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understanding cross addiction

Cross Addictions: Facts, Risks & Treatment Options

When people think about addiction, they usually think about addiction to one substance like heroin or addiction to alcohol and not the kind of addiction where a person can be dependent on multiple substances at once. These types of addiction are called cross-addiction and are more complex to treat.

Cross-addiction isn’t always someone developing a dependence on another substance. In many cases, people with cross-addictions are in recovery and develop an addiction to other addictive behaviors like shopping, gambling, or eating. The reality is that cross-addictions can be extremely dangerous, and unfortunately, they’re more challenging to diagnose. 

How Common are Cross Addictions?

Often, cross-addiction occurs when a person is trying to get off of one substance and ends up picking up another. Most of the time, this happens accidentally. For example, someone might be alcohol addicted.

Then, they receive a prescription drug. Because they’re not addicted to opioids, they believe they can take the medication without forming a dependency. However, the addiction to this new substance develops slowly, but eventually, it progresses to become an unmanageable addiction.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health believes around 20.1 million people age 12 and older have substance use disorders related to their use of alcohol or other drugs. Experts believe up to 25% of those in recovery today will abuse another substance in the future. Most experts believe those in the early stages of recovery are more likely to fall for a cross-addiction. 

Common Cross Addictions

Cross addictions come in various forms. Virtually anything that can cause dopamine activation in the brain has the potential to trigger a cross-addiction. 

Other Drugs

The most common cross-addiction involves the abuse of multiple substances at the same time:


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates around 1 percent of Americans struggle with gambling addiction. The rate is higher with those struggling with other substance abuse. Both addictions fuel each other. 

Compulsive Sexual Behavior

According to studies, around 5 percent of the general population struggles with compulsive sexual behavior. Hypersexuality can be a substance abuse side effect, as well as mental health condition triggers. It’s common for people in recovery to replace their substance abuse with compulsive sexual behaviors hoping to experience the same thrill and dopamine infusion.

Other Addictions

Cross-addiction can also expand to behaviors people categorize as less harmful, yet they still pose detrimental consequences. For example, many addicts also experience compulsive shopping, which leads to a financial burden. Similar to drug abusers, compulsive shoppers experience a high or rush when purchasing new items. 

Some people struggling with drug addiction often experience eating disorders as well. Food activates reward pathways in the brain, so people looking for that same dopamine infusion might look for sugary treats or fatty foods to fuel their addiction. 

Dual Diagnosis vs. Cross Addictions

People interchange these terms all the time. However, they mean different things. Dual diagnosis happens when someone struggling with a substance abuse problem, simultaneously experiences mental health issues. Cross-addiction refers to a person struggling with more than one addiction, whether it’s to a different drug or other compulsive behavior. 

However, someone can experience both. Around 33 percent of patients with mental health conditions struggle with addiction. And, most people with addictions struggle with multiple substances at one time.

Myth or Fact?

Some people believe cross-addiction is a myth, mostly because the evidence to support this issue is evidential. For example, one study looked at people addicted to a wide range of drugs. The study found that people who committed to recovery are less likely to develop a cross-addiction. 

However, another study found that around 13 percent of those in recovery develop another substance abuse disorder. The research proves that people in clinical circles and those struggling with more chronic addictions often experience cross-addiction. 

So far, experts agree that cross-addiction is something anyone in the early stages of recovery is likely to experience. Whether they move on to other substances or engage in new compulsive behaviors, people that haven’t addressed their main substance abuse problems are more likely to struggle. 

Signs of Cross Addictions

Spotting a cross-addiction can be quite challenging, especially for family members. Mostly because if someone is already struggling with an addiction, pinpointing a second substance abuse can be difficult. Here are some behaviors to look for:

  • Continually lying about how much or how after they’re using
  • Missing important events
  • Overspending on their new addiction
  • Finding themselves relapsing after treatment
  • Becoming more anxious or physically ill

Of course, these are exaggerated signs that one would notice on someone already struggling with an addiction. 

For example, someone with an alcohol abuse problem, who suddenly starts taking benzos will start displaying heightened side effects. They’ll also begin to show benzos side effects, such as dizziness, impaired coordination, trembling, and confusion, to name a few. 

Cross Addictions Risks

Overusing addictive substances is dangerous enough. The ramifications of cross-addictions can be worse. First, it’s vital to know which drugs and substances increase the risks of cross-addiction. The substances that can lead to cross-addiction include:

  • Alcohol
  • Narcotic pain-relieving medications 
  • Anti-anxiety drugs
  • Sedatives and sleep aids
  • Cannabis and other types of hallucinogenic drugs

Various types of stimulants, including:

  • Cocaine
  • Diet medications and over-the-counter diet aids that contain stimulants
  • Ecstasy, MDMA, and similar derivative drugs
  • Caffeine
  • Hallucinogenic drugs
  • Inhalants

Because all of these substances cause severe addictions, most people in recovery will continue to look for that same high or euphoric effect. Additionally, when paired, many of these substances can have heightened effects. 

Combinations like Xanax and alcohol are prevalent in those struggling with cross-addictions, as people try to seek a more intense and prolonged experience. 

Deadly Drug Combinations

Beyond the risks of having an intense addiction to multiple substances, cross-addiction poses more dangerous threats. The problem with this type of addiction is that most users blend different drugs that can be lethal.  

Many addicts combine drugs and substances to fuel their addictions and experience more potent effects. Some of the deadliest drug combinations include:

  • Alcohol and Xanax
  • Alcohol and Marijuana
  • Opioids and Benzodiazepines
  • Cocaine and Alcohol
  • Cocaine and Heroin
  • Methamphetamine and Ecstasy

When someone struggles with a cross-addiction that blends these drugs, their likelihood of experiencing a fatal overdose increases tremendously, making cross-addiction extremely dangerous for anyone with substance abuse issues. 

Treatment Options

Cross-addiction is preventable. However, as we all know, people with substance abuse problems tend to lack a threshold for safety or healthy behaviors. It’s impossible to say that someone can prevent a cross-addiction if they’re already experiencing substance misuse or abuse.

Those with an active addiction can have a harsher time preventing misuse of other substances. Prevention is available for recovering addicts that are working towards their long-term recovery. 

Those in recovery must mention their previous substance abuse struggles when seeing any doctor. Explaining your history will prevent a doctor from prescribing a potentially addictive substance that can get people back in the substance abuse vicious cycle.

Phase 1: Medical Detox 

Like other substance abuse problems, to treat cross-addiction, you have to start with medical detox. It’s paramount to seek medical attention when attempting to detox the body from multiple substances. The withdrawal symptoms of those with cross-addictions tend to be more severe and more life-threatening. 

Phase 2: Choosing a Treatment Program

After the detox phase, people with cross-addictions often require a more intense level of care. An inpatient treatment program or an intensive outpatient program might be the best course of action. With a comprehensive approach, those with cross-addictions can receive the level of care they need to battle their multiple struggles. 

Can Dual Diagnosis Help?

Additionally, looking into a dual diagnosis treatment plan might be helpful. Because most people struggling with substance abuse also suffer from mental health conditions, the dual diagnosis program can help them address these difficulties—the more well-rounded and comprehensive the treatment, the better the outcome for those in recovery. 

Seeking Help for Cross Addictions

After what seems like a successful intensive 12-program, or an inpatient treatment program, most people strongly believe their addictions stay in the past. While that’s true for many, it’s known that most people in recovery experience some sort of relapse. 

Seeking help for cross addictions can help recovering addicts prevent falling for another addiction after treatment. Learning more about your illness and understanding the right mechanisms to build a sober life can be life-saving. 

Your Path to Recovery Starts Here

Our dual diagnosis specialists at Lighthouse Recovery Institute can spot cross addictions and help you find the right treatment plan for your needs. We believe in crafting comprehensive and personalized treatment programs that address the mind, body, and soul. 

So, whether you’re struggling with a single addiction, a dual diagnosis, or a cross-addiction, our team is here to help you carve your path towards recovery. 

Contact us today and speak with our admission specialists to learn about our programs, verify your insurance, and get one step closer towards a healthy and sober life.

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