Substituting Addictions: Trading One for Another | PBI
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Substituting Addictions: Trading One for Another

Substituting addictions can be dangerous for those at any point in their recovery. Substituting addictions is also called “cross addiction.” There are many forms of cross addiction, just as there are many habits and substances that can elicit addictive behavior. It is really up to the alcoholic or addict to be vigilant regarding his sobriety, and it is easier to do this if you understand why substituting an addiction can be a slippery slope into relapse. Once a patient is discharged from drug and alcohol rehab treatment, it can be difficult adjusting to the outside world. The best way to prevent relapse is to follow any aftercare suggestions recommended by your treatment team, and establish an outside support network.

What Happens When an Addict Takes Narcotic Medication?


A very common issue that appears to be one of the leading causes of relapse for someone in recovery is taking prescription drugs for “legitimate” reasons: anxiety, ADHD, or pain medications. The problem lies therein that these medications can be extremely helpful for people suffering from those issues. But, it has to be understood that by taking a narcotic medication, even if it is legally prescribed by a physician, and taken as directed, can possibly trigger a relapse, no matter how much clean time one may have.

According to the online publication Psychology Today, “these medications stimulate the part of the brain that regulates addiction and addictive behavior.” Further explaining that “The dopamine dysregulation in the limbic system of the brain seen in addiction is not able to tell the difference between addictive drugs. Therefore, if someone who has addiction is given another addictive drug for whatever reason, the individual with addiction is being set up for relapse into their drug of choice.”

Also, benzodiazepines, which are a class of drugs that are meant to relieve anxiety, such as Xanax and Ativan, are a common cross addiction for alcoholics. Physicians prescribe medication that is meant to relieve anxiety, and relax muscles, which this very well may do all of the above for the recovering person. But, unfortunately, benzodiazepines also “hit the same type of brain receptors as alcohol, the person is triggered into alcohol use.” So, it would make sense that someone who is self-medicating their anxiety disorder with alcohol would be triggered by a drug that is formulated to act on the same receptors, and do the same thing, essentially.

Other Common Cross-Addictions


While prescription drug medication is one of the most common and dangerous forms of cross addiction, recovering people may engage in many other types of addictive behaviors that threaten their sobriety. Some common examples are: gambling addiction, sex/love addiction, gaming or technology addiction, and most commonly, smoking.

Just because someone engages in these behaviors does not mean they will certainly relapse back into use of their drug of choice. But, all of these behaviors place the recovering addict or alcoholic at risk for relapse. It is important for people in recovery to advocate for themselves. And, just because you are in recovery does not mean you should have to suffer in agony from pain. But, there is a fine line, and it is best to know the facts about substituting addictions, so that you can make educated choices when you are in pain. You may want to ask yourself, “Is it really necessary that I take pain medication?” Or, bounce the concern off of a trusted friend, or sponsor.

If you or a loved one has become entangled in cross-addiction, contact us today at the Palm Beach Institute.

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