What if you stopped drinking or using tomorrow? What if you did it all by yourself without seeking any treatment? You use the sheer force of your will to ensure you’ll never touch another drop.

If you have alcohol problems, and you quit by yourself, you might never touch another drink. Your willpower might be that good. Unfortunately, you might trade your alcohol dependency in for an opiate dependency, a marijuana dependency, or even a gambling addiction.  – – – -That’s called “cross addiction.”

When you try to enter recovery with just your own willpower at your side, you’re often not prepared for the obstacles life throws at you. Treatment programs teach you important skills that help you make good choices, stay healthy, and avoid relapsing.

Simply put, if you don’t put in the work, you’re more susceptible to cross addiction.

Cross Addiction Defined

Cross addiction means you’ve traded one addiction for another addiction. Addiction is a chronic illness, so if you don’t know how to cope with it and keep on the path to recovery, you might be tempted to try another addictive substance (or activity) because you weren’t dependent on it before.

A heroin addict might start abusing alcohol, or someone who’s addicted to prescription painkillers might turn to hallucinogens or club drugs.

Treatment programs help you understand the nature of addiction, and they also help you build skills to cope with the real world. If you don’t put in that time and effort, you might not be prepared for recovery.

Veteran clinician and addiction counselor Dr. Peggy L. Ferguson says:

“When transitioning into addiction recovery, one’s first efforts involve attempts to interrupt the momentum of the addiction by abstaining from the chemical. Early attempts to quit drinking/using is often hampered not only by a lack of abstinence skills by also by limited awareness of the impact of their drug use on their lives over time. They often do not fully understand the nature of addiction and rudimentary elements crucial to recovery. Many people attempt to halt their addiction by using a “trial and error” process. Addicts, in trying to regain control over their using, often try to make the least amount of change to their lives overall, while eliminating negative consequences.

Many people attempt to regain control of use of drugs before trying to quit altogether.  They try changing their drugs of choice. They may believe that oxycontin is causing major problems in their lives, and that when they were “only” drinking, that life was more manageable. Addicts, whose spouses are threatening to leave them over the last DUI, continuing fights, blackouts, and broken promises, may be motivated to quit drinking, but can easily maintain the defense that their cannabis smoking has not caused these negative consequences.”

Cross addiction can happen for many reasons. It can happen to people who are months or years along in the recovery process, and it can happen to those who are just toying with the idea of trying to quit.

Though it normally affects people who are newly sober, especially those who have not put time into effective treatment programs, cross addiction can happen to anyone. Recovering people who undergo medical procedures might develop a dependency to their prescriptions, even when they use their medication responsibly.

Why Does Cross Addiction Happen?

When you engage in a pleasurable activity, your brain releases a chemical known as dopamine. Dopamine is a “feel good” chemical. Your brain releases dopamine when you eat chocolate, find a good deal on a pair of shoes, or when you drink alcohol.

When you develop a chemical dependency, your brain chemistry is altered. Your brain starts to need those “feel good” chemicals. These needs trigger cravings, which trigger relapses. When you refuse your initial craving, but satisfy it with another substance, you’re still feeding your brain’s need for those chemicals.

In short, your brain wants dopamine, It wants to feel “high,” so you’ll often give in to that need by substituting a new substance for the substance you abused previously.

From Dopamine Dialogue, an anonymous psychotherapist/clinical social worker’s blog:

“Recovering people must be constantly alert to the possibility of triggering a relapse of their disease through the intake of drugs or alcohol. Just as a diabetic needs to be cautious about the intake of sugar, a person recovering from alcoholism must be vigilant to avoid the use of anything habit-forming, including other types of habit-forming drugs.”

Being careful is part of the equation, but you also need to put in the hard work that recovery demands.

What Can I Do?

If you want to avoid cross addiction, an effective treatment program based on scientific and medical evidence is your best bet. These programs teach you about the nature of addiction, and they also set you up to cope with the real world.

Treatment programs help you learn your triggers. They explain that recovery is both a journey and a process, and they’re tailored to you. Every individual is different, and treatment programs help you understand how you can continue to make good, healthy decisions for the rest of your life.

They also provide a real support network and empower you to surround yourself with positive people who are invested in your success. You’ll also learn how to hold yourself accountable.

If you’re an addict, you can avoid your initial addiction, but you might trade it in for a new one. A good recovery program will help you avoid dangerous situations and stay away from anything you might become addicted to in the future.

The hard work makes all the difference in the world. You have to invest time and energy into your own recovery, and it takes more than just sheer willpower.  ~Paul