One Vice To Another: A Guide To Cross Addiction

In the world of addiction, you may find yourself or others moving from one vice to another, even after recovering. This phenomenon is called cross addiction and impacts many individuals throughout their recovery journey. However, cross addiction has many complexities, and understanding them all can be challenging.

This article aims to provide information on what cross addiction is, the difference between cross addiction and dual diagnosis, common addictive behaviors, and how to prevent cross addiction.

What is Cross Addiction?

Cross addiction refers to the phenomenon where an individual who is recovering from one form of addiction develops a new addiction to a different substance. Cross addiction, also known as addiction transfer or substitution, is a relatively new term, but the medical community has known the concept for decades.

This phenomenon can occur when the brain’s reward system becomes used to the dopamine stimulation and seeks out other sources, resulting in the individual developing a new substance use disorder. This may seem similar to dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorders. However, there are distinct differences between the two conditions.

The Difference Between Cross Addiction & Dual Diagnosis

Cross addiction and dual diagnosis are two distinct concepts in the realm of addiction and mental health disorders, but they are closely related, often intertwined, and frequently mistaken for each other. Understanding the differences between these terms is crucial for a comprehensive understanding of the complexities of addiction and co-occurring disorders.

  • Cross addiction, as previously stated, is developing a new substance use disorder after recovering from a previous substance. For example, an individual who overcomes alcohol addiction may develop a new addiction to gambling or drugs, like heroin or methamphetamine, and vice versa.
  • Dual diagnosis, also known as co-occurring disorders, is the presence of a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder simultaneously. It involves mental conditions such as depression or anxiety alongside addiction and substance abuse. For example, an individual struggling with anxiety may turn to substances, like marijuana, to self-medicate and become addicted.

It’s important to note that cross addiction and dual diagnosis can be present at the same time in some individuals.

Learn more about dual diagnosis treatment here.

young woman with a hoodie on and her head in her hands

Common Substances Associated with Cross Addiction

Many addicts will jump from one substance to another to experience similar effects. There are many reasons why an individual may do this; however, most individuals are chasing the high that they first experienced with substances. Addicts may jump from one substance to another and from addictive behaviors to substances or vice versa. Some of the most common substances and behaviors that can be associated with cross addiction include:

  • Substances: Alcohol, benzodiazepines such as Valium or Xanax, barbiturates, cannabis, hallucinogenic drugs such as psilocybin or LSD, cocaine, and opioids
  • Behaviors: Excessive gambling, compulsive sexual behavior, compulsive shopping, and binge eating or eating disorders

What Causes Cross Addiction?

The exact cause of cross addiction is debated in the medical community. However, a common theory is that cross addiction may be associated with reduced dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that plays a role in generating feelings of pleasure and euphoria. In the case of substance use disorders, repeated drug or alcohol abuse can deplete dopamine levels in the brain. While drug or alcohol abuse can deplete dopamine levels, certain substances can cause the brain to release dopamine, resulting in the brain becoming accustomed to relying on those substances to produce regular levels of dopamine.

There is another theory surrounding cross addiction, but it is not evidence-based and can be controversial. This theory is that cross addiction is the “addictive personality” that can lead to individuals developing addictions. However, most research has shown that not just one specific personality type is prone to addiction.

Learn how long it takes to break an addiction by reading here.

Research & Evidence on Cross Addiction

Despite the widespread belief in cross addiction, there is a lack of scientific evidence to support its existence. A study conducted in 2001 and 2004 by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center examined over 34,000 adults as part of the National Epidemiological Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions, with the result of the study coming out in 2014. This study aimed to determine how many participants with a substance use disorder developed a new substance use disorder over three years, the success rate of individuals who overcame their initial substance abuse, and the factors contributing to developing new substance use disorders.

The findings revealed that individuals with active substance use disorders were twice as likely to develop another substance use problem as those in a successful recovery period. This suggests that individuals who were unable to address their initial substance abuse issues were more likely to develop an additional substance use disorder later in life.

cross addiction to all kinds of substances

Preventing Cross Addiction

Preventing cross addiction will lead you to lifelong sobriety and allow you to live an addiction-free lifestyle. The first step in preventing cross addiction is awareness of the negative consequences of developing these addictive behaviors. Many of these addictions can cause long-term mental and physical health conditions, decreasing an individual’s overall well-being and quality of life.

To prevent this from happening, it’s important to understand the different types of treatment associated with cross addiction. Some of the most common practices can include:

  • Comprehensive Treatment and Therapy: Utilizing comprehensive addiction treatment and therapy services can address the physical, psychological, and social aspects of addiction. A common type of treatment is dual diagnosis treatment. This involves treating both the addiction and the mental health condition the individual is experiencing. Dual diagnosis is typically part of a treatment program that can include many other types of treatment, such as individual therapy, family support, and aftercare services. Effective treatment and therapy can provide individuals with the necessary tools and skills to manage cravings, cope with stress, and prevent the development of new addictive behaviors.
  • Identifying Triggers: Identifying personal triggers can be crucial in preventing cross addiction. These triggers can include high-risk situations that can cause cravings or increase the likelihood of relapse and developing cross addiction and social circles that can lead to peer pressure and the urge to indulge in the addictive behavior. Recognizing these situations can help to manage cravings and reduce the risk of relapse.
  • Aftercare Support: Maintaining a solid support system and continuing any aftercare services throughout the recovery journey is vital in preventing cross addiction. This can involve attending support groups, continuing to participate in therapy, and staying connected with individuals who understand the challenges of addiction recovery. Ongoing support provides accountability, encouragement, and guidance in making healthy choices and staying committed to long-term recovery goals.

Addiction Treatment & Mental Health Services in Boston, MA

Experiencing cross addiction is a complex and challenging condition to face. While anyone can experience cross addiction, having the resources and tools to combat it is necessary. Access to proper addiction treatment and mental health services can provide these resources.

east coast recovery building

At East Coast Recovery Center, we provide holistic, individualized, and evidence-based treatment programs to ensure our clients receive the best care and support possible. Our drug addiction and mental health programs address every aspect of addiction to create comprehensive treatment plans for every individual’s unique needs. Specifically, our dual diagnosis treatment option is dedicated to treating cross addiction symptoms and helping to prevent future addictions.

If you or a loved one suffers from addiction or mental health conditions, contact us today to learn more about our programs.

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