The Dangers of Cross Addiction in Early Recovery

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Dangers of Cross Addiction

There’s a phenomenon that’s common when a person has received treatment for a substance use disorder and is in the early stages of recovery. Instead of relapsing with the substance they received treatment for, they develop new compulsive behavior with a different substance or activity.

This is called “cross addiction”, and while the term is still relatively new and potentially unfamiliar, it describes a common issue that can make a person less likely to stay sober after rehab.

To help unpack why cross-addiction is so common during early recovery, we spoke with our Outreach Coordinator, Logan Bennett, and one of our Addiction Counselors, Kimberlly Speed, M.S.W., who shared their experiences — both personal and professional — and highlighted the importance of treatment that takes cross addiction into account.

What Is Cross Addiction?

Cross addiction is also known as addiction interaction disorder (AID), “replacement addiction”, or “addiction transfer”, and most commonly describes a case in which one addictive substance or behavior is exchanged for another, often the following treatment.

Cross addiction is often confused with dual diagnosis (also known as “co-occurring disorders”), where addiction coincides with a diagnosed mental illness. In cross-addiction, a second addiction develops as a direct result of the first.

What Causes Cross Addiction and Why Is It So Common Early in Recovery?

As Kimberlly and Logan explain, cross-addiction is common in early recovery because of the adjustment that happens during this period. We often focus on the risk of relapse, and while cross-addiction is a type of relapse, it’s not one that gets a lot of focus in most treatment programs.

Here are a few reasons why cross-addiction occurs:

In Recovery, People Feel the Urge to Fill the Absence of Dopamine

When we use addictive substances, they trigger the brain to release dopamine — a chemical that causes sensations of pleasure. Normally, this process rewards you for performing behaviors that your brain labels as “good” and “important”, like eating well or connecting with a friend.

Over time, addictive substances take over this process and rewire the brain to only consider the substance important. “You feel like you need it as much as you need food,” Kimberlly explains. This is one of the reasons why addiction treatment has to be so comprehensive — it’s not simply to completely change your brain back to the way it operated pre-addiction.

In early recovery, people aren’t fully adjusted to no longer having that source of good feelings, which creates intense cravings. This is what increases the risk for some other substance or behavior to replace the one addressed in treatment, adds Logan: “Your brain is still wired for dopamine. When you go to the casino, when you go out with someone, when you eat an amazing meal, you’re hitting those dopamine receptors. That creates a high risk for cross-addiction.”

Cross Linking Dangers

People in Early Recovery Want To “Get Back to Normal”

People in early recovery often want to feel like they’re past the hardship of addiction and now it’s time to get “back to normal.” As Logan says, this can be a dangerous perspective to take. “In treatment, we get to a point where we’re willing to take advice and recommendations from clinicians and other individuals who have been through it.”

After rehab is over, however, this mindset starts to change. Logan continues, “it’s very common for us to want to ‘retake’ our lives. We want to stop listening to advice and start listening to our own impulses again.”

This mindset causes complacency. People in early recovery tend to start thinking of every other addictive substance or behavior as harmless, as long as it’s not the same thing they went to treatment for, which commonly results in cross-addiction.

Many People Don’t Recognize New SUDs Until It’s Too Late

As Kimberlly puts it, people become so laser-focused on the substance they formed an addiction to, they let their guard down: “I’ve seen so many people quit meth or heroin, and then start drinking,” she says. “Then alcohol becomes the problem”

For Logan, it was gambling. “When I started going to the casino, I didn’t feel I could do any wrong, cause damage, or hurt anyone, because I was sober. At that time, I thought, I’m working a job, I’m healthy. Even if I’m doing other things that someone might look at as dangerous, at least I’m not using drugs and alcohol.”

Logan continues. “It can be working out, it can be working, it can be food — anything that stimulates those dopamine receptors again.” He warns that people in recovery need to be aware that no behavior is truly harmless, and everything needs to be paid attention to in order to avoid cross-addiction.

Why It’s So Important to Be Aware of Cross Addiction in Early Recovery

Most treatment programs focus on relapse prevention without mentioning cross-addiction, which may cause people to focus on trying not to go back to their prior substance use disorder. According to Logan, the solution is awareness and vigilance: “It’s very, very important that clients and their loved ones understand that they should be looking out for signs related to substance use, wherever they pop up, because that may mean the addiction was transferred.”

Here are a few ways that Kimberlly and Logan feel are optimal in preventing cross-addiction after treatment:

Cross Addiction Dangers

Continue to Engage with Treatment Programs

It’s important to keep interacting with the framework that kept you stable during treatment, well after you get out. “In every instance that I’ve seen individuals succeed [in sobriety],” Logan recalls, “they’ve followed rehab recommendations for at least a year in early recovery. Following up with an IOP program, sober living, continuing to see addiction and other medical professionals — all of this reinforces the fact that you’re always vulnerable, and helps you continue to maintain your sobriety.”

Examine Your Habits with Every Substance

Don’t just dive headfirst into new behaviors without examining them at every step. If you are a friend or family member of a person in recovery, you should have the same awareness: “The family may see their loved one holding down a job and doing extremely healthy things, and not be aware of destructive behavior,” Logan explains.

Avoid Becoming Complacent

Kimberlly says, “Addiction is a sneaky little creeper that will find the hole in a person’s sobriety armor.” Letting your guard down after getting out of rehab can create opportunities for drugs and alcohol, or destructive behaviors, to come back into your life. Kimberlly adds that when it comes to addictive substances and behaviors, it’s important to admit: “I am an addict, I can’t use anything.”

This is the reason why many people who have been through recovery keep the mindset that “other substances are just something we haven’t become addicted to yet.”

How Does The River Source Treat and Prevent Cross Addiction?

During our “Reclaim 120” program (referring to the number of days and/or level of care we believe it takes for our clients to fully reclaim their lives), we offer a comprehensive step-down program that serves to prepare clients for life in recovery and the types of threats that await them upon graduation from our programming. Learn more about Reclaim 120.

A large part of anti-cross addiction training, and anti-addiction treatment in general, is to get clients to continue to engage with peers in recovery and work to develop a support system that provides them strength at every turn. “We don’t heal in isolation,” Kimberlly says.

To learn more about cross-addiction and how we can help, call The River Source today.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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