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For people in recovery programs at substance abuse treatment centers, one issue that can arise is a cross addiction. It is important to note that a cross addiction is not the same thing as a dual or multiple diagnosis.

In a dual or multiple diagnosis, the person is abusing more than one substance. For instance, they may be abusing alcohol and using prescription pain killers. They could also be using other substances or engaging in other addictive behaviors that are not related to substances, such as pornography, sex, food, gambling, video games, and the internet.

What Is Cross Addiction and How Does It Occur?

With a cross addiction, the person is already in recovery. They may have just started their treatment program or completed it. They could have their former addiction under control for numerous years.

In general, cross addiction is where the person replaces one addiction with another addiction. For example, the person could be in alcohol recovery treatment and develop an addiction to video games.

Initially, they might look at video games as a good idea since it keeps their hands busy and their mind occupied instead of thinking about drinking. As they spend more and more time playing video games, their brain releases dopamine, the “pleasure” chemical.

So, they continue playing video games more and more. Eventually, they become consumed by video games to the point where if they don’t play daily and for multiple hours, they can experience withdrawal symptoms like shakes and sweats.

Keep in mind, this is just one example of cross addiction; other common cross addictions could include:

  • Alcohol to Drugs
  • Drugs to Alcohol
  • Alcohol or Drugs to Food
  • Alcohol or Drugs to Pornography
  • Alcohol or Drugs to Sex
  • Alcohol or Drugs to Gambling
  • Alcohol or Drugs to Video Games
  • Alcohol or Drugs to Fitness/Working Out
  • Alcohol or Drugs to Shopping/Spending Money

In some cases, some people go through more than one cross addiction. They might seek help with a drug problem at a drug and alcohol rehab center. During their stay, they start to develop an addiction to food.

After completing their program, they continue to engage in overeating since food brings comfort. Eventually, they put on a lot of excess weight, and food starts to consume every aspect of what they do, much like the drugs did before.

The person realizes they have a food problem, so they get a gym membership and hire a personal trainer. As they start their fitness program, they gradually start to overcome and better manage their food addiction.

Yet, now they start to develop an addiction to exercise. They must go to the gym every day and spend several hours working out. If they miss a day, they feel sad and depressed and could even exhibit certain withdrawal symptoms.

Again, this is just one example to show how cross addictions occur. The types of cross addictions experienced can and do vary from one person to the next.

How Common Are Cross Addictions?

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2018 there were approximately 20.3 million people aged 12 or older who had substance use disorder (SUD).1 Based on research studies of cross addiction, approximately 75 to 80 percent of people with SUD could potentially develop one or more cross addictions.

How Is Cross Addiction Treated?

Cross addiction is treated like other addictions using the appropriate treatment programs at substance abuse treatment centers. While those in recovery potentially have a higher risk of cross addiction, they need to remain steadfast and adhere to their treatment and recovery program, including sticking with the appropriate aftercare.

For help with SUD, co-occurring disorders, and cross addictions, please feel free to contact BriteLife Recovery today! We use a variety of treatment strategies to develop a customized recovery solution for each of our clients.



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