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Cross addiction: What it is and what you need to know

By Tim Woodley


Have you swapped one drug of choice for another? Are you struggling with misuse of more than one substance? Are you concerned about developing such habits in your life? You are not alone. In this article, the Help Me Stop team talks about the real danger of cross addiction.

It’s easy to think of addiction as a single, simple phenomenon. While many individuals do misuse only one substance, be it drugs, alcohol or prescribed medication, it’s also often the case that two or more substances are misused or that a person’s stops one drug and starts using another. The combination of these addictive behaviours can be crippling to a person’s lives and can complicate their path to full recovery.

Cross addiction is more common with individuals who are newer to recovery. During the vulnerable time of early recovery, it’s more likely that an individual will turn to another substance of abuse, although it can happen in other situations also.


Defining addiction

Firstly, it’s important we describe clearly the definition of the word addiction. Simply put, addiction – and the substance misuse behind it – is the continued using of a substance or behaviour despite knowing its potential and likelihood to cause harm, problems and negative consequences.

Knowing this, we are better armed to understand our behaviours, triggers and tendencies.


How does cross addiction happen?

While we can’t describe the exact reasons for a person misusing substances, there are several common scenarios where cross addiction is likely to occur. First is that people ewho suffer from addiction to one substance may feel they can use another substance without issue. Since it’s not the original substance they were abusing, they may think they can use a new substance in moderation.  The unfortunate the reality is very different, with it often not being long before they are back in active addiction with the new substance of choice.

The primary reason for this is that they have not addressed the core issues for them using substances in the first place, such as past instances of trauma, anxiety, depression and self-esteem.

For many individuals in these situations, cross addiction occurs simply because the new substance itself is a path to avoiding or dealing with their unresolved emotional and mental burdens; although they may have given up drinking, they now self-medicate through the use of drugs – or vice versa.


How can I avoid it?

It’s important to appreciate the fact that if you are already misusing a substance, you are more likely to develop cross addiction. You can make a positive first step in protecting yourself from the danger of cross addiction by talking to your friends and family about the issue. In this way, those around you can become a support network to help you on your path to recovery.

It’s also important to be careful with prescription drugs. While you may need a prescription to manage health issues, it’s a common path to cross addiction for many individuals - particularly those already misusing other substances. If in doubt, speak to your doctor; they may be able to prescribe you alternate forms of pain relief, as opiate painkillers can become quickly addictive.

Lastly, it’s important to plan your activities to avoid placing yourself in situations where cross addiction may occur. If you are planning a night out with friends and are already misusing drugs or alcohol, you may benefit from avoiding night clubs and bars where you may be drawn towards other substances.

While this is important to do, it’s also vital you avoid isolating yourself entirely; if you are not going on nights out with friends, do your best to replace those activities with others that are more conducive to good mental health and recovery.


We’re here if you need help

Cross addiction is an insidious and very real threat to the recovery and lives of any individual misusing drugs and alcohol. If you are struggling with substance misuse yourself and wish to seek help, please don’t hesitate to contact the Help Me Stop team for a free chat at no obligation whatsoever.

If you are seeking treatment, please take the time to consider our breakthrough Dayhab model. Designed to fit around the requirements of work, life and loved ones, our non-residential model is accessible and available at a fraction of the cost of traditional residential rehab centres.

You can find out more about our service on this page of our website. Alternatively, please call us on 0208 191 8920 or by using our contact form.

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