Cross Addiction: It May Have a New Flavor, But It’s Still the Same Behavior

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Running into Trouble

Examples are memorable, so let’s look at a case study. Frank liked to run. He began going with his mom on her morning runs as soon as he was old enough to keep up with her and continued running with the cross country and track teams in high school and college. Frank wasn’t an especially gifted runner, but it was an activity he enjoyed and it kept him in shape. Then, on one early morning late fall run, he slipped on some wet leaves and severely damaged his left knee. He later learned that he had torn two ligaments and that he would have to wear a brace for an extended period of time.

As part of his recovery process, Frank began to take opiate pain killers which helped him heal and mitigated the pain he felt. But, unfortunately, he developed an affinity for the pills which led to an eventual addiction. After about a year of sneaking the pills and finding multiple doctors who would prescribe them, Frank realized his problem when he was reprimanded at work for his tardiness and mental lapses. He sought treatment and was able to “kick” the addiction.

Now clean, clear and healed from the injury, Frank began to run again. But this time it was different. Frank had always been in shape because he was active, but for more than a year he had been healing from his extensive injury. Usually not given to eating junk foods, he had given in to unhealthy dietary urges during his recovery and had gained some weight. So, when he decided to run again, he was also bent on getting back in shape. So, Frank ran every day despite the outside conditions or the pain he felt. He ran even when it made his wife angry because he was more distant and would rather run than pay attention to her and the kids. He ran on his lunch breaks at work and repeatedly took an extra half hour which began to infuriate his boss. People remarked, behind his back, how skinny and unhealthy he was looking. Then Frank began taking a mild pain killer for some small aches which led him back to opiates. Frank reasoned that he could handle it alone this time and he didn’t need to talk to his wife about it.

So What is Addiction?
e-cigarettezMany words originally coined by someone in the psychological community for a specific use, become misunderstood as they reach the larger communal vocabulary. Thus, to understand the essence of addiction, it is necessary to have a firm definition. According to Webster, addiction is “a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble).” This is a simplistic definition, but it suits the purpose. It means that when an individual harms themselves, others or both with a substance they take or and action they perform, they are addicted to that substance or action. It doesn’t matter what it is. People have been treated for addictions to:

  • Many different types of drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Exercise
  • Shopping
  • Sex
  • Energy Drinks
  • Eating Healthy or Dieting
  • AA Meetings, and many other substances and activities.

Realize that addiction does not fit a certain mold and it is not humorous or cute as we sometime joke that someone has a “caffeine addiction” or a “shopping problem”.

If someone shops impulsively and obsessively, some will laugh about it and write it off as a personality quirk. But, if shopping becomes an addiction, it is as harmful to that person’s life as alcohol or an addiction to food. That individual can ruin their financial life and mortgage their future based on their addictive behavior.

Since addictions are becoming more mainstream and people are beginning to recognize that anything can become addictive, these facts are known. However, there is an issue which is not as widely known about addiction but is dangerous for those who have succumbed to an addiction in the past. It is called Cross Addiction.

How Addiction Leads to Cross Addiction
joggerzLet’s get back to Frank. He was a “health nut” who had an injury that is common to people who run or workout a lot. Until his injury, he was not addicted to running, it didn’t harm himself or any of his relationships, but he did enjoy the activity. Unfortunately the injury did lead to a prescription medication addiction, something that is becoming much more common. But he was able to get help and begin recovery from that addiction.

Then he started running again, but his running was complicated by a body image problem. Now his running did harm himself and his relationships with other people. His obsessive running also led him to relapse on his drug of choice. Frank had replaced one addiction for another and then fell back into his original addiction.

In many instances cross addiction transferal happens between substances (such as when an alcoholic becomes addicted to opiates) but it can also refer to lapsing into addictive actions also. The obsessive nature of addiction, the craving need to have the substance or perform the action, can be transferred. The addict needs to realize that just because he or she was addicted to a certain substance, doesn’t mean they cannot act compulsively in other instances. Remember, addiction is a strong and harmful need. You became addicted once, you can easily become addicted again.

How Do You Avoid the Complication of Cross Addiction?
People who have been through substance abuse recovery realize that it is not a singular. That is why, even after an individual has been abstaining from their drug or action of choice for many years, they will still self-identify as an addict. Addiction never ends. It is something the individual carries for life. So, why would anyone think that they could avoid further addiction when they have faced that reality before?

Well, many people believe that they were physically addicted to one substance and that other substances or actions cannot become addictions. Unfortunately, the brain is not wired for a specific addiction. The same pathways that caused the earlier obsession are still there and still able to bring on the same compulsion.

Avoiding cross addiction is not simple, but it is possible. Ask yourself some questions:

  • Have you noticed anything you can’t give up or live without?
  • Have you started lying about, or attempted to hide a behavior, even if it seems innocent?
  • Do you feel like you ‘cannot do without’ the new substance or activity, leading to feelings of grief, anxiety, frustration, or even anger?
  • Are you rationalizing a certain behavior by saying things like “Well, at least I’m not drinking alcohol”?
  • Do you exercise despite its effects on your life (injuries, missing work, etc.) or drink pots of coffee even though you haven’t slept well in weeks?

Look at your recovery from the original substance and realize what is happening to you. Ask yourself some honest questions.

Treatment Possibilities for Cross Addiction
Recovery from addiction has a common denominator; that is why the 12 Steps have been used so effectively for many different substances and actions. Some tips to avoid cross addiction are:

  • Remember that recovering from addiction takes constant work. If you stay active in recovery, it will help you stay honest.
  • Recognize the signs that it is turning into an addiction.
  • Addiction doesn’t go down without a fight. It’s like pulling a weed from the root.  If you don’t get the root, it’s going to pop up somewhere again.
  • Even without knowing it you might be approaching other things in an addictive manner. Check yourself constantly for the signs.

Remember the pain of addiction and how it affected you in the past. Never let your guard down despite the problem. Remember that you are not a machine that once fixed can go on without ever having to look back at a former problem. Also realize that seemingly innocent activities, that are not harmful in most circumstances, can lead to addictive behavior. In Frank’s case it was an obsession with running, but for you it may be something completely different. A smoker may quit, but see vaping as a completely harmless activity. Unfortunately, vaping is even more addiction provoking than smoking because of the specific behaviors that are involved. Just recognize where you have been, be honest with yourself and realize that addiction is always a concern for you.

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