions

Many view addiction as being temporarily tied to a single vice.

Whether it is a dependence on drugs, alcohol, or gambling, the general assumption is that, once a person enters treatment for an addiction, they should be “cured” of all compulsions. However, the prevalence of addiction replacement showcases the true nature of addiction for what it is: a disease.

Addiction replacement is classified by an individual in recovery substituting any given addiction for another. This typically occurs during or after the treatment process for the original addiction.

Understanding Addiction Replacement

“Everyone who’s battled an addiction understands the concept: You go from smoking to eating; from drinking to shopping; from sex to chocolate to working. You’re substituting one addiction for another in an attempt to compensate for a perceived ‘lack’—emotionally or psychologically.” Jeanene Swanson, The Fix

Within addiction replacement, a new addiction takes the place of a previously addictive behavior to produce the same feeling or high.

Addictions can very easily be transferred from any given substance or habit to another. This is because individuals who have an addiction aren’t craving a physical substance; they’re craving the fulfillment of an emotional need.

What Causes Someone To Transfer Their Addiction?

Addiction replacement can be caused by a variety of things. Common reasons are to relieve the stress, pain, or anxiety that can occur in the newly sober. 

It’s fair to say that more than 65% of people who have received treatment at [our treatment center] are having difficulties with more than one of the following: alcohol, drug or eating disorders, excessive gambling, impulse control, depression, and anxiety.

- Dr. Deni Carise, Chief Clinical Advisor at Sierra Tucson treatment facility

Common addiction replacements include:

  • Binge eating
  • Gambling
  • Overworking
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Nicotine
  • Sex
  • Pornography
  • Shopping

Paid Advertising. We receive advertising fees from purchases through BetterHelp links.

Online Addiction Counseling

Get professional help from an online addiction and mental health counselor from BetterHelp.

Get Matched
Begin Therapy
  • Personalized Matching Process
  • Easy Online Scheduling
  • 30,000+ Licensed Therapists


Extended drug or alcohol abuse has a direct effect on the brain. Once abuse has reached the level of addiction, the brain becomes rewired to crave the substance — despite the negative consequences of using drugs or alcohol.

Individuals in recovery may also experience a lowered level of dopamine in the brain, which would limit their ability to feel happiness or excitement during the early stages of sobriety. This can influence recovering addicts to transfer their past addictive behaviors into other activities or substances as a way to fulfill the craving and reduce the unpleasant side effects of withdrawal.

How To Identify An Addiction Replacement Has Occurred

An addiction doesn’t require becoming dependent on a consumable substance, such as drugs or alcohol. Many individuals transfer their addiction into seemingly harmless or even healthy activities, such as exercise, work, or shopping.

I’m through with drugs, but now I’m running down the list of [other] addictions…At the moment I’m obsessed with shopping. I steal my parent’s credit cards and go on weeklong sprees. I have dozens of shoes and bags and jewelry that I don’t look at twice once they’re in my closet. I know this isn’t healthy sober behavior but I don’t think I can stop shopping until my mom’s credit card is finally declined.

- Kate, recovering drug and shopping addict, The Fix

So while on the surface an activity like shopping can appear as a healthier alternative than abusing drugs, both addictions can produce similar consequences. Signs that an addiction replacement has taken place are:

  • Constantly thinking about your new activity or vice
  • Losing sleep to participate in new activity
  • Trouble at work, school, or at home
  • Relationship issues with spouse or loved ones
  • Neglecting self-care and personal hygiene
  • Experiencing stress or anxiety if unable to complete new activity

Preventing & Treating Addiction Replacements

The key to treating addiction replacement is addressing the underlying cause of the compulsive behavior, thoughts, and actions through therapy. If addiction is seen more as a permanent condition than a temporary dependence on a single substance, it could help reduce rates of relapsing

Rather than identifying patients by their drug of choice, which may be transitory, research suggests we institute a broader conceptualisation of this complex brain disease.

- Chelsea Carmona, Aljazeera

The only way to fully put a stop to replacement addictions is by addressing any unconscious emotions and working through them with a therapist rather than projecting them onto different substances or activities.

Proactively educating individuals in rehab centers of the very real risk of transferring addictive habits onto other things is another way to prevent a new addiction from developing. Also, working with a counselor or sponsor to learn how to better identify your triggers and addictive patterns of thoughts is extremely important in preventing a substitute addiction from developing.

Last Updated:


Addiction Center

Photo of Addiction Center
  • Since 2014, Addiction Center has been an informational web guide for those who are struggling with substance use disorders and co-occurring behavioral and mental health disorders. All content included on Addiction Center is created by our team of researchers and journalists. Our articles are fact-based and sourced from relevant publications, government agencies and medical journals.

  • More from Addiction Center