Trading One Addiction for Another is Not Recovery

As many of you know, I have a sister site, where I offer advising services to those who have pornography addiction issues and their partners or family who are trying to learn and cope with the situation. I’ve done this for about a year now and after working with many people, I’m seeing a trend of pornography addicts trading their addiction for another.

In most cases, it’s either a sharp increase in drinking or many additional hours spent playing video games. While you may be able to rationalize that there aren’t as many moral issues (objectification, debate about cheating) with alcohol or video games, they are still addictions with side effects that don’t necessarily exist with porn.

I’m not suggesting for a second to stick with porn. I’m saying that simply moving on to a different addiction is not going to fix anything in the long run, as the addicted brain doesn’t really parse the difference between addictions. It just wants those pleasure chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin.

Why do people drink? When it came to my alcoholism, I can tell you that it was for the exact same reason I used porn: As an escape from real life. I don’t pretend to understand the physiology of how alcohol leads you to getting buzzed or drunk, but that feeling of numbness was what I was after.

Why do people play video games? I’ve never been a video game guy, but it seems to me that the appeal is two-fold. First, like all other addictions, it’s an escape from real life. You’ll never be a cowboy, gangster or professional football player, but today’s games can get you virtually closer than ever before. Second, I think gaming comes with a false sense of accomplishment. Being able to say you finished a game is great, but how does that positively affect reality?

Switching addictions is not recovery. It’s simply falling further into the pit. I’ve talked to a couple of female partners of male porn addicts and while they all seemed worried about the new addictions, especially when it was alcohol, they universally seemed to breathe a sigh of relief that the porn use was gone or greatly dissipated.

I can understand that feeling. I would bet my house that the instances of a partner’s betrayal trauma with alcohol or video game addiction are exponentially lower than they are with sex or pornography. They may still feel neglected by the addict who is drinking to excess or sitting in front of the TV at all hours with a video game controller in his hands, but these addictions don’t feel like the personal attack pornography does.

Addiction is addiction is addiction is addiction. Individual addictions all have their specific physical and psychological side effects. You’ll rot your liver far faster with alcohol than any other addiction, but what’s going on in your mind is largely the same as pornography or video game addiction (or for that matter drug addiction, gambling addiction, food addiction, etc.)

I say congratulations if you’re taming the beast of addiction. I know first-hand that it’s not an easy road, especially in early recovery. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. The time I spent with my addictions is now spent on healthy behaviors, but I constantly have to make sure that I’m not slowly and quietly forming other addictions.

Be wary of swapping one addiction for another. At best, it will only slow, not stop, your one-way ticket to rock bottom.

7 thoughts on “Trading One Addiction for Another is Not Recovery

  1. I’m very glad you wrote about this. Trading addictions is so common and not often discussed. It’s a reason I got rid of all of the leftover prescription opiates in our house. It’s why my husband’s first SA therapist insisted on a year of sobriety from alcohol. I’ve seen it with my brother-in-law (in recovery from alcohol, now he’s a gambling addict) and my father-in-law (in recovery from alcohol, now he’s addicted to cigarettes) and in my spouse (sex addiction-> drifting into workaholism). With my husband, it’s something he actively has to be mindful of and fend off. I can see that as he deals with the core issues of his underlying/ original addiction it is much easier for him to fight the pull into workaholism. Plus, that’s something that is really easy for us to flag (“you worked 32 hours of overtime last week, so how about we take a week or three with no OT?”). As I’ve written about, the potential to add alcohol back into the mix for him escalates my fear of this kind of addiction transfer, especially when I think he was likely addicted to it before. It’s really not enough to just focus on treating current compulsive behavior without treating the root cause of that behavior.

    1. You’re 100% correct in needing to get the root of things. The part of me that caused the porn and alcohol addiction was the part that got too lost in my professional endeavors, but I also think it’s the same piece that caused me to collect over 100K baseball cards when I was a kid. The compulsive part of me has been there since very early on.

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