Addiction transfer is simply replacing one addiction with another. This is especially common early in recovery. At this point, you are typically low on dopamine and feeling a bit down. Some new behavior can give you a bit of a boost and make you feel better. It’s easy for this new behavior to become addictive and replace whatever you’re trying to quit. You also feel a bit at loose ends. If you quit smoking, for example, you don’t really know what to do with your hands, so you might eat a snack instead of smoking a cigarette.
Often, the new addiction is at least an improvement. Most people know a recovering alcoholic who smokes constantly, probably while drinking coffee. It’s not healthy behavior, but a coffee guzzling smoker can at least function in the world and poses less of a danger to others.
Such is the case with many addictions. The new addiction isn’t good, but it’s better than the old one–at least for a while. Any addiction can be destructive when it gets serious enough. Common transfer addictions include cigarettes, food–especially sweets, gambling, shopping, sex, porn, work, coffee, and exercise.
Some people move from addiction to addiction. Whenever one addiction gets too bad they say to themselves, “Wow, this has really gotten out of hand. I need to cut back on my shopping.” Once the shopping under is control, they start eating cookies all the time.
Many of these transfer addictions are hard to spot at first. We have to eat to live, so it’s a bit weird to think of food as a new addiction. Same for exercise, which is supposed to be healthy and is one of the most commonly recommended lifestyle changes for recovering addicts. You can spot a transfer addiction the same way you can spot a substance addiction–Do you think about it constantly? Do you skip sleep for the activity? Do you miss work or school? Is it causing problems at home? Any of these are indications that you need to consider the new behavior a transfer addiction.
A transfer addiction indicates you still have some work to do on whatever problem led to your original addiction. If your depression or anxiety hasn’t been treated, or if you have some emotional need that hasn’t been met, you’ll still be looking for ways to feel better. These issues often take awhile to sort out, which is why transfer addictions are more common early on.
Some transfer addictions may be linked to the original addiction. Most alcoholics and recovering alcoholics, for example, have low blood sugar. The most common transfer addictions for recovering alcoholics are nicotine, caffeine, and sugar–all of which temporarily raise blood sugar levels. In this case, treating these transfer addictions may require extra emphasis on a healthy diet.