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What Do Cross Addiction and Cross Dependence Mean?

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What is Cross Addiction/Cross Dependence/Addiction Interaction Disorder?

Cross addiction, cross dependence, or addiction interaction disorder are words you often hear in a treatment center whether you’re battling a substance use disorder such as opioid addiction, substance addiction, or alcohol addiction.

Substituting one addiction for another is known as cross addiction, cross dependence or addiction interaction discorder. It occurs when the substitute has more or less the same properties as the replaced addiction—a common example is unhealthy eating patterns that emerge when giving up alcohol. Another typical example is a compulsive addiction being replaced with a behavior or activity like gambling, shopping, or sex. Sometimes, cross-addiction develops years later after someone stops their original addiction.

cross dependence cross addiction

What Causes Cross Addiction/Cross Dependence?

Addiction/substance use disorder has more or less the same patterns in the brain; it targets the brain’s dopamine reward center. This is why many people use a substitute addiction for their physical dependence and drug cravings. There is a high probability that a person addicted to one substance or activity will try a new substance and develop more than one addiction or dependence sooner or later. Most interestingly, it usually happens during recovery.

For example, a person decides to quit gambling and then takes up online gaming and video games. They play all day and night until it consumes them just the way gambling did, or to quit alcohol, one may seek other vices such as sugar to calm their nerves till they are addicted to it. Developing cross-addiction depends on how severely addicted one is to the prior addiction. 

What are the key factors that contribute to cross-addiction and cross-dependence? 

  • Addiction releases dopamine and creates pleasurable sensations. Cross-addiction happens when you find the same dopamine from another substance, behavior, or activity. Understanding how this works can help you quit cross-addiction quicker. 
  • Giving up the initial addiction can lead to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. To cope with these emotions, some would turn to calming substances, hence falling into the cross-addiction trap. 
  • Addiction may be in our genes. Coming from a family that has a history of addiction to different substances and addictive behaviors puts a person at a greater risk for cross-addiction.
  • Environmental factors play a vital role in cross-addiction. Cross addiction is common in children of Alcholohics, drug addicts and other addictions.

Here are some reasons that may push a recovered addict towards cross-addiction:

  • Accidental: Cross addiction may occur due to someone having surgery or in chronic pain and developing a drug dependence on painkillers.
  • Misunderstanding: An alcoholic knows they are addicted to alcohol but may not understand the warning signs of a sugar addiction.
  • Unresolved mental health conditions: Unresolved mental health conditions can cause a person to start using drugs and alcohol, what we call dual diagnosis.

What Are Common Cross Addictions?

Here are some common cross-addictions to look out for when in recovery.

1. Prescription Medication

Addiction to prescription medication usually starts with chronic pain or surgery. An addict or alcoholic, either in recovery or not, takes prescription drugs and finds themselves in what is called an addiction transfer. They may begin to have withdrawal symptoms once they stop taking the medication. Instead of stopping, they begin to use more.

How do you avoid this cross-addiction?

Talk with your doctor or qualified healthcare provider about medication alternatives. Let them know you are an addict and can quickly become addicted. Talk with your sponsor and your recovery group. Be accountable to others and let them know your situation. Sometimes, we need prescription medication. As long as we are talking with others, not hiding, and following doctor’s orders, we have a better chance not to become cross addicted.

2. Sex

Sex addiction begins with unhealthy relationships and love addictions. We can become a sex addict anytime in recovery but seems to happen more often earlier in recovery.

How do you avoid this cross-addiction?

Become aware of behavioral addictions. Talk with your sponsor and support group before entering relationships. Be aware of any porn activities and impulsive behaviors, and share with others what you are doing.

3. Shopping

Shopping addicts buy things they do not need and cannot afford. They run up credit card bills. Shopping is like a new drug.

How do you avoid this cross-addiction?

The best way to avoid actively participating in a shopping addiction is by avoiding shopping websites, handing debit and credit cards to trusted family or friends, and only carrying enough money to pay bills.

Avoid Compulsive Cross-Addiction

  • Recognize your triggers. If you have been an addict for a long time, you probably know the triggers that lead you to an addictive substance and the emotions that make you seek out your addiction. List out your common triggers so you understand them and the negative consequences associated with your triggers. 
  • Try different coping mechanisms to keep yourself away from addictive substances. Develop healthier ones that keep you away from your addiction and getting into a new addiction. 
  • Set boundaries for yourself so you don’t easily succumb to compulsive behaviors. It means you will have to avoid places and people who may take you down memory lane and may push you towards cross-addiction and substance abuse. Setting boundaries does take a lot of effort, but it’s worth the effort and time. 
  • Make a healthy lifestyle. Put all your focus on your mental and physical health, and replace your alcohol addiction with new ways of living. Try taking a yoga class, pilates, working out, or daily walks. 
  • Make sure your treatment provider or your doctor knows that you have been a substance abuser in the past so that they can make suitable changes to the prescribed medication. 
  • Have a relapse prevention plan. A relapse plan doesn’t mean you are doomed from the start, but it means you are prepared even for the worst. With a solid plan and support groups, you will not give in to compulsive behaviors.

Cross addiction, cross dependence, or addiction interaction disorder might be a natural part of the addiction process for addicts.  Substituting one addiction for another is common in recovery. Some suffer from mental health disorders along with substance addictions, which may increase their chances of cross-addiction. No matter the reason, support is just a phone call away or a text or email away. Reaching out for help is crucial in helping with cross-addictions.

About the author
Shannon M
Shannon M's extensive experience in addiction recovery spans several decades. Her journey started at a young age when she attended treatment aftercare sessions for a family member and joined Alateen meetings, a support group for young people affected by a loved one's addiction. In 1994, Shannon personally experienced the challenges of addiction and took the courageous step of joining Alcoholics Anonymous. This experience gave her a unique perspective on the addiction recovery process, which would prove invaluable in her future work. Shannon's passion for helping others navigate the complexities of addiction led her to pursue a degree in English with a minor in Substance Abuse Studies from Texas Tech University. She completed her degree in 1996, equipping her with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide compassionate and effective support to those struggling with addiction.