Originally Posted @ http://www.newbridgerecovery.com/understanding-cross-addiction/
Bill is 28 years old and has recently gotten over a decade long prescription pill addiction. During his addiction, Bill ignored alcohol and instead spent all his time and money on supporting his drug habit. Now 6 months sober, Bill starts to have thoughts about drinking. He thinks “If I was addicted to pills, why can’t I drink?” Slowly Bill begins to convince himself that his problems were because of pills and that he will be able to responsibly drink alcohol. He starts drinking with no immediate problems. At first he has great experiences with drinking and has no real consequences. However, he finds that alcohol does not quite give him the feelings that his pills used to. Then a few months later Bill gets pretty intoxicated one night and calls up his old drug dealer. In his inhibited state of mind, he desires the old feelings that the pills used to give him. Quickly Bill starts up his drug habit again and finds himself worse off than he was before he got sober. “How did this happen?” Bill desperately asks himself.
Cross Addiction Explained
I tell this hypothetical story to illustrate the dangers of cross addiction. I loosely define cross addiction as switching or replacing one addiction with another unhealthy addiction. While the story above is made up, the theme of it is all too real. I have seen many sober alcoholics relapse on prescription pills or marijuana, because they think that their problems only relate to alcohol. Likewise, I have seen many sober drug addicts relapse on alcohol, thinking that alcohol won’t affect them like drugs did. The reality is that if you have an addiction to one substance, you are at a high risk of developing addictions to other substances. This is because alcohol, narcotics, and pills act upon the brain in the same way, stimulating the dopamine reward pathways. Habits, such as sex, gambling, smoking, and eating are taken to excess they can even become a cross addiction for an addict or alcoholic. This is because like alcohol and drugs, sex and eating release dopamine in our brains. It is not uncommon for a newly sober alcoholic to develop an unhealthy eating habit or a compulsive smoking addiction.
The Dangers of Cross Addiction
While things like sex and eating are normal and important activities, when taken to excess they can be unhealthy and lead to a relapse. The main danger of cross addiction is a full blown relapse into the original addiction. As in Bill’s story, his cross addiction eventually led him back to the root of his problems. This is a tricky topic because many people who do not know about cross addiction are putting themselves at risk without being aware of the dangers. Cross addictions such as over-eating can lead to health problems such as obesity, diabetes, or high blood pressure. Compulsive sexual behaviors can lead to sexual transmitted infections or infidelity in relationships. The important thing to remember is everything in moderation; even normal behaviors taken to excess can have negative effects.
Avoiding the Pitfall
Recovery is about learning to live and thrive without substances or mind-altering chemicals. It is about becoming satisfied and comfortable with yourself and your emotions. Using any substance or activity to ‘escape’ or numb difficult emotions is not healthy. I encourage everyone in early recovery to learn about cross addiction and develop healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety.