What is Cross Addiction?

The nature of addiction can be pernicious. Once we have overcome one problematic behavior, another can seemingly sprout up and take its place. In the addiction field, this is often referred to as cross addiction. It has often been stated in various programs and literature that just about everyone has some form of addiction that if not obliged causes irritability, unease and crankiness, to a host of more intense withdrawal symptoms.

            Cross addiction is something that is helpful to be aware of early in recovery, as well as for those who have years of experience with recovery. It can often develop very subtly and outside of our conscious awareness, until we realize we have fallen prey to another form of problematic addiction. One of the main reasons cross addiction can be very subtle and innocent in the beginning is because when someone is overcoming an addiction to alcohol, opiates, gambling, or sex addiction, other “lesser” addictions are easily minimized in their capacity to cause harm and disaster. We may be so close to the consequences of our recent addiction that it is hard to imagine anything else causing such pain, especially if there have never been problems with the behavior.

            Common cross addictions for people early in recovery are nicotine, pornography, sweets and processed foods, shopping, and sex. While cross addiction can come in many seemingly bad forms, it can also cloak itself in good behaviors, which can turn problematic. Exercise is often encouraged and since it is viewed as healthy some can use exercise in a problematic way early in recovery in an attempt to re-write the wrongs of our past substance use. Exercise addiction can cause physical harm through overuse of muscles, reproductive harm in females through intense exercise and dieting which can halt or interfere with menstruation and exacerbate other mental health disorders such as body image and restrictive dieting.

            Mindfulness and awareness of what we are replacing our addictions with is key to notice if and when cross addiction is happening. All of us will at times develop some habits and behaviors which are compulsive and create discomfort when they are not engaged in, and for most, these are not life changing, nor require professional help. If you feel you have conquered one addiction, just to be pulled into the vortex by another behavior, give Realize Recovery a call and one of our addiction professionals will be able to provide guidance and insight on what might be helpful.

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