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Understanding Cross addiction

By Tim Woodley

Addiction doesn’t always occur in isolation. It’s a common misconception; many adults in the world believe that a person can be an alcoholic, or addicted to a certain drug, and struggle with that compulsion alone. The truth is very different.

Also known as addiction transference, cross addiction is the common phenomenon of a person being addicted to two or more substances or harmful behaviours. Cross addiction can occur at different times and involve different ‘types’ of addiction, such as a person being an alcoholic and, at a later point in their lives, becoming addicted to gambling or sex.

The brain’s reward centre

As is often the case where addiction is concerned, the brain’s reward centre is heavily involved in cross addiction. Consider a person who is or has been addicted to opioids. Even if they’ve been sober for many years following rehabilitation and recovery, the risk of addiction transference is still present. A compulsive habit can form around even a non-physiologically addictive act like video gaming, with the effect of their past addiction essentially wiring their brain to be more likely to develop new addictions.

This is why cross addiction is so dangerous. Unfortunately, a person who has succeeded in recovery through a rehab programme can never afford to relax their guard. Constant vigilance is necessary to enjoy a sober drug free life free from past addiction, and the risk of transferring one addiction to another, even later in life, will always be present.

How does cross addiction occur?

While reasons vary from person to person, its often simply the case that addiction transference occurs by accident. A person who has very compulsive or addictive behaviour, or a past history with substance abuse, could be prescribed a drug for medical reasons and fall into the reinforcing loop of behaviour that leads to dependency.

In some cases, however, cross addiction occurs out of outright naivety. A person might not be aware that they have an actual addiction to a type of compulsive behaviour or a substance and can be at a heightened risk of developing an addiction to something else without realising it.

Lastly, mental health is also a common precursor to addiction and addiction transference. People who are prone to anxiety or depression, particularly if related to trauma in their past, are more likely to turn to substance misuse in order to find comfort. This is particularly true due to the fact that addictive behaviours often develop as a way to comfort a person who is going through difficult or uncomfortable changes to their emotions, routine or circumstances.

How can cross addiction be treated?

Besides the specific workshops and activities involved in a programme like our unique Dayhab programme, education is a great place to start. Cross addiction is a threat that is as damaging as it is in part because it is misunderstood or not known of at all. By being aware of the risk of cross addiction and the tendency of addicted individuals to develop new addictions, it becomes easier for a person to plan their life around the ever-present danger of developing a new dependency.

Ultimately, it’s a fact of life for a person who has or is experiencing addiction of some form. The brain becomes increasingly wired to seek a dopamine release, and the increased likelihood of new addictions forming is something that can be managed with careful planning. As many recovered addicts can attest to, a sober lifestyle is very different from the life lived before and involves living with a special kind of care that is based on the understanding of one’s self.

Can we help?

We hope you’ve found today’s article from the Help Me Stop team informative. Cross addiction is a threat to the lives of many individuals across the country, and the team at our London centre helps such individuals each and every week to better understand and care for themselves.

If you’d like to speak to us, please feel free to do so. We are available at no obligation and no pressure. We’re keen to support you and can be reached on 0208 191 8920 or by using our contact form. Take care.