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What is cross addiction?

Cross addiction, also known as addiction transfer or addiction interaction disorder, is a term for when a person with one addiction develops another addiction to something else. These addictions can occur at the same time (polydrug addiction) or they may happen months, years or even decades apart.

In addition, these addictions don’t always have to be substance related. People who are predisposed to addiction can develop a compulsion for certain behaviors as well. This includes things like pornography, sex, food, gambling, etc.

The main reason why is because these kinds of substances and behaviors trigger the brain to release many of the same “feel-good” chemicals – like dopamine, serotonin, and others that are tied to the pleasure response.

Over time, as the brain becomes conditioned to these chemicals, meaning they are not only addicted to a substance or behavior, but also feel compelled to continue using/doing them.

Cross addiction vs. Dual diagnosis

Another condition that can get confused with cross addiction is dual diagnosis. Both conditions deal with comorbidities, or more than one issue occurring at the same time. However, dual diagnosis refers to a case in which the person suffers from addiction and a co-occurring mental diagnosis. This often includes conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and a range of other disorders.

In many cases, these two issues are related to the point of being causal – that is, one develops as a coping mechanism, side effect, or end result of the other.

One of the things we see all the time treating addiction is that those struggling with mental health problems often turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate, especially if they can’t or just don’t want to get proper medical treatment.

In fact, findings from National Survey on Drug Use and Health collected by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) show that dual diagnosis occurs in approximately one in three patients seeking treatment for a mental health problem. And in patients with severe mental illness, that figure goes up to nearly 50 percent.

How Do You Treat Cross Addictions?

Cross addictions can make the addiction treatment and recovery process more complex, but not impossible – especially when treatment effectively addresses all of the issues that contributed to that patient’s addiction simultaneously.

That’s why whether treating cross addiction or a dual diagnosis (or in some cases, both), Enterhealth’s approach is to combine things like supervised medical detox and advanced therapeutic techniques with tried-and-true behavioral therapies. This allows our counselors and psychologists to identify the underlying causes of addiction and help patients work through them.

How Do You Avoid Cross Addictions?

Enterhealth’s treatment approach focuses on healing the individual rather than just dealing with the effects of addiction. Part of this means helping patients get to the root of why they started using drugs, drinking, gambling, etc., in the first place so they don’t end up replacing it with something else. 

Here are a few specific things patients learn in treatment to help prevent cross addiction:

  • Learning to deal with difficult emotions

One of the reasons why addiction can be so difficult to overcome is that it’s often driven by a desire to suppress or limit emotions such as anger, irritation, sadness, loneliness and boredom, which many people find hard to control.

Through comprehensive cognitive and behavioral therapy, patients get the tools and techniques necessary to cope with negative or intense emotions in a less destructive fashion.

  • Finding healthy substitutions

Addiction is a chronic brain disease, and the changes done to the brain due to addiction may be permanent. In addition, some scientists hypothesize that in some addicts’ brains, the conditions that made them susceptible to addiction were present before they started drinking or using drugs. Certain people appear to have more sensitive dopamine-processing systems that predispose them to addiction.

If this is true, there are still things that can be done to engage this built-in reward system in positive ways. This includes exercise and sports, philanthropy, traveling, and more.

  • Quitting everything all at once

While it may be difficult for some, this is often the best way to break the cycle of addiction and often leads to successful recovery, especially if the person was dealing with more than one addiction. Allowing the brain to stay dependent on some chemicals and not others to release the dopamine they crave just prolongs and complicates the process for many people.

So even though in the short term it may be uncomfortable, quitting all the behaviors that trigger the reward response early on is not only one of the most effective ways to approach treatment, it’s also a good way to save time and speed up the whole recovery process.

Cross Addictions in Recovery

As we said, cross addiction involving two different substances or behaviors doesn’t always have to happen at the same time, and they may occur years apart. The danger lies in the fact that addiction is, at its core, a brain disease. If a person develops one addiction, their brain essentially becomes wired in such a way that it becomes highly susceptible to other addictive substances and behaviors.

For example, someone who was addicted to alcohol and underwent treatment may go years without taking a drink, and then one day they get injured. As a result, their doctor prescribes them opioid pain medication and they become addicted to the drug.

This is why addiction counselors and physicians always advise patients to abstain from any kinds of habit-forming substances once they leave treatment. 

The good news is that with successful treatment, patients can actually become more resilient to resisting other forms of addiction. That’s because they learn to use coping strategies and other skills taught to them during recovery, and most patients who can successfully beat addiction often have a lot of motivation to stay substance free.

Treatment through Enterhealth can help

The comprehensive, science-based treatment program offered at Enterhealth Ranch and the Enterhealth Outpatient Center of Excellence brings together things like cutting-edge medical techniques and proven therapies to help our patients achieve a long-lasting recovery.

Created by a team of addiction experts and based on the latest research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), this program is implemented by a staff of addiction-trained physicians, psychiatrists, nurses, and therapists who tailor treatment plans to each patient. 

If you or someone you love needs help, call us today at 800.388.4601 or visit