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What Is Cross Addiction?

Written by Dr. Anjali Talcherkar

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Cross addiction, also known as cross-dependence or addiction transfer, refers to a phenomenon where an individual who is struggling with one substance addiction develops a dependence or addiction to another substance or behavior. This occurs when the individual, often in recovery or attempting to reduce or quit one addiction, turns to a different substance or behavior as a substitute. Cross addiction can involve a wide range of substances or behaviors, including drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, or even activities like shopping or sex. 

The term “cross addiction” underscores the notion that addiction is not solely linked to a specific substance but is a complex issue involving psychological, physiological, and behavioral factors. Individuals with a history of addiction may be at a higher risk of developing new addictions because the underlying factors driving their addictive behaviors may persist even when they switch substances or behaviors. 

Polysubstance abuse, on the other hand, refers to a pattern of substance use where an individual engages in the simultaneous or sequential abuse of multiple drugs or substances. This can involve mixing different substances to enhance their effects or compensate for side effects. Polysubstance abuse poses significant health risks as it can lead to unpredictable interactions between substances, increased toxicity, and a higher risk of overdose or adverse health consequences. 

Both cross addiction and polysubstance abuse highlight the complexity of addiction and the need for comprehensive and individualized treatment approaches that address the underlying psychological and behavioral factors contributing to addictive behaviors. 

What Is Cross Addiction?  

Cross addiction, also known as addiction transfer or cross-dependence, is a phenomenon in which an individual who is struggling with one form of addiction develops a dependence on or addiction to another substance or behavior. This complex and challenging issue underscores the fact that addiction is not solely tied to a specific substance but involves various psychological, physiological, and behavioral factors. 

Cross addiction typically occurs when an individual attempts to reduce or quit one addiction, such as alcohol or a drug, but turns to a different substance or behavior as a substitute. For example, someone recovering from alcoholism may develop a dependence on prescription painkillers. This behavior can stem from the underlying psychological and emotional factors that drive addiction, such as a desire to numb pain, alleviate stress, or seek pleasure. 

Statistics on cross addiction prevalence can vary due to the complexity of tracking these patterns. However, it is well-documented that individuals with a history of addiction are at a higher risk of developing new addictions. This vulnerability may be due to enduring psychological factors or genetic predispositions. While specific statistics can be challenging to pinpoint, healthcare professionals recognize cross addiction as a common challenge in addiction recovery. 

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Polysubstance Abuse vs. Cross Addiction 

Cross addiction and polysubstance abuse are related but distinct concepts. Polysubstance abuse refers to the concurrent or sequential use of multiple substances, which can include mixing drugs or alcohol to enhance or counteract their effects. Cross addiction, on the other hand, specifically involves the development of a new addiction while attempting to recover from an existing one. While both concepts involve multiple substances, cross addiction emphasizes the addictive patterns and behaviors associated with switching dependencies. 

Cross addiction highlights the intricate nature of addiction and the challenges individuals face in overcoming their addictive behaviors. It serves as a reminder of the importance of comprehensive addiction treatment that addresses the underlying psychological and behavioral factors driving addiction. 

What Causes Cross Addiction? 

Cross addiction, where an individual develops a dependence on or addiction to a different substance or behavior while trying to overcome an existing addiction, can be attributed to several factors. Mental health issues play a significant role in this phenomenon: 

  • Underlying Psychological Factors: Many people with addiction have underlying psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma, or stress. These conditions can persist even as one attempts to address their initial addiction. Seeking relief from these issues, individuals may turn to another substance or behavior. 
  • Self-Medication: People often use substances or behaviors as a way to cope with mental health challenges. When one addiction is addressed, the underlying mental health issues may remain unresolved, leading to the adoption of a new addiction as a form of self-medication. 
  • Dopamine Release: Addiction is closely linked to the brain’s reward system and the release of dopamine. When someone quits one addiction, they may miss the dopamine rush associated with it and seek a substitute to recreate that feeling, giving rise to cross addiction. 
  • Genetics and Vulnerability: Genetic factors can predispose individuals to addiction. Having a family history of addiction can increase the likelihood of developing cross addictions. 

To effectively address cross addiction, it’s crucial to identify and treat underlying mental health issues alongside addiction treatment. Comprehensive therapy that addresses both addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions offers the best chance for sustained recovery

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 Is Cross Addiction the Same Thing as Dual Diagnosis?  

Cross addiction and dual diagnosis are related but distinct concepts within the realm of addiction and mental health. Cross addiction refers to a situation in which an individual who is already struggling with one form of addiction develops another addiction to a different substance or behavior. For instance, someone in recovery from alcoholism might start abusing prescription painkillers. Cross addiction focuses on the development of new addictive patterns. 

Dual Diagnosis, on the other hand, is a term used to describe a situation where an individual has both a substance use disorder (addiction) and a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. In dual diagnosis, the emphasis is on the simultaneous presence of both an addiction and a mental health issue. 

The key difference is that cross addiction involves switching from one addiction to another, while dual diagnosis involves the coexistence of an addiction and a mental health disorder. Dual diagnosis often requires integrated treatment that addresses both the addiction and the mental health condition concurrently, recognizing their interconnectedness in an individual’s overall well-being and recovery journey. 

Who Treats Cross Addiction? 

Cross addiction is typically treated by professionals who specialize in addiction and substance use disorders. These professionals can include: 

  • Addiction Counselors: These licensed professionals specialize in counseling individuals with substance use disorders. They provide therapy, support, and guidance throughout the recovery process. 
  • Psychiatrists: For individuals with co-occurring mental health disorders, psychiatrists can provide medication management and therapy to address both addiction and underlying mental health issues. 
  • Psychologists: Psychologists offer therapy and counseling services, often using evidence-based approaches to help individuals understand and manage their addictive behaviors. 
  • Social Workers: Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) can provide counseling, case management, and support services to individuals dealing with cross addiction. 
  • Recovery Centers: Many recovery centers offer specialized programs for cross addiction treatment. These programs often include a combination of individual counseling, group therapy, support groups, and holistic therapies to address the physical, psychological, and emotional aspects of addiction. 

Formal cross addiction treatment at a recovery center typically begins with an assessment to determine the extent and nature of the addiction. A personalized treatment plan is then developed, which may include detoxification, therapy, medication management, relapse prevention strategies, and aftercare planning. The goal is to help individuals achieve and maintain sobriety while addressing the underlying factors contributing to cross addiction. Treatment is often provided in a supportive and structured environment, and it may involve various therapeutic modalities to address the specific needs of each individual.  

Cross Addiction Treatment at Footprints to Recovery  

At Footprints to Recovery, we are committed to comprehensive treatment that addresses mental health disorders and cross addictions. Our approach is rooted in evidence-based practices and personalized care. Our experienced staff, including counselors, therapists, and medical professionals, work collaboratively to design tailored treatment plans. 

Our levels of care include: 

  • Intensive Outpatient (IOP): Flexible, part-time programming that allows individuals to maintain daily life. 
  • Outpatient: Continuing care with therapy and support on a less intensive basis. 
  • Aftercare: Also known as continuing care or post-treatment care, refers to the ongoing support and services that individuals receive after completing a treatment program, such as inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation.   

At FTR MH, we provide a range of therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), individual counseling, group therapy, and holistic approaches to promote lasting recovery and mental well-being. If you or someone you know is searching for a reputable mental health recovery center, Footprints to Recovery is here to help. Contact us today for more information and resources.  


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