If you’ve been watching this season of Shameless (and if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you?), then you know that one of the major storylines revolves around Lip and his journey getting sober.
Last season, he finally admitted to having a problem managing his alcohol and went to rehab on his professor’s dime. Since then. he’s gone to AA, got a sponsor, and started the 12 steps.
Lip’s sponsor has had a huge impact on him already: he’s helped Lip get a new job, gives him advice on self-care, and has helped him replace his addiction with a new one: running. As for the sponsor himself, he’s traded in booze for sugar.
This is a relatively common practice for addicts in the real world — just a simple google search comes up with many message boards with those in recovery chatting about how they traded in one obsession for another. But it begs the question — is this actually healthy? Short answer: it depends.
Dr. Lance Dodes told The Fix,
“It’s been well known for a very long time that A.A. meetings used to be filled with smoke because people shifted their focus from drinking to cigarettes. Alcoholism isn’t about alcohol any more than compulsive gambling is about playing roulette—or winning money. Addiction is a solution to an emotional need. If you deprive someone of one solution to their emotional problems, it’s not surprising that they’ll find another one instead.”
In short: replacing drinking with gambling or shopping or sex, is not going to solve all your problems forever (to quote Mindy Lahiri).
But trading in an addiction for a healthy habit may be ok. (Emphasis on the “may”).
Psychology Professor Mark Smith has long been an advocate for replacing addiction with physical exercise, much like Lip is doing. There isn’t much research to back this up, however, and many others in the field worry this is still unhealthy, to which Smith says,
“One of those addictions leads to basically a devastation throughout all aspects of your life and probably premature death. The other addiction leads to improved cardiovascular health, better self-esteem, better self-efficacy and maybe some joint problems when you get older. It’s an apples-and-chain saws comparison.”
Although exercise is certainly a much better alternative to drinking or gambling, at the end of the day, it’s still not treating the underlying emotional issues, Dr. Dodes said. Instead, he suggests a comprehensive treatment plan that goes beyond the 12 steps to include therapy, medication, and nutrition and exercise.