Overcoming addiction to substance – find a replacement behavior that offers a comparable result – hope involves you being both reasonable and honest with yourself


Quick summary: Overcoming a substance addiction can be truly difficult as the majority of substances that people become addicted to offer: significant results, consistent results, fast onset, and results with little to no effort. The reasonable way to overcome an addiction is to isolate what emotional state (happy, uninhibited, spiritual, relaxed, euphoric, carefree, distracted etc) you are trying to achieve with the substance and then isolate and engage in an alternative or a replacement behavior(s) that can lead to the desired emotional disposition (example: if you are trying to feel uninhibited what else can you do to attain such a feeling with less consequences?). Let me be very honest with you… it is rare to find a replacement behavior that will match the ‘quick onset’ and ‘lack of effort’ characteristics of a substance… In short, your replacement behavior will likely require more effort and the emotional disposition that you are trying to achieve will likely take a bit longer to achieve. For most people it is subjectively “more difficult” to attain a desired emotional disposition with a healthy replacement behavior than it is to ingest a substance. Being hopeful involves being both reasonable and honest… many substance abuse programs are therefore selling false hope in my opinion. There seems to be a belief that being honest about the effectiveness of substances impedes recovery… I am suggesting an alternative view… this is my view: substances are incredibly effective and there is no easier way of achieving a desired emotional disposition than to ingest something… healthier behaviors that can elicit the same emotional dispositions have far fewer consequences, often have other wellness benefits (to your physical, emotional, relational and social health), they can have more long lasting results (the emotional doesn’t always leave when the substance leaves your body), and they can help you achieve the desired emotional disposition without a disruptive dependence (you can embrace freedom)… in short the replacement is better for you, and the substance will be easier for you.

A substance is anything that can be taken into the body that will have a significant affect on the chemicals in your brain (neurotransmitters, hormones etc).

  • Everything that you ingest has an effect on your brain.
  • Certain substances have significantly more impact on your mood, energy, and the way that you present yourself etc than others do.
  • Soda, high calorie fast food, alcohol, coffee, cigarettes, marijuana, LSD, Prozac, valium, Benadryl etc are all examples of what I will be calling ‘substances’ in this post.



Technique – questions to find why you take the substance and what you can do instead?


What Substances do you ingest to a degree that might have a negative impact on your physical, social, relational and/or emotional self?



  • What is too much? How can you tell when someone is ingesting too much of a substance?



The BIG question… what is the emotional state that you are trying to achieve by taking the substance?


  • Marijuana tends to make people feel relaxed, less preoccupied by the future, and more in tune with their five senses (music and colors are said to be more “clear”)
  • A 500-calorie fast food burger can make you feel less depressed, lazy in a satisfying way, satiated, and euphoric (almost orgasmic to some) in the moment of eating it.
  • Alcohol can make you feel uninhibited, confident, relaxed, less anxious, and forgetful of things you’d like to not focus on.
  • Anti anxiety pills can make you feel less anxious, emotionally numbed, less helpless, more ambitious, and less concerned.


In what contexts does it feel reasonable to ingest the relevant substance? If you and others were to say that you had a perfectly healthy relationship with the substance, in what ways could you use it without significantly negative consequences?

Examples – these will obviously differ person to person… ex. if it ‘ok’ to drink at the ball game and you have season tickets that might be a lot of drinking.

  • A couple beers at the ball game… or a bottle of wine with my wife on our anniversary.
  • Smoking a little pot before a concert.
  • Taking an anti- anxiety pill before a once-a-year public speaking event.
  • Eating a huge burger at your favorite spot on a family vacation.


In what contexts does it seem absolutely unnecessary to ingest the relevant substance? Even if it is difficult for you to see the substance as a problem in your life, in what ways do you use the substance that “feels” inappropriate or excessive?


  • Smoking pot before you go to your college class that is costing you a ton of money.
  • Ordering a shot to take before you drink your cocktail.
  • Taking anti anxiety pills every time you visit your family.
  • Drinking a 70 ounce cup of soda.
  • Eating fast-food every week.


What is your replacement behavior? What activity or behavior have you heard of or engaged in yourself that could give you the same or a similar emotional state that you receive from ingesting the substance?


  • Cardiovascular exercise can lead to feelings of euphoria and doing such with regularity can reduce depression (this activity basically releases the same neurotransmitters in your brain as anti- depressants).
  • Engaging in mindfulness mediation can dramatically increase your ability to attend to your senses in the present moment (with regular practice you will reap the benefits commonly associated with marijuana without the consequences).
  • Working on your relationships in therapy can increase your felt security and your ability to communicate and relate to people in an authentic way (you will receive the confidence commonly associated with alcohol while still being authentic and in tune with yourself and others).
  • You could find more ways of enjoying your sexuality in your committed relationship (you will feel the same positive feelings associated with eating high calorie food – again, many of the same neurotransmitters are released).


What is getting in your way? What do you need to overcome or what influences do you need to separate yourself from in order to free your self from dependency?



  • Entering the ‘convenience’ store when visiting a gas station.
  • Avoiding or repressing a trauma or an unresolved issue that consciously or unconsciously affects your life.
  • Never having food at home to bring for lunch or not knowing how to make a meal.
  • Regularly attending situations that require drunkenness to have a good time… situations that are not enjoyable without intoxication.
  • Keeping your fridge stocked with beer… having your pot on the coffee table… keeping caffeine pills in your purse.
  • Seeking assistance from people who will encourage the “quick fix” like diet pills.


What habits do you have that might get in the way? Addictions commonly have to do with habits that encourage you to ingest the substance… commonly people create an association with an activity and the substance.


  • Having a cigarette after eating greasy food.
  • Smoking pot before watching a reality TV show.
  • Eating lots of calories when you have to work late.
  • Ordering a huge soda for your commute home.
  • Drinking excessively while playing softball.


Could you enjoy or ‘deal with’ the activity without the substance? What would make it easier for you?

What support do you need? Who can help you to free your self? Who will help you with a reasonable solution knowing that it is likely easier to simply ingest a substance than to use a replacement behavior?


  • Who or what can keep you dedicated when you are lacking in motivation?


  • Who has already overcome what you are struggling with?


  • What can be resolved to help with this process? What feelings does the substance help you avoid that could be resolved instead?


Be honest with your self… without honesty you will not truly carry hopefulness. Substances have fast onset and generally required little to no effort to achieve the desired emotional state. Replacement behaviors often require significantly more dedication, consistency, and overall effort.

  • Example: you could pop a pill in your mouth and feel euphoric and less depressed in minutes… this required you to raise your hand to your mouth. You could feel the same euphoria and reduction of depression from running… this will require dedication to get into shape and once are able to engage in sustained cardiovascular exercise the euphoric result will require to go running for at least about 40 minutes.



Imagine the new you… By being reasonable and honest with yourself you may now embrace your hope. Tell yourself a story about the new you. You have planted a seed… what will grow?


  • What benefits will exist in your life when you make this change?


  • What negatives will be removed when you make this change?


I am in no way suggesting that all substances are bad or that all substance use is bad… if your intention is to ‘feel’ the positive effects of the substance and you are not dependant on that substance to achieve a desired emotional disposition than that is your freedom.

  • Do the consequences out way the benefits? Are you dependant on the substance? Would you have no other means of attaining the desired emotional disposition without the substance? – If your answers are “no” you might be all right.


Let me clear up a quick misconception – we have arbitrarily labeled what substances are “bad” and what substances are “not bad.” The way that substances are viewed by the legal system can be incredibly misleading.

  • There are many substance which are illegal that cause significantly (almost insulting to compare) less social and physiological problems than legal substances.
  • For example: over 50% of ‘substance abuse’ is related to prescription drugs, obesity (which is often the result of an addiction to the feelings that arrive from ingesting sugar and high calorie foods) is linked to countless terminal diseases, and alcohol plays a role in just about every single social disturbance being studied.


Embrace your hope, find your replacement, and build dedication for a healthier you.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

William Hambleton Bishop

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

2 thoughts on “Overcoming addiction to substance – find a replacement behavior that offers a comparable result – hope involves you being both reasonable and honest with yourself

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