what is a cross addiction

When someone experiences cross addiction, they move from one addiction to a new one. Cross addiction comes from the idea that people who struggle with addiction are more likely to develop other addictions. This could be due to low dopamine levels or the concept of an “addictive personality.” 

Recovering from a substance use disorder is a huge feat. People who recover from a substance use disorder can feel a newfound sense of control and stability. Even with all the immense benefits of recovering from addiction, the road to recovery is not easy. Addiction to a substance alters brain chemistry and could leave people with substance use disorder vulnerable to developing addiction transference or a cross addiction. 

Although developing a cross addiction is not guaranteed, it is something to be aware of. Keep reading to find out more about how cross addiction develops and how to treat it.  

How Does Cross Addiction Occur? 

Addiction is based on the effect the substance or behavior has on dopamine production. Dopamine is related to the reward center of the brain that causes the feeling of a high. The body becomes dependent on substances to release dopamine to feel happiness, joy, and excitement. Due to low dopamine in the brain, some people recovering from addiction could seek other substances or behaviors such as eating, exercise, sex, or gambling to increase dopamine levels. 

Even when recovering from a specific substance, the brain could still crave the effects of the drug. People in early recovery could feel symptoms of depression and anxiety. This could lead to a search for a replacement for their previous addiction. Cross addiction can begin as a way to cope with and manage the discomfort of quitting a substance without actually identifying what is causing the habit in the first place. 

Sometimes, cross addiction can happen accidentally. For example, suppose a person in recovery from an alcohol dependence gets prescribed narcotics for pain after surgery. If the prescription drugs are misused, it could be a slippery slope to developing a pain medication habit. 

People in recovery can justify new addictions by viewing them as less severe. They can also perceive the new habit as good because it helps the individual stay away from their original addiction. Viewing new potential addictions as acceptable behavior could lead to relapse to their first addiction. 

Lastly, untreated co-occurring disorders could lead to developing a new addition. Symptoms of anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, etc., can be exasperated when quitting a substance that would help cope with symptoms. Instead of seeking professional help and building healthy coping mechanisms, people could look for behaviors that distract from unpleasant feelings. 

What Are Common Combinations for Cross Addictions? 

An example of a typical combination for addiction transference can be someone recovering from cocaine who turns to prescription amphetamines for a similar sensation. Or an individual quitting heroin that finds comfort in daily drinking.  

Sometimes, cross addictions could go from the use of substances to process addictions such as: 

  • Binge eating. Seeking comfort in food is something most of us can relate to. But, using food to distract and numb from a difficult recovery can lead to food addiction. Symptoms of binge eating could include an inability to stop eating even when full, feelings of shame with yourself when overeating, and eating faster than usual. 
  • Shopping. Sometimes, people recovering from substance use can develop a compulsive shopping habit to help cope with boredom, depression, and anxiety. When compulsive shopping, people experience an increase in endorphins and dopamine, which causes feelings of euphoria. After the euphoria, people can experience intense remorse and financial strain but still cannot stop.  
  • Gambling. A gambling addiction can develop when someone in recovery gets an influx of dopamine by making risky financial bets to get a similar high to using a substance. 
  • Sex. Sex addiction is when individuals cannot control risky sexual behaviors even when they feel no satisfaction from it and when there are consequences to physical and mental health.
  • Over-exercising. It is common for people in recovery to find comfort in exercise and healthy living when dealing with cravings. Although it may seem like a healthy coping mechanism, it could lead to an unhealthy fixation on being physically fit. According to a study by the University of Southern California, 15% of people with an exercise addiction have had addictions to nicotine, alcohol, and other substances. 

As you can see, cross addictions manifest not only in drug use; they can turn into impulsive behaviors. It is not always obvious when people start to develop addictive behaviors. Exercise, for example, can seem like an effective way of resisting the urge to start using substances again. Still, when addictive behavior is already an issue, people in recovery should be mindful of how often and how intensely they do it.  

Is Cross Addiction Common? 

According to a study, about 20 million people in the United States have an addiction. About 80% of those people are at risk of developing a new habit. The rate of relapse for people in recovery is anywhere between 40-60%. Knowing that relapse is common and that it is normal for people in recovery to want to use again, You can accept where you are and start finding healthy ways to cope.  

People who develop addiction transference often get started by following a sponsor’s or counselors instructions to change their negative habits into healthier ones. There are times where this works and times where this new behavior is used as a crutch to help get them through the adverse effects of quitting an addictive behavior. 

In many other cases, major life events like the death of a spouse or a family member can create an environment where a new addiction forms. Even those who have a long streak of sobriety can find it overwhelming to cope with painful life circumstances and turn to old methods of self-soothing. 

Can You Prevent Developing a Cross Addiction?

therapy for cross addictions

Even if many people in recovery are vulnerable to developing a cross addiction, it is preventable. Being aware of the risk of developing a cross addiction while recovering from addiction is the first step towards avoiding it. 

Another step is to communicate to your doctors and be transparent about any substance or process addiction issues experienced in the past or present. Ask your doctor not to prescribe potentially addictive medications during treatment or lessen the amount given if it is unavoidable. Asking someone in your family to monitor your medication intake could also be helpful.  

Lastly, make an effort to reduce stress and avoid triggers. It is helpful to avoid situations where you used to engage in addictive behaviors, like bars, and opt for spending time with a sober community or with friends and family who support your decision to treat your addictive behaviors. Individuals in recovery could prevent addiction transference by establishing healthy relationships, seeking professional help, and dealing with the underlying issues that lead to addictive behavior. 

Listening to the concerns of friends and family members also can avoid cross addiction. Self-acceptance and being patient with oneself are of utmost importance. Recovery is complex, and being honest with yourself and others about where you are at in your journey is a vital piece for managing unrealistic expectations and facing issues head-on. 

How is Cross Addiction Treated? 

A large part of treating cross addiction is finding the underlying issue driving you or a loved one towards using substances or behaviors to numb and mask what is going on internally. Are there unaddressed issues from your first addiction? What is hindering you from a full recovery? Answering these questions for yourself and a trained professional can lead to transformative healing and sustainable recovery. 

Underlying mental health issues can be addressed through integrated treatment, reducing impulsive behavior, and staying present through discomfort and what triggers it. Treatment options also depend on what addiction you are grappling with. Sex addiction treatment will have different approaches to an opiate addiction, but one can expect a combination of behavioral therapy, group therapy, detoxification, and possibly medication. 

Find Support for Cross Addiction 

If you suspect that you or a loved one may have developed a cross addiction, finding qualified and professional support is a top priority. The brain tends to revert to old habits when life gets tricky. Professional support during times of stress helps to identify healthy ways of dealing with stress and builds resilience for future addictions. Even if you feel like you could handle your recovery on your own, you will have a higher chance of true recovery with professional assistance.

Cross addictions are treatable using the right aftercare programs that are evidence-based and effective. At Coastal Detox, our clients begin their recovery process with ease and serenity due to our individualized holistic therapies and professional and experienced staff. The goal for our facility is to keep you sober and healthy long-term. For help with cross addiction, please contact Coastal Detox to learn more about how our staff can help you or your loved one stay on a successful path towards recovery.