Cross Addiction vs Dual DiagnosisPeople often confuse cross-addiction with dual diagnosis, but there is a definitive difference between the two. Dual diagnosis occurs when someone has both a mental health disorder and a substance abuse problem. Cross addiction is a term that implies if a person is suffering from one particular addiction, they are more likely to suffer from another. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a substance, it could be a process addiction like food, sex, or gambling addiction. It could even be an addiction to a person (codependent behavior).
How Does Cross Addiction Occur?There are a few theories as to how cross addiction occurs, but experts do agree that cross addiction is very real. One theory is that people who suffer from cross addiction have altered brain chemistry. This means that the chemicals in their brains are different than those of people who don’t suffer from cross addiction. This could be due to genetics or their environment. Another theory is that people who suffer from cross addiction have a different “reward pathway” in their brain. The reward pathway is the part of the brain that is responsible for making us feel good when we do something pleasurable. People with cross addiction seem to have a heightened response to this pleasure, which makes them more likely to seek out substances or activities that will give them pleasure.
Common Cross AddictionsCommonly cross addiction is substituting one substance for another, one substance for a particular process, or even a substance or process for a person. It’s important to remember that cross-addiction is not always noticeably negative. If someone is substituting a food addiction with an exercise addiction, people will applaud the shift but the underlying lack of control is still present.
Alcohol use or even abusing another substance that eventually gets replaced by something else. This can occur as part of the “gateway” process into addiction where someone starts by trying alcohol and eventually moves to a harder substance like cocaine. Or it could be someone who becomes addicted to prescription opioids and eventually starts using heroin once they run out of prescription pain pills.
Another one could be heroin abuse which leads to smoking. This is fairly common with individuals in recovery. Arguably smoking is nowhere near as bad as abusing heroin, but smoking is still considered an addiction.
This is the most common example of cross addiction that people are most familiar with.
One of the most common examples of substance abuse and process addiction is alcohol abuse and gambling. But another one could be alcohol abuse and eating. Someone who may be trying to cut back on drinking may substitute their alcohol with food. Or it could be someone who is substituting drug abuse with working, shopping, sex, or (as discussed earlier) working out obsessively.
Substance abuse and codependent behavior are a little less distinctive as a cross addiction. This is because codependency can be diagnosed very differently depending on the specifics of the relationship. For this to be considered a cross addiction it would mean that the person suffering from substance abuse or process addiction essentially added their significant other to or replaced their addiction with the person.
For individuals in AA, this is jokingly referred to as the “13th step”. It typically occurs as people who are in recovery are still trying to work through thier emotions and have yet to truly understand them. This can be a pretty painful process so people will attempt to escape or mask the pain by getting involved with someone. Typically this can lead to a pretty awful outcome as eventually the person is confronted by all the emotions they were trying to avoid as the relationship develops.
How Common is Cross Addiction?While cross addiction isn’t as common as initially thought, it can still happen. A study that was conducted in 2008 showed that of the people who identify themselves as being in recovery, 6% had relapsed within the first year. Of those people, 25% said they had relapsed because they feel an intense urge to drink or use again when they see someone else doing it, no matter how long they have been sober. This means that individuals who have yet to fully process and deal with their emotions surrounding addiction are the most likely to suffer from a cross addiction. Therefore it supports the already prevailing evidence that in order to overcome addiction in the long term a person will need to actively participate in their addiction treatment. As mentioned earlier, cross addiction is not always visibly negative. In the previous example, substituting a food addiction with a workout addiction will likely be positive in the short term. If someone is substituting smoking cigarettes versus freebasing heroin, then they are considered to be in recovery, even if they are still technically addicted to something. Since cross addiction is not always viewed as such (since “addiction” is a negative word), it’s hard to determine how much the true scale of it exists.
How Do You Break the Cross Addiction Cycle?Cross addiction is difficult to break because it can be hard to see the line between participating in a healthy activity and letting an addiction take control. However, if you’re concerned that you may have a cross addiction, there are some steps you can take to break the cycle:
- Determine your triggers. What situations or activities make you want to participate in your addictive behavior? Once you know what these are, you can avoid them or be prepared to deal with them in a healthy way.
- Talk to someone who understands. Talking to a friend or family member about your cross addiction can be helpful, but it’s also important to talk to someone who has been through the same thing. Find a support group or therapist that can help you understand what you’re going through better.
- Keep a journal. If you’re unable to pinpoint what may be causing your behavior you should consider writing it down. Keeping a record of your feelings and activities can help you look back and reflect on what’s going on.
- Create the time to reflect. Make sure you’re giving yourself adequate time to pause on your actions instead of jumping from one thing to the next. Your mind may need time to process and understand how you feel about a particular situation.