Sobriety And Behavioral Addictions

One complication of the term "sobriety" has been the difficulty of defining it in the context of the so-called "process addictions'' or "behavioral addictions,'' terms that have been used to distinguish addictions to such activities or behaviors as gambling, shopping, overeating, sexual acting-out, etc. from substance addictions in the strict sense. Unlike alcoholics and drug abusers, people with behavioral addictions cannot always define "sobriety'' as simple abstinence. A compulsive overeater, for example, must learn to consume food in moderation, not avoid it. Persons addicted to compulsive spending or shopping cannot simply abstain from making purchases. Members of Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) rarely define sexual sobriety as "complete abstinence from sex,'' although at times recovering persons may practice complete abstinence (celibacy) for a period of time in order to gain perspective on their life. In this Twelve-Step group, sexual sobriety is most often defined as ''a contract that the sexual addict makes between him/ herself and their 12-step recovery support and/or their therapist/clergy. These contracts . . . are always written and involve clearly defined concrete behaviors from which the sexual addict has committed to abstain in order to define their sobriety.'' Comparable abstinence contracts are used by recovering binge eaters, compulsive spenders, relationship addicts, etc.

One benefit of attempts to redefine sobriety in the context of behavioral addictions is that they have called attention to the problem of substitute addictions, which are addictions that develop when a recovering alcoholic or drug abuser substitutes food, tobacco, or certain activities (including exercise) for their drug of choice. Many members of Twelve-Step groups have found that sobriety requires a re-examination of addictive beliefs and attitudes in general as well as abstinence from alcohol or specific drugs.

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