After the brain becomes hardwired to crave escape and pleasure at the hand of external stimulation, getting clean and sober can be a particularly daunting challenge. There is a reason that so many addicts and alcoholics in treatment develop another issue. Cigarettes, e-cigarettes, coffee, energy drinks, caffeine, food, sex, eating disorders, gambling- any kind of compulsive issue can develop as the brain struggles to let go.
A replacement addiction is any kind of behavior which becomes a preoccupation during the treatment process. Letting go of all substances and behaviors at once, then being challenged to confront difficult emotions and troubling memories, in addition to hard truths, is overwhelming. In the recovery industry, there is a lot of talk about willingness. Someone has to be willing to be stripped raw of their vices and face themselves full frontal. Such vulnerability is difficult. It isn’t because someone isn’t willing, though that’s certainly the surface problem. Continuing to turn to obsessing over external relief and acting on compulsive behavior to find it is the result of a damaged brain.
Brain imaging studies have found that long term substance abuse does a substantial amount of damage to the prefrontal cortex, in addition to just about every other area of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is of special consideration because it is where development takes place. Marijuana and alcohol abuse in adolescence, for example, disrupts psychological development and halts the process in the prefrontal cortex. Ongoing, there are cognitive impairments in this area. Cognitive functions are those which help humans to make judgments, make decisions, take in information and create knowledge. When the brain has become so addicted to external substances and the pleasure-reward system, cognitive impairments can create a blockage to what most people call “willingness”. Quite literally, the brain doesn’t know any other way and has a hard time conceptualizing the possibility that there could be another way. Replacement addictions can happen because someone is having a hard time dealing with pain, coping with the loss of addiction, or simply not being able to grasp the concepts of recovery.
Typically, replacement addictions are passing and do not turn into serious issues which demand treatment of their own. However, it is important to be honest about them when they start to happen. One of the best ways to counteract the hardwired systems in the brain which have developed as the result of substance abuse is to communicate, be open about your experience, and ask for help to change it.
Your path to recovery can start at Lakehouse Recovery Center where we emphasize learning how to live and have fun again in recovery. In addition to clinical therapy and holistic healing, our clients learn how to create meaning and have a good time. Life’s for living. For more information call us today at 877.762.3707.