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What is Cross Addiction?


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Cross addiction, although a somewhat new term, is not really new in the addiction industry. In fact, substance abuse counselors have worked with many people who have cross addictions for many decades. Cross addiction, is when an individual has more than one type of addiction over the course of their lifetime. 

Cross addiction is different from dual addiction. Dual addiction is when a person has an addiction to two or more substances or behaviors simultaneously. For example, someone with an alcohol use disorder may also have an addiction to benzodiazepines (benzos). With cross-addiction, an individual may have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) and then stop drinking and get sober. However, they may then develop a gambling or sex/love addiction. 

As mentioned, cross addictions are not new. In fact, sex and love addiction in particular has been studied for many decades. In the early 1900s, researcher Patrick J. Carnes conducted a five-year study on sex addicts. In this study, he discovered that only 13% of these individuals had just one addiction. The remaining 87% had another addiction at some point in their lives. 

When it comes to cross addictions it’s important to understand that it is not always a direct step from one addiction to the next. For example, an individual doesn’t stop drinking one day then becomes a sex addict or gambling addict the next. Often, there are many years of freedom from addiction in between. 

What Causes Cross Addictions? 

Many people speculate about what causes cross addictions to occur. However, despite how common cross addictions can be, there remains limited research into this topic. What has been seen is that individuals who recover from one addiction and go on at some point in their lives to develop another addiction often do so after facing a serious life problem or change. 

For example, someone who is in recovery from alcohol addiction may lose a loved one and be in great pain. Instead of being able to cope in healthy ways, they find themselves wanting other methods to help cope, so instead of drinking again, maybe they begin to spend all of their time on the internet as a way to escape and develop an internet addiction disorder. 

It may be difficult to understand how alcohol abuse and internet addiction are similar. After all, one is a substance and the other a behavior. What’s important to understand is some basics about addiction in general. Addiction impacts the way the brain works. A substance or behavior stimulates the release of certain chemicals in the brain. The ‘feel good’ chemical dopamine is an example. When the drug is taken and large amounts of dopamine are released the individual feels good (for a time). The same is true for behavior-based addictions like sex/love addiction, gambling, pornography addiction, video game addiction, internet addiction, and more. The person engages in the behavior and experiences a ‘high’. Dopamine is released in the brain. So, they continue that behavior in order to get that same feeling again. 

For those who have previous addiction issues, the chances of developing a cross-addiction are somewhat high. One study found that someone with previous alcohol addiction was 18 times more likely to abuse prescription pills in the future. It’s important if you or a loved one are in recovery to be aware of the cross addictions that can develop. 

Watch Out for the Most Common Cross Addictions 

Often addiction is associated only with dependence on substances like alcohol, heroin, benzos, etc. However, the same ‘feel good’ chemicals are released through addictions involving behaviors such as gambling, shopping, and sex. This is why a person with a prior substance abuse issue can also become addicted to processes. They are experiencing increased feelings of reward through dopamine in the brain. 

When a person has overcome or recovered from a substance abuse problem it’s easy to look away or not realize that these other things can become issues too. But, if you are aware of what to look for and what can become a cross-addiction you’ll be set up to do better than if not. 

Here are some of the most common cross addictions:

  • Gambling 

Gambling is more than just in casinos and high stakes. Lottery tickets, online gambling, and betting can all become addictive. 

  • Sex/Love

Sex addiction and love addiction aren’t always the same thing. It’s important to recognize the warning signs for each of these addictions. 

  • Shopping

As with other process addictions, for some, shopping can release dopamine and endorphins which make the individual crave doing it again and again. 

  • Exercise

The release of chemicals associated with exercise can lead to addictive behaviors around this usually healthy behavior. 

  • Food

An estimated 20 million women have a food addiction at some point in their lives. 

  • Video gaming addiction 

More often men in recovery from substance abuse will gravitate towards this cross-addiction. 

As mentioned, the release of the brain’s ‘feel good’ chemicals drives the individual to engage in these behaviors over and over again. They do so at the risk to their own well-being and that of their loved ones–much like with drugs and alcohol. The consequences of these cross addictions can be just as devastating. 

How to Protect Yourself from Cross Addictions 

The first step to protecting yourself from developing a cross-addiction is to be aware of them. Many people don’t have any idea that exercise can become addictive or even shopping. They may begin to engage in these activities and before they know it has an issue. That’s why raising awareness about the occurrence of cross addictions is important. 

As with any other addiction, there are certain steps you can take to help protect your recovery from cross-addiction. Here are some suggestions: 

1. Stay connected

It’s important in recovery to stay connected with like-minded people who are also sober and healthy. When you are surrounded by people who intimately understand and recognize addiction, they can help you to stay on your path of recovery and avoid cross addictions. In addition, support groups like AA can provide a forum to talk about your life challenges and get healthy support. Many times someone has gone through just what you have and will offer a variety of healthy coping strategies that worked for them. 

2. Develop healthy habits and hobbies

When someone gets sober they often have to leave behind old friends, old hobbies, and old ways of life. This can leave very little going on for many. After all, when alcohol and drugs are the focus of your life and they are gone, you are building from scratch. And while this may seem daunting, now is the time to create the life of your dreams. 

For example, maybe you always wanted to take up softball or scuba diving, do that now. Engage in activities you used to shun that interest you and rediscover yourself. It may feel awkward at first, but the more you do the more you’ll build an abundant life and have in place the foundation you need when difficult times come. 

3. Listen to loved ones

It’s important to have a support group you trust outside of clinical treatment. Family and friends are often the first to notice things are amiss when it comes to addiction and recovery. Pay attention to what they are noticing and alerting you about. Remember, when it comes to addiction there is often a lot of denial and inability to see the truth. Listen to those you love and trust to help you see if you are in danger of developing a cross-addiction. 

4. Keep growing

Putting down alcohol or drugs is just the first step in recovery. Growing emotionally and spiritually are essential components of long-term sobriety. Remain willing to learn and grow so that you don’t regress to negative or toxic habits. Whether it’s working through issues with a counselor or beginning to attend church, continuing to grow and be self-aware will help keep cross addictions at bay. 

If you or a loved one are living with an addiction issue, Futures Recovery Healthcare is here for you. Discover our programs online or call to speak with an admissions specialist at 866-804-2098.


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