The term cross addiction is relatively new but is something that has always been seen in clinical practices. It is a situation where an individual has more than one addiction or uses more than one type of addictive behaviors over his or her life. It may also be called Addiction Interaction Disorder or addiction transfer.
Cross addiction is not the same as dual or multiple addictions. With dual or multiple addictions the two addictions are present at the same time. For example, a person may have an addiction to prescription pain pills and alcohol, and use both at the same time.
Cross addiction is when one addiction is replaced with another. This can occur through addiction recovery treatments where the addict does not relapse on the same addictive behavior or substance, but instead, he or she becomes addicted to another substance or behavior.
For example, an individual may go through alcohol or drug addiction treatment and then become addicted to online pornography or gambling. While very different types of behaviors, they are still addictions and still, by definition, harmful and negative for the individual.
One of the early pioneers in this area is Patrick J. Carnes. His focus was mostly on sex addiction, and in the early 1900s, he completed a five-year study of one thousand sex addicts. With his colleagues, he found that less than 13% of this group reported only one addiction (sex addiction) with the rest reporting multiple addictions, typically all interacting with each other either together or in a series.
It is essential to understand that cross addiction does not have to be a step from one addiction directly into another. In my work in psychotherapy and life coaching with recovering addicts, there is often years of sobriety or non-addictive behaviors between the addictions.
In many cases, stresses in life create an environment where the cross addiction develops. For example, a recovering alcoholic may have 10 years of sobriety, then lose a spouse or a partner who was an active part of their recovery network and their life. This type of event can lead to issues with depression, anxiety, and feelings of being unable to cope.
However, the individual in recovery recognizes the dangers of using alcohol. Instead, he or she may turn to drugs, perhaps a “soft” drug like marijuana, which may then set the mental state to move to more addictive illegal or prescription medications since the addictive behavior is in the individual’s past.
While it is difficult to establish clear numbers on cross addiction rates, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that about 20 million people over the age of 12 have an addiction problem in the United States. Given the information in small studies on cross addiction, it is safe to assume that about 80% of those have the potential for addiction transfer.
To address the very real issue of cross addiction, here are some important points to keep in mind:
- Stay connected — through therapy, life coaching or online group coaching, those in recovery need to stay connected to professionals, particularly in times of stress or when thoughts of relapse or addictive behaviors start to surface.
- Changes in behavior — many cross addictions are not to substances, but to negative behaviors such as watching internet porn, gambling, uncontrolled shopping or eating are all behavior changes that signal the need for help.
- Listen to friends and family — like the original addiction; it is common for people with cross addiction to minimize the reality and to make excuses for the behavior. Be open to what family, friends and coworkers are saying and seek help to avoid a cross addiction issue.