My friend Adi over at all about addiction poses the question:
“Can addicts substitute their choice addiction for a behavior that is actually beneficial?”
You can check out his response to this right here.
Here are my thoughts about it:
I think the answer is basically yes. But of course there are some potential pitfalls as well. Too much of a good thing can turn out to be bad (as every addict knows!).
One example of a beneficial replacement for addiction in my own life is jogging. In early recovery, I was out of shape, I smoked cigarettes, and jogging basically equaled self torture in my mind. But what a blessing that I managed to keep forcing myself to do it long enough to “break through the pain” and get to a point where I actually looked forward to the run. It used to be that each step was a monumental effort, and I couldn’t wait to get finished. Now my frequent jogs throughout the week have become easy and invigorating; something to look forward to.
Certainly this qualifies as part of my replacement strategy for overcoming addiction. Not only is it physically healthy, but I go fairly long distances (6 miles minimum) and the run has a definite meditative quality to it. The idea of a “runner’s high” goes beyond the mere physical rush of dopamine to the brain….I’m out there on the open road, taking in the scenery, and generally enjoying a solid hour of peace and serenity. It goes beyond exercise and actually gets you into a zone, recharging your batteries both mentally and physically.
But one of the potential pitfalls I mentioned above should be examined here: focusing on a single activity as a replacement for addiction is probably not a good idea. Obsessing over anything to such an extent is probably going to be detrimental, as well as ultimately fail in preventing relapse. This is because successful recovery is a holistic endeavor–one that addresses all areas of an addict’s life, and treats them all. So the question becomes: does this beneficial activity address all areas of an addict’s life? Can it help them to overcome cravings and triggers, deal with their emotions, or provide new friends that are on a path of growth and development? If your replacement activity is shooting pool in a bar somewhere, then probably not.
Consider, for example, a fairly young teen who has a close circle of friends with whom they use drugs. Because of their youth, these friendships are extremely important, and escaping the lifestyle of drug use will be nearly impossible if the person continues to associate with them. Now, if this young person were to seek recovery, merely offering them a single activity as a solution for recovery is going to be woefully inadequate. They are going to need a more sophisticated replacement strategy, because their addiction is more than just physical–it is social as well. They would need, at a minimum, new friends in their age group that are also trying to recover, and even that would not ensure success. Addiction is complicated, and our lives can become entangled by it. Recovery becomes necessarily complicated as well.
On the other hand, consider someone in recovery who is a bit older and has less peer influences on them. With less social interaction and less peer pressure, their addiction is less complicated. Suggesting that something such as meditation or Tai Chi as a formula for recovery might actually work for some people. A meditative and holistic martial art such as Tai Chi could actually constitute a recovery program in and of itself–provided that someone follows the teachings and maintains the discipline needed to really study and learn the art.
Can addicts and alcoholics substitute something healthy for their addiction? Yes and no. If that “something” is a holistic, all encompassing, life-changing activity, then yes. We have to be talking about a deep art form that touches body, mind, and spirit, such as meditation, yoga, or the martial arts. But keep in mind that these types of holistic solutions for recovery will probably become less effective if someone’s life and addiction is truly complicated. They can always be seen as beneficial as a supplemental strategy, but placing your entire recovery on a single activity is likely to be risky for most people. Without a strong supporting social network, these solutions will probably prove to be inadequate for many recovering addicts.
The key, therefore, is to embrace recovery as it pertains to the whole person….and then develop a plan for your life that addresses each of these areas. This is the essence of the creative theory of recovery. It is more adaptable, more encompassing than current solutions.