7 "Harmless" Addictions That Can Impair Recovery


Sober Recovery Expert Author

If you are in recovery, you should be applauded for your effort, willingness and perseverance. As time progresses, you should also seek to remain vigilant about your behaviors and your recovery. Under certain circumstances, what you may associate as “harmless” addictions can be causing more harm than you realize. Ultimately, the barometer on whether a given habit is harmful to your recovery should be whether it takes away from your time and mental energy dedicated to sobriety. A further warning sign to consider is whether a given habit actually brings you closer to or further away from relapse.

Here are 7 areas that, if not managed properly, can fall in the harmful category:

These things aren't all bad to begin with but overinvesting in such a way that they interfere with recovery can be detrimental.

1. Romantic Relationships

The desire to love and be loved is universal. However, given the mental intensity, time investment and strong feelings involved in romantic relationships, many AA old-timers recommend remaining cautious about overly-investing yourself into a romantic relationship. Case in point: orthodox AA recommends newcomers stay out of any type of romantic relationship for the first year.

Under the rubric of romantic relationships, although not mutually exclusive by any means, can also be engaging in non-romantic, sexual relationships with others. Sex, like all other forms of mind and mood altering substances causes pleasure and so for those with a self-admitted addictive problem, seeing addictions change over time is commonplace. One of the first often comes in the form of sex or love addiction.

Helpful Tip: If you feel like you are too invested in sex or love relationships, step back with the guidance of a sponsor and try to consider objectively your desire for these things in the first place.

2. Work

Work is such a notorious “harmless addiction” found in recovery that the Big Book has been mentioning it since the 1940s. In fact, the Big Book directly remarks on the propensity of the recovering alcoholic to recommit to work with gusto, seeking to make up for lost time, income and career advancement. However admirable these intentions may be, you must consider whether work obligations are preventing attending more important recovery obligations. If you find yourself using the excuse, “I’ve just been so busy with work” more often than you are attending meetings, this is a warning sign that you should look into along with your sponsor or another AA member.

Helpful Tip: A meeting lasts only an hour but, generally speaking, a job lasts about as long once you get back into active addiction.

3. Gambling

There is a reason that a whole other 12-Step program is dedicated to gambling because for some it causes an obsession, compulsion and, realistically, a number of financial problems as well. Before engaging in any type of gambling, it is helpful to people in recovery to acknowledge the nearly universal addictive personality type inside of them which, though it may not favor gambling as a drug of choice today, it almost certainly can in the future. With this notion of caution in mind, discussing gambling behaviors with a sponsor or friend in the Rooms may help clarify what your goals, intentions and benefits are concerning gambling.

Helpful Tip: Gambling does not only mean the casino, sports betting or the poker table but, with technology today, it also includes online games commonly found on Facebook and other social media sites. These have been found to be highly addictive to some users as well.

4. Eating Habits

While you can go a lifetime without gambling, or even arguably romance or sex, everybody has to eat. Most concerns over eating habits generally revolve around losing a few pounds or toning up some muscle. For some, this desire to control one’s weight and body image through unhealthy or unrealistic eating habits can not only become an addiction in itself but can also drastically damage one’s health and ability to engage in a meaningful recovery.

Helpful Tip: If you think it is a problem, it probably is. Never be afraid to ask around honestly with those that you trust about your concerns.

5. Social Media

Staying connected is great. It is the lifeblood of the recovery program in many ways. Except with the following caveat: recovery has historically only worked via two people working together in-person. With recent advents in technology, staying in touch with people in the program has never been easier. But alongside this technology come the distractions found in smart phones and social media. Even worse, these distractions sometimes carry themselves into the Rooms during a meeting, potentially distracting yourself and others. If hanging up the phone or logging out for an hour a day to attend a meeting is difficult for you, you should definitely bring this topic up with your sponsor or at a meeting.

Helpful Tip: Social media and texting are merely technologies: could your harmless addiction be better defined under the romantic interest that you are contacting, off the clock hours work that you just want to finish really quickly or the games that you are playing on social media?

6. The Rooms and the Program

It seems counterintuitive but most people in recovery know of at least one or two people in their area that dedicate their entire life to the program and to recovery. This is fine and natural but sometimes these individuals orient their attention and focus in a way that helps them avoid facing their own shortcomings. When using the Rooms and any recovery program in general, asking yourself what your intentions are is often helpful. These intentions should stand regardless of who hears what you say, how you look or whether your advice is being followed by others.

Helpful Tip: It is your recovery that you need to worry about. Live and let live when it comes to someone else’s recovery.

7. The Catch-All

Leave it to addicts and alcoholics to introduce, find and explore new addictions. In general, anything that keeps you away from your regular meetings, your program commitments, your commitments to yourself and your work with your sponsor or sponsees should be considered at the very least a warning sign that something is off. Maybe it’s just a simple habit that needs some quick readjustment upon the advice of a sponsor, or maybe it is something more serious that others have been commenting to you about frequently. In either case, rigorous self-honesty and a willingness to at least openly consider the commentary and advice of others is essential towards maintaining a healthy recovery equilibrium.

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