Addemdum To...Switching Addictions

There are some addictions to switch to that are less deadly than others. If you must just change your "drug of choice," (instead of getting into recovery from all addictions), make it shopping, exercise, or food. Remember, none of them are problems in and of themselves, in fact, most of us do all of them regularly. It is when they become our reason for living, take over our lives, and cause conflict, chaos, and destruction, that they are problems.

Everyone knows of an alcoholic or an addict who stops using the typical mind-altering drugs and "gets into recovery," either using a support group, treatment center, or just "white-knuckling" to get through each day without getting high. Soon, this addict is putting on weight, or the opposite, becoming anorexic (more on this in a future column), smoking more cigarettes than previously, or perhaps spending all that extra money on buying "stuff." What is going on? Is this recovery? Well, not really. True, I don't know anyone who ends up in jail from overeating or over-shopping, or even from smoking cigarettes. But the cigarettes and food are one route to an early death from the health consequences. More importantly, they are a way to avoid feeling. If we cover up feelings with anything - drugs, food, even cigarettes, we lose the chance to grow emotionally and spiritually.

OK, so how is exercise anything other than good? One example from a competitive Triathlete I know is this: when her children were teenagers and she had been through a divorce, she and the kids were in lots of emotional pain. The kids would fight with each other and with her, unable to express their sadness and anger about their parents; none of them knew how to "recover" from this divorce and keep it from causing more destruction in their lives. They did not get help from counseling, support groups, or anywhere else. The mom, not having the tools to help her children through this time, just took off on her bike whenever the kids started fighting. She later said that that was a very destructive way in which she used exercise. She did eventually get some help for herself so she could help her children.

In contrast, another Triathlete mother put her kids and their needs first, fitting her own exercise in around their needs and activities. It is important to do both... meet our own needs AND those of our children. Both mothers were competitive athletes; one helped her children learn to deal with feelings, let them know they were important, and was still a model for taking care of herself, and thus another good example for our children to see.

So, you can learn to be present, not mind-altered or obsessed with anything. You can use food and exercise appropriately, and get in touch with your own feelings and needs!

If you are switching addictions, consider an alternative: get into recovery from the disease of Addiction instead of going back and forth between "drugs."

Dr. Obrecht is an M.D. addiction medicine specialist, the only one on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Her office is in Steamboat Springs and she does consultations and referrals to anywhere in the country.


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