What are Cross Addictions and is the Concept Actually Real?

cross addictions

Many people who suffer from addiction struggle with a dependency on multiple substances.  Those who recover from an addiction to one substance may become addicted to something else throughout their recovery. This is known as having a cross addiction or addiction interaction disorder.

Cross addictions develop in the same way that traditional substance use disorders begin. To explain, when someone is addicted to a drug and uses it, their brain floods with dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for signaling reward and pleasure. 

Because those who suffer from addiction are more prone to addictive behaviors, developing more than one dependency is not unheard of. 

What Are Cross Addictions?

Cross addictions can appear in many different ways. One of the most common ways this occurs is after recovering from their initial addiction, they begin replacing it with another substance. For example, someone who recovered from stimulant addiction could begin abusing marijuana to cope. 

Another way cross addictions occur is when someone becomes addicted to a substance while suffering from a behavioral addiction. For example, someone who suffers from a sex addiction could become addicted to drugs or alcohol. 

For someone to understand cross addictions, they must become familiar with what addiction looks like. The signs of a substance or behavioral addiction include:

  • Using the substance or behavior longer than expected
  • Desiring to stop but being unable to 
  • Excessive amounts of time using and recovering from use 
  • Experiencing strong cravings for the substance or behavior 
  • Use that impacts the individual’s ability to fulfill responsibilities 
  • Social and interpersonal issues caused by the substance use or behavior 
  • Decreased interest in previously beloved activities 
  • Using despite facing health and mental health consequences 
  • Experiencing a tolerance to the substance or behavior
  • Symptoms of withdrawal when the behavior or substance use is ceased 

How Are They Different From Co-Occurring Disorders?

While co-occurring disorders are similar to cross-addiction, they are not the same. Cross addictions refer to suffering from multiple types of substance or behavioral addictions. On the other hand, co-occurring disorders refer to a substance use disorder that is accompanied by a mental health condition. 

Common co-occurring disorders associated with drug addiction include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder  (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Schizophrenia 

What Are Behavioral Addictions?

While most people imagine cross addictions as the addiction to two types of substances, like alcohol and opiate addiction, some people may struggle with behavioral addictions. Addiction can be described as a pervasive or compulsive behavior that continues despite facing negative consequences. This definition is especially accurate for behavioral addictions. 

Examples of behavioral addictions include:[1]

  • Sex addiction
  • Love addiction
  • Work addiction 
  • Internet addiction
  • Shopping addiction 
  • Exercise addiction 
  • Gambling addiction

Behavioral addictions are any set of behaviors that individuals become dependent on. Many people might joke about being addicted to shopping or sex, but others truly suffer from a compulsive need to shop or have sex to soothe uncomfortable feelings they experience. This can lead to the same adverse effects as substance addictions. 

Avoiding Developing a Cross Addiction

Many people develop a cross-addiction during early recovery from their initial addiction. As they lose their coping mechanism, they begin to experience uncomfortable feelings again for the first time. This causes them to seek alternative ways of soothing their feelings. 

Unfortunately, it is all too common for those recovering from substance addiction to develop an addiction to exercise during treatment. Because they are not learning positive coping mechanisms, they begin to lean on exercise to replace their substance of abuse. This leads to the development of cross-addiction. 

The best way to avoid developing this condition is by learning and practicing positive coping mechanisms. Examples of healthy coping skills include:

  • Being self-aware and doing daily check-ins on thoughts, emotions, and behaviors
  • Leaning on other sober peers for support 
  • Becoming informed on addiction and how it develops 
  • Being involved in recovery activities like volunteering or attending meetings 
  • Quitting all addictions at once 
  • Speaking with a professional, like a therapist or an addiction coach 

Treating Cross Addictions 

Treatment for cross-addiction depends on the individual’s unique needs and goals. Those with severe cross addictions will require intensive treatment in a residential facility. On the other hand, mild cross addictions can be treated on an outpatient basis. 

However, it is important to note that both (or all) of the patient’s addictions should be addressed simultaneously. This is one of the ways that cross addictions are similar to co-occurring disorders. Without treating both cross addictions, the individual could relapse and struggle with an even more severe addiction than they began with. 

Common treatments for cross addictions include:

Get Connected With a Top-Rated Addiction Rehab

If you or a loved one suffer from addiction, professional treatment can help. Whether you are addicted to a substance, a behavior, or both, Moving Mountains Recovery Center can provide you with the tools you need to succeed in recovery. 

Contact Moving Mountains Recovery Center for more information on our top-rated addiction rehab programs.


  1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/00952990.2010.491884

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