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Sobering Up: How to Avoid Switching Addictions in Early Sobriety

You’ve made the massive decision to sober up from drugs or alcohol. Congrats! You are making the best move anyone can in a lifetime. For alcoholics and addicts, getting clean and sober saves them from abject misery and early death.

Early sobriety brings a myriad of new experiences and feelings that we numbed out for years. Without our chemical workaround, we face emotions that we probably haven’t felt in years. Often, these make us want to avoid them with new destructive behaviors.

What Does Switching Addictions Mean

In phycology pop language, “switching” refers to starting a new destructive obsession while recovering from your current addiction. I think it’s more appropriately an extension of my addiction because the escapes are attempts at avoiding my problems, even if the “drug of choice” has changed.

Chemical addictions can often switch to problematic behaviors, including workaholism, love and sex, gambling, and overeating. It’s pretty typical that we dive into work more or seek out romantic partners with greater enthusiasm. We tell ourselves we’re only trying to make up for the lost time. It has a certain plausibility, but for me, I noticed it was cover for the increasing amount of hours I’d sink in these pursuits.

If I were honest with myself, I would have to admit I avoided downtime, step work, and building healthy relationships. Workaholism appears noble on the surface, but it distracts from life outside of work.

The alternative behaviors take up space in our lives that we could otherwise apply to healthier pursuits and our recovery. In moderation, work and romance are natural facets of a good life, but when they consume most of our waking thoughts, they detract from life. Sometimes, when they are out of control, they destroy our lives just as much as the chemical dependency.

Common Addictions that Addicts and Alcoholics Switch to

As mentioned, workaholism is one of the most common to switch to. While we may have been doing stellar work at 40 hours a week, we may start gradually increasing the hours we spend at work, or we pick up new jobs and businesses in addition to our 9 to 5.

We might get a belief that we fell behind on our financial well-being and savings due to all the wasted money of addiction. We rationalize the hours worked as a way to make up ground so that we can be on the same financial footing as our peers.

Whether it is to get out of debt, build a savings buffer, or achieve a more prestigious title, the truth is that we enjoy the feeling that work provides. That feeling of focus on work displaces other feelings we aren’t comfortable with, such as fear, anger, or sadness.

Other common addictive behaviors include

  1. Romance/sex
  2. Pornography
  3. Overeating
  4. Over-exercising
  5. Gambling
  6. Religion
  7. etc. etc

As mentioned, many of these pursuits aren’t a problem in moderation, but they raise concern when we abuse them to change how we feel. In other words, when we engage in them in excess, we have to ask ourselves if there are underlying issues we are trying to blot out of our minds.

How to Stick to Recovery and Not Switch

It’s normal not to handle the sudden rush of new feelings well in early sobriety. We won’t become a well-adjusted Saint the week we get sober. Getting sober is the ripping off of the bandaid that we relied on for so long. Sobriety is the start of building a happy new life, despite the initial pain.

When we see our life for the first time with a sober mind, we are bound to have mixed feelings after years and decades of avoiding the sight. Don’t worry: Everyone feels this way, and you’re not a lost cause, no matter how far down the pit you wandered.

So the question becomes how do you accept these feelings and not act out in new destructive ways?

Willingness comes into play here. After attending a few meetings and working with a Sponsor, you soon look at the actions necessary for recovery, such as

  1. Prayer
  2. Calling others
  3. Service work at meetings
  4. Reading the recovery literature
  5. Working steps
  6. Journaling
  7. etc

Even though you know what to do, it is hard to make yourself do them when you are in the emotional depths. This problem cuts to the heart of the program:

We can’t feel our way into good actions. We act our way into feeling better. In other words, we don’t try to think or feel our way out of problem behavior. We work despite our feelings, and our emotions follow.

The willingness to take healthy action despite our feelings protects us from engaging in new risky acts. Simple to explain but not easy when we are in the middle of our brainstorm.


Long-buried emotions crop up for the first time in years when we sober up. Sometimes they are hard to manage, and we seek new avenues of escape via different addictions. Being aware that this is a typical pattern helps you stay vigilant during early recovery, so hopefully, you don’t find yourself subtly falling into switching addictions.

The switch often comes in physical behaviors for the chemically dependent, such as overworking, overeating, over-romancing, etc.

The recommended way to stay out of the switching pitfall is to act regardless of your challenging feelings and thoughts. We learn a healthy framework of actions in our 12-step program. Willingness is the key we employ to tap into acting despite our feelings.

Feelings follow our actions, not the other way around.

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