“Substitutes” are behaviors that in early recovery we find ourselves often doing while adjusting to game-free living, things like numbing out in front of the TV or computer or with some junk food, or seeking excitement or distraction in a lot of gambling, dating, porn, sex, gym workouts, or chasing the dollar, for example. Many people seek quick fixes and easy relief, especially we addicts. It's only to be expected as we begin years of adjusting to a new way of life free from active addiction that we will sometimes try to cope with difficulty by impulsively using certain escapes in excessive or unhealthy ways.I'm having a really hard time and feel I'm on the verge of relapsing into games. I binge on movies and web surfing and social media much of every day. I guess I might be an internet addict and need to stop using my computer and smartphone. With no access to online CGAA meetings, I don't know how I'd stay off games. I feel lost. Help.
We'll often notice the thought and behavior patterns of addiction at play with substitute behavior. We might stay up late with the substitute, neglect work and family obligations, or break limits we set for ourselves, same as we did with gaming. When we lack control, see the red flags, and suffer the consequences, it can be very easy to think, “Dang! Back to this again? I have a new addiction!” This may or may not be true. It is possible that a substitute behavior eventually spirals out of control and becomes a full blown addiction. (While none of us seems susceptible to all potentially addictive behaviors, it is very common to be susceptible to more than one.) It is more likely that character defects and the dysfunctional behavior patterns from our years of gaming are continuing to play themselves out through new avenues.
It is important to be able to distinguish between a problematic substitute and a second addiction. When a substitute is mistaken for a new addiction, it can really mess with our heads. Some people feel devastated by the thought that they have unknowingly relapsed into active addiction. We might think, “Well, if I'm in active addiction anyway, how much can it matter which addictive behavior I'm doing?” and find ourselves gaming again. We might think, “What's the point in working the program while in relapse?” and cut our ties with the fellowship. We might feel discouraged thinking about starting back at day one in abstinence or admitting the problem to others.
It is important to realistically take stock of the situation. The solution for a problematic substitute is usually very different from the solution for a second addiction.
For an actual addiction, the solution is abstinence with the support and guidance of others in recovery from it.
For a substitute, the solution is putting more time and effort into the suggestions and principles of the CGAA program, such as attending more meetings, talking with other members between meetings, being of service, helping the newcomer, practicing gratitude, acceptance, meditation, and prayer, and working with a sponsor. As we take better care of ourselves with recovery work, social connections, sleep, nutrition, and exercise, we find relief from irritation, restlessness, and impulsiveness. We find ourselves losing interest in the substitute and better able to focus on the things that matter.
How can we decide if the problem is a substitute or a new addiction? The thinking and behaviors of the two are sometimes too similar to tell the difference. But the differences will show themselves as we prioritize our recovery work and experiment with setting limits on the behavior. If we find ourselves gaining control over ourselves as we step up our recovery program, chances are excellent that it was only a substitute behavior. If on the other hand we find that no amount of recovery work shields us from obsession, compulsion, and bingeing whenever we are in that behavior, it seems that a second addiction is at work.
If you're impulsively using substitutes, we suggest striving for bits of progress rather than big, immediate changes, while doing your best to take the suggestions of the program and your sponsor. If we feel less impulsive and were able to stick to a limit today that we were unable to uphold yesterday, that's a bit of progress. If we went to bed at a reasonable hour only twice last week but three times this week, that's a bit of progress. If we make an extra phone call, or attend an extra meeting, or reach out to another newcomer, that's progress. Day by day, those little bits of progress add up. It takes months and years for them to accumulate into major changes. So don't beat yourself up about the time it takes to outgrow problematic behaviors. We try to practice acceptance, patience, and gratitude for positive change.
Hopefully you will find that you lose interest in the substitute behavior that worries you. The obsession with a substitute is often a passing phase that comes and goes, causing no trouble when we're well balanced and causing more trouble when we're emotionally off balance with fear, resentment, or self-pity.
If instead you notice the progressive nature of addiction in the substitute behavior, getting worse over time, hitting new depths with loss of control, it may be time to explore complete abstinence from the behavior and seek a recovery group with such experience.