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What is Addiction Transference?

Addiction transference, also known as a cross addiction, is a phenomenon that happens when someone gets addicted to more than one substance. While the term may be relatively new, addiction treatment programs have seen cross addiction for decades. Cross addictions may occur simultaneously or someone may get addicted to a different substance after they stop using another one.

Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease, meaning it can worsen and change over time. When someone is addicted to substances, they often have an addictive personality, meaning they are susceptible to developing other addictions as well. 

Understanding Addiction Transference

Addiction transference or cross addictions occur when a person has two or more addictive behaviors. The addictions can both be a dependency on a substance, or they can be a combination of a substance and behavioral addiction. Behavioral addictions include a dependency on food, gambling, sex, gaming, shopping, or other compulsive behaviors.

Addiction is the continued use of a substance or compulsive behavior despite facing negative consequences. For example, someone with a shopping addiction will continue shopping to the point that they can no longer pay their bills or support their family. 

On the other hand, someone with sex addiction may continue to look at pornographic material or engage with multiple partners despite the effects it has on their relationship. In other words, people with addiction continue engaging in the behavior or substance abuse despite the consequences they face as a result. 

When it comes to cross addiction, multiple addictions do not have to occur at the same time. If someone gets sober from crack addiction and then becomes addicted to shopping, they are still suffering from addiction transference. This is a fairly common phenomenon in people who recover from substance addiction–some get addicted to certain behaviors such as exercise or binge eating but are able to abstain from drugs and alcohol.

How Common are Cross Addictions?

Addiction transference is extremely common. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 20 million people over the age of 12 suffer from an addiction.[1] Each of these people has the propensity of developing a cross addiction, as someone with an addictive personality is at a high risk of suffering from addiction transference. However, research has found that at least 9% of the 20 million Americans who suffer from addiction also have a cross addiction.[2]

According to the National Library of Medicine, people with an alcohol use disorder are 18 times more likely to begin using opioids.[3] This also counts as the development of cross addiction. 

What Causes Addiction Transference?

Addiction transference occurs for a variety of reasons, but usually, it is accidental. Someone who recovered from addiction in the past may have surgery and be prescribed opioid painkillers. As they begin to take the painkillers, it awakens their addictive behaviors and they find themselves in the cycle of addiction once again. 

A lack of understanding could be another reason that addiction transference takes place. Someone who is addicted to methamphetamine may not realize that this means they are at an increased risk of developing additional addictions. If they get prescribed a benzodiazepine for anxiety, they may believe they are at risk of becoming addicted to the substance. 

Lastly, another reason that cross addictions can occur is because of untreated mental health symptoms. If someone has a history of depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, they may begin abusing substances or engaging in compulsive behaviors to soothe their symptoms. For example, many people with social anxiety begin gaming to escape reality and avoid social situations, leading to the development of behavioral addiction. 

Do Certain Substances Make You More Susceptible to Cross Addiction?

One theory about cross addictions is that substances that produce similar effects can result in a higher vulnerability to the condition. For example, if someone uses two drugs that both suppress the central nervous system, they may develop a cross addiction. 

Using any of the following drugs in combination with one another (polysubstance abuse) could result in addiction transference:

  • Alcohol
  • Opioid painkillers (Vicodin, oxycontin) 
  • Anti-anxiety drugs like benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, Valium) or barbiturates 
  • Sedatives and sleep aids
  • Cannabis and other types of hallucinogenic drugs 

Or, if an individual is addicted to stimulants, they would be more susceptible to developing a cross addiction to these substances:

  • Cocaine 
  • Diet medications that contain stimulants 
  • Ecstasy, MDMA, and similar derivative drugs 
  • Caffeine 
  • Methamphetamine 

The notion of cross addiction would suggest that people with a substance use disorder to one type of drug are more susceptible to developing an addiction to a drug in the same category. However, this is not always the case. Some individuals develop an addiction to a depressant like alcohol and then become addicted to a stimulant like cocaine. 

Find Help for Drug Abuse and Addiction Today

If you struggle with addiction of any kind, it’s time to seek help. Substance abuse treatment programs can help you overcome addiction transference and teach you how to live a life free of substances and behavioral addictions. Call now to speak with a compassionate admissions coordinator and learn about your treatment options.