When a person who has developed an addiction to one particular drug (e.g. alcohol or cocaine) or behaviour (e.g. gambling or sex), is at greater risk of developing an addiction to another substance or behaviour, simultaneously or in its place. In short: swapping one addiction for another.
A secondary concept of cross-addiction is that a person who achieves recovery from a particular addiction and remains abstinent may be led back to this original addiction if they partake in a different substance or behaviour.
For example, someone who is in recovery from alcoholism might think it safe to use cocaine, while remaining abstinent from alcohol. Under the concept of cross-addiction this is dangerous: either the individual may become addicted to cocaine itself or the use of cocaine will eventually lead him back to alcohol.
This is the reason why most recognised treatment models for addiction emphasise the need for total abstinence from all mood-altering substances and behaviours.
Cross-Addiction and Dual Diagnosis
Cross-addiction and dual diagnosis are not the same. Dual diagnosis generally refers to a person who has two very different and unrelated psychological disorders, such as depression and alcohol dependence.
Clinical View of Cross-Addiction
The accepted clinical rationale is that most forms of addiction share similar brain pathways, such as the reward pathway in the brain that triggers the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
But there are psychological considerations too. Addiction recovery is about learning new ways for the addict to cope with life and as such, any return to old attitudes where addictive substances were used as ‘crutches’ is viewed as a highly retrograde step.
Against limited empirical research, there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence and case histories pointing to the fact that cross-addiction does happen.
A recent example seen was a man treated ten years previously, and successfully, for alcohol addiction who discovered that the emotional escape and the ‘buzz’ of excitement that he got from betting on horse racing had led him into compulsive gambling that he was powerless to control. As a result, his life had again become unmanageable and he sought help.
Cross-addiction treatment at Castle Craig Hospital
On admission, patients are assessed by our medical team. It is not uncommon for individuals to be diagnosed as addicted to more than one substance or behaviour.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is particularly helpful in treating cross-addiction. One of our skilled therapists helps the patient to identify, recognise and examine the thought patterns, feelings and emotions underlying their addictive behaviours. The therapist then helps guide the patient towards strategies for dealing with these thoughts in an effective and healthy way. More.
Group therapy enables patients who have experienced cross-addiction to share their personal experiences with others. Sharing and understanding these examples can be a powerful therapeutic tool and also raises awareness among the rest of the group. Read how group therapy helps treat addiction.
Continuing Care after Discharge
At Castle Craig Hospital all patients leaving treatment are informed and alerted to the concept of cross-addiction as part of the discharge planning process. The Continuing Care Plan given to each patient will emphasise this, to ensure that they enjoy continued success and abstinence. More.
Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | June 14, 2021