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Many people recovering from substance use disorder (SUD) find themselves obsessing over seemingly innocuous activities to fill their free time. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the increased risk of developing harmful addictive behaviors during early recovery. Some people inadvertently trade one unhealthy behavior for another. According to The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, “Several behavioral addictions have been hypothesized as having similarities to substance addictions.” West Coast Recovery Centers treatment programs use relapse prevention and psychoeducation to prepare clients for long-term recovery. The clinical team ensures clients understand the dangers of behavioral addictions and how to avoid them. 

What Causes Addictive Behaviors?

People develop behavioral addictions when they become overly invested in specific activities to the point that it interferes with other areas of their lives. Researchers have not identified a single cause of behavioral addictions. Multiple factors seem to play a role in the development of behavioral addiction, including: 

  • Co-occurring substance abuse or mental health disorders
  • Family history of behavioral addiction or mental health disorders 
  • Social and peer pressure 
  • Unhealthy family dynamics and lack of support system
  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)

Meanwhile, according to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “An activity, substance, object, or behavior that becomes the main focus of a person’s life excluding other activities, or that has begun to harm the individual or others physically, mentally, or socially can be considered addictive behavior, a person can become addicted or compulsively obsessed with anything.” 

Common Addictive Behaviors

Anything can become an addictive behavior. However, some forms of behavioral addiction are more common than others. For example, most people are aware of the dangers and potential addictiveness of gambling. 

Some other well-known addictive behaviors include:  

  • Excessive gaming
  • Internet addiction 
  • Sex or pornography  
  • Disordered eating 
  • Exercising and dieting
  • Shopping or shoplifting 

Addictive behaviors are compulsive and can interfere with a person’s relationships, career, and education. Individuals recovering from substance abuse may find it especially hard to avoid falling into new addictive behaviors. The brain is often changed by chronic substance abuse, making it easier for those individuals to develop addictions. Studies have shown that “[C]hanges in the brain persist long after substance use stops.” Participating in professional mental health and addiction recovery treatment helps people heal from the damage caused by SUD. 

4 Ways to Avoid Addictive Behaviors

Individuals recovering from substance abuse are often unaware they have a higher risk of developing behavioral addictions. However, behavioral addictions like gambling often occur with SUD. According to the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, “[O]ne nationally representative US study found that 76.3% of individuals with gambling disorder also had a substance use disorder, a rate 5.5 times higher than those without gambling disorder.” West Coast Recovery Centers educates clients on the dangers of addictive behaviors and how to avoid them during treatment and long-term recovery. Below are four ways people in recovery can avoid developing addictive behaviors. 

#1. Setting Boundaries Around Leisure Activities

Most potentially addictive behaviors are enjoyable activities people use to fill their time. Individuals recovering from SUD often have significant amounts of free time as they transition out of treatment. Relying on leisure activities to reduce boredom and lingering symptoms of SUD may cause some people to become dependent on these behaviors. 

A few boundaries people use to avoid becoming addicted to specific activities include:

  • Setting reasonable daily or weekly limits on how much time is spent doing specific activities (e.g., playing video games) 
  • Manage notifications or set limits on screen time for mobile apps and sites 
  • Engage in multiple hobbies to avoid becoming obsessive with any one activity
  • Being mindful of how time is spent and how specific activities affect mental health 

Setting clear personal boundaries around leisure activities reduces the risk of behavioral addiction. 

#2. Using Healthy Coping Skills

Developing healthy coping skills is a primary focus of therapy during addiction recovery. Treatment programs use various methods and therapeutic tools to help clients create and manage coping skills. People in recovery have an easier time avoiding addictive behaviors if they have healthy coping skills for redirecting focus and managing stress. 

Examples of healthy coping skills include: 

  • Stress management 
  • Meditation 
  • Self-care
  • Relaxation techniques, including deep breathing 
  • Self-help groups and peer support 

People in recovery also benefit from relying on a healthy support system. Often, friends and family are the first to notice significant behavioral changes. Frequently speaking with loved ones may reduce the risk of behavioral addictions. 

#3. Engaging in Supportive Social Interactions

Discussing concerns with friends and family helps people avoid developing new addictive behaviors. Engaging in supportive social interactions provides people with an additional layer of accountability. In addition, regularly spending time with friends and loved ones will make it more apparent if certain behaviors start to become unhealthy. 

#4. Participating in Professional Mental Health Treatment

Attending professional mental health treatment programs and using community-based services, including self-help groups, reduces the risk of developing addictive behaviors by creating a set schedule. The weekly or monthly schedule of meetings and therapy sessions increases accountability and self-awareness. 

Many people diagnosed with substance use disorder struggle with behavioral addictions, including gambling or internet addiction. Often, people replace substance abuse with a seemingly innocent pastime. However, if a behavior or activity becomes compulsive or begins interfering with a person’s ability to function, it may affect their quality of life. If left untreated, behavioral addictions have the potential to interfere with all areas of a person’s life. West Coast Recovery Centers uses evidence-based methods and alternative holistic therapies to help clients develop healthy coping skills. Relapse prevention and skill development reduce the risk of addictive behaviors. To learn more about our programs and services, call our office today at (760) 492-6509.

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