Addiction is a difficult thing to overcome. When you have to learn to live without the drugs or alcohol you’ve been using, sometimes for a very long time, as a coping mechanism, you may turn to another addiction in the process. For example, a drinker becomes an over-eater. A meth addict becomes an alcoholic. A heroin addict becomes addicted to benzodiazepines. It’s a frustrating and challenging situation for your family and friends to deal with, and you may not even recognize what is happening.
What is a Cross Addiction?
A cross-addiction also called a substitute addiction or addiction transfer, is simply an addiction that develops as a replacement for another. However, it is more complex than that. It isn’t actually the drug or alcohol that is the issue, rather it’s the behavior of the recovering addict. That means that whatever the cause, trauma, or underlying issues were for the original addiction have not yet been addressed and resolved, and the addicted person is attempting to fill the void that is left from his or her original addiction.
Why Do Cross Addictions Happen?
There are numerous reasons that individuals replace addiction with another. In some cases, the treatment that someone receives for addiction just isn’t long enough or intensive enough. They may be able to abstain from their original drug of choice by staying away from the people, places, and things they hung around while using, the original causes of their addictions are still present. Even though they may not want to use or drink any longer, the desire to alleviate stress and anxiety combined with cravings may encourage them to seek out another way to cope. And, the substitute they find will likely provide them with the same pleasurable feelings that they felt when they first began using their drug of choice. Now, a new cycle of addiction is started.
Common Cross Addictions
The following are five of the most common cross addictions and how you can avoid them.
#1 – Food
It’s no secret that many people gain weight when they get into recovery. For some, that’s a good thing because their substance abuse has kept them from eating regularly and nutritiously. However, even for those who need to gain weight, it’s important to eat healthy food that is going to provide the much-needed vitamins and nutrients that have been missing from their diet during active addiction. People in recovery often turn to sugary, salty, or fatty foods, as it feels satisfying to eat them because it causes the same dopamine rushes (on a much smaller scale) as using their drug of choice did.
How to avoid it: Be aware that you are still trying to fill the void that you were attempting to fill with drugs or alcohol. Continue with talk therapy to address the source of your emptiness, and fill your pantry with healthy food instead of appealing snack food.
#2 – Sex
It’s easy to become obsessed with unhealthy emotional attachments or physical release when you are in early recovery. While relationships and sex are a natural part of human interaction, they can become a compulsive behavior.
How to avoid it: Do some investigating into patterns in your chosen romantic partners or sexual situation for triggers and red flags. Focus on developing positive relationships that are not tied to negative emotions. It’s recommended in 12-step programs that those who are new in recovery do not engage in sexual relationships for at least the first year of sobriety – that’s good advice even if you don’t participate in 12-step groups.
#3 – Shopping
Compulsive shopping happens when you are compelled to buy things that you don’t need. You may not even have the financial resources to support your spending, running up credit card bills that you will have to struggle to pay. Shopping addicts get a rush from making purchases, but it can cause financial devastation.
How to avoid it: The best way to protect yourself from a shopping addiction is the same way you avoid your drug of choice. Don’t carry around more money than you have to, close or hand over your debit and credit cards to a loved one, and avoid places or websites where you might be tempted to shop.
#4 – Gambling
Gambling can entail everything from buying lottery tickets to spending hours in a casino or playing online. The point is that you are seeking to escape from some aspect of your life while wanting the thrill of the challenge of gambling. This type of addiction can have serious financial consequences.
How to avoid it: Gambling addiction can be very difficult to overcome. In fact, many addiction treatment facilities are adding programs that are designed specifically for gambling addicts. Try support groups like Gamblers Anonymous or SMART Recovery if you feel yourself starting to slip into gaming addiction.
#5 – Prescription Medication
You work so hard to get clean and sober from alcohol or hard drugs, only to be given prescription medication by your physician. Many prescription drugs are addictive – painkillers, benzodiazepines (for treating anxiety), and sleep medications, are just a few.
How to avoid it: Remember that just because a doctor prescribes it, it doesn’t mean that it is safe for you. Make sure that all your doctors know that you are in recovery and discuss non-habit-forming options whenever you are prescribed medication.
Identifying Cross Addictions
It can be hard to recognize that you’ve developed a cross-addiction. Sometimes the people in your life may not understand those substitute addictions can and do occur. They may not know that a recovering heroin addict shouldn’t drink alcohol, or that a recovering alcoholic who overeats may not be healthy. However, in those cases, the issues at the heart of your addiction are still there, and they may be causing even more problems. If you haven’t worked through the reasons and causes you became addicted originally, you’re likely to get caught up in the whirlwind of addiction again.
Hopefully, you or your loved one is able to recognize what is going on before it’s too late. You may be able to use what you have learned in previous treatment to begin recovery from the substitute addiction, or you may need to seek further treatment. Remember that all is not lost though, the useful information and coping techniques you were taught are still available to you. The only way to end substitute addictions for good is to address underlying issues and address them with a therapist or other medical professional and to stay engaged in an active program of recovery.