Maintaining an addiction is time-consuming. When you are no longer spending hours of your day obtaining and using drugs or alcohol, it can feel as if you have too much time on your hands. In looking for a way to fill these empty hours, you may turn to an activity such as overeating, online gambling or experimenting with a different substance. When you allow that activity to evolve into a compulsive behavior, you have effectively replaced your original addiction with a new one – a phenomenon called cross-addiction.
Who Is at Risk for Cross-Addiction?
Cross-addiction can occur at the same time as you are actively using drugs or alcohol, or you can become vulnerable to this problem after you successfully complete a rehab program. Cross-addiction is a common issue among people in the early phases of their recovery, but even those who have been sober for many years can develop an addiction to another drug or later engage in a habitual behavior that triggers the same reward pathways within the brain. People who have already developed one addiction are more likely to fall into cross-addiction.
Imagine, for example, you have been successfully managing an addiction to opioids. You enjoy having a glass of wine with dinner every night to help you unwind. Over time, this drinking spirals, and every time you encounter a stressful situation, you turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism. While you have remained opioid-free, you haven’t fully addressed your issues with substance misuse.
Cross-addiction doesn’t always involve substance abuse disorders. Some recovering drug or alcohol addicts develop behavioral problems such as a gambling, sex or eating addiction instead of turning to a different drug.
What Causes Cross-Addiction to Happen?
Cross-addiction occurs for a variety of reasons, but often it is accidental and can appear relatively harmless at first. For example, if you come down with bronchitis, your doctor may write you a prescription for an opioid cough medication like codeine. The calm, relaxed feeling this drug gives you makes you want to use it more, eventually leading to a higher tolerance and increased use until it becomes an addiction.
You can also develop a cross-addiction if you have lingering mental health issues, otherwise known as co-occurring disorders or a dual diagnosis. If you have a history of trauma, depression or anxiety, you may start using alcohol and other drugs, or start practicing compulsive habits such as gaming that help ease your emotional discomfort.
A lack of understanding is another reason cross-addiction can occur. For instance, perhaps you already know you are addicted to alcohol, and then your doctor prescribes you benzodiazepines to help manage anxiety symptoms. If you are not aware of how addictive benzodiazepines can be, you may start using them without realizing they may cause you to develop a cross-addiction. To be on the safe side, if you have struggled with substance misuse in the past, you should always mention that to any doctor who treats you. There are many different alternatives to potentially addictive medications, and your physician should know what those are and how to prescribe them in such a way that you stay safe and sober.
Recommit to Your Life’s Purpose
At Canyon Crossing, our Arizona drug and alcohol treatment facility provides a structured environment and a sense of accountability for women who need help finding a path to sobriety. We offer a variety of holistic treatments that help address the root of addiction and related mental health disorders, allowing women to focus on reclaiming full, healthy lives without relying on harmful substances. Our staff are available to answer any questions you may have about beginning your recovery journey with us.