NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Recovery: Understanding Cross Addiction - Substituting One Addiction For Another

Many people who are recovering from addiction don't understand the concept cross addiction, which is substituting one addiction for another (see my other articles about substance abuse:  Recovery: Maintaining a Balanced Life,  "Liquid Courage:" Overcoming the Temptation to Abuse Alcohol to Cope With Social SituationsThe Myth About Having to "Hit Bottom" to Change, and Coping With Addiction: Boredom as a Relapse Trigger).

Recovery: Understanding Cross Addiction - Substituting One Addiction For Another

The reason it's so important to understand cross addiction is that people who have a history of addiction often switch from one addiction to another, especially when they're under stress.

So, for instance, if someone who has been sober from alcohol for a few years suddenly finds himself under a lot of stress at work, instead of picking up a drink, he might start to abuse prescription drugs or gamble compulsively or engage in some other form of addiction.

Recovery: Understanding Cross Addiction - Substituting One Addiction For Another

It's easy to fool yourself into thinking that you can dabble with another addiction because it's not your primary addiction.

But when you're under a lot of stress and you haven't developed adequate skills, if you have a history of addiction, you're more likely to either relapse with your primary addiction or engage in cross addiction.

Let's take a look at a fictional vignette to see how this plays out:

Fictional Vignette: Recovery: Understanding Cross Addiction: Substituting One Addiction For Another:

Connie was sober from alcohol for two years.  During that time, she struggled to maintain her sobriety, but with the help of her psychotherapist and her sponsor, she celebrated her second year as a sober person.

Soon after she celebrated her second anniversary of sobriety, she left Alcoholics Anonymous and told her psychotherapist that she wanted a break from therapy.

A few months later, her mother fell, broke her hip and had to go to an inpatient physical rehabilitation center.  When her mother got home, she needed Connie's help because she wasn't able to take care other daily needs.

Although Connie and her mother had a conflictual relationship, Connie agreed to move in with her mother temporarily to help her.  She knew that other siblings, who also had conflicts with their mother, wouldn't be willing to do it and her mother really needed help.

The stress of taking care of her mother and working a full time job took a toll on Connie after a few weeks (see my article: Are You Experiencing Chronic Stress and Unaware of It?).

There were times when she wanted to tell her mother to fend for herself, but she knew her mother couldn't be alone, so she tolerated her mother's emotional abuse.

Connie was often tempted to have a drink, but she knew that if she had one, she wouldn't be able to stop, so she refrained from drinking.  But she started using food to soothe her stress, and she gained 20 pounds within a few months.

Recovery: Understanding Cross Addiction - Substituting One Addiction For Another

When she went to the doctor for her annual checkup, her doctor couldn't believe that Connie had put on so much weight since the last time he saw her.

Knowing that Connie had a history of alcohol abuse, her doctor asked her if she was overeating.  When Connie told him that she was "stress eating" at her mother's home, he talked to her about cross addiction and recommended that she get back into therapy.

Connie had never heard of cross addiction.  Before she saw her doctor, she thought that as long as she didn't touch alcohol, she was doing well.  But when her doctor explained cross addiction to her, it made sense to Connie, and she knew she needed to take care of herself (see my article: Self Care For Caregivers).

The next day, Connie called a family meeting with her siblings and explained to them that they needed to pitch in.  She could no longer take on the sole responsibility of being her mother's caregiver.

At first, her siblings balked, but Connie insisted that either they help her out or she would hire a home attendant for their mother.

None of Connie's siblings wanted a home attendant in their mother's home, so they agreed to work out a schedule so they could take turns taking care of their mother.  Since there were seven of them, they each took a day, and sharing the responsibility made it less stressful.

Once her siblings were involved, Connie went back to her former psychotherapist to deal with her stress eating and unresolved issues about her mother (see my article: Returning to Therapy).

She also resumed attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and she contacted her old sponsor on a daily basis.

With emotional support and reduced stress, Connie was able to get back on track so she could eat in a healthy way again and lose the weight she gained.

She also had a new appreciation for how stress could put her at risk for cross addiction.

The term "cross addiction" refers to substituting one addiction for another.

The fictional vignette above highlights how important it is to recognize your particular vulnerability to cross addiction and also the importance of self care, self help meetings, and getting help in therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy
Setbacks are part of recovery and part of psychotherapy (see my article: Setbacks Are a Normal Part of Psychotherapy on the Road to Healing).

If you've had a setback in your recovery, it's important to get help before the problem progresses (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

A skilled psychotherapist, who is knowledgeable about addictions, can help you to get back on track again (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than struggling on your own, contact a licensed mental health professional who has an expertise in addictions so you can remain healthy.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to establish and maintain their recovery.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.