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What is Cross Addiction?

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It is common for an addict to become dependent on another substance or behavior, especially after quitting their main addiction. The brain craves dopamine released when an addictive behavior is engaged, which can cause another addiction to be developed. This is known as cross addiction. These addictions can include alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, and other addictive behaviors. Although it is more common for a cross addiction to occur once the primary addiction is stopped, cross addictions can occur simultaneously. This blog will discuss cross addiction and how to do your best to avoid it.

Cross Addiction: What is it?

Cross addiction is when an individual begins abusing and/or engaging in addictive substances and behaviors. This can take place both during a primary addiction and after. Cross addiction occurs because addictive substances and behaviors can alter the way your brain functions. The dopamine receptors in the brain aren’t able to distinguish between substances and behaviors, it simply releases dopamine when the pleasurable behavior substance is engaged/used. Brains of addicts become accustomed to this feeling of pleasure caused by the release of dopamine and, ultimately, can cause them to develop additional addictions along with a primary addiction or when in recovery for another addiction. 

Common Cross Addictions

According to a study conducted at the University of Michigan, an individual that recovers from substance abuse is 18 times more likely to abuse prescription drugs than someone who has never experienced addiction. This means being aware of your risks of developing cross addiction is essential in preventing it. Here are 5 common cross addictions to look out for in recovery:

Shopping Addiction

Shopping addiction necessitates an inability to control your compulsion to spend money or shop. In individuals who experience this addiction, endorphins and dopamine are released when they purchase something. This addiction impacts approximately 18 million Americans. Some symptoms of shopping addiction are:

  • Obsession with making daily or weekly purchases
  • Using shopping to cope
  • Maxing out credit cards and opening new ones without paying off existing balances
  • Experiencing euphoria or excitement after making purchases
  • Buying items that are either unnecessary or useless
  • Getting money for shopping by any means necessary
  • Feelings of guilt after shopping, but being unable to control it


Gambling is a very common cross addiction to have. This cross addiction can occur when individuals make risky bets in order to experience a high. This sense of risk and danger of financial insecurity brings an emotional high. About 1 percent of Americans suffer from gambling addictions. Signs of gambling addiction are:

  • Having a need to be secretive about your gambling
  • Having trouble controlling the gambling and are constantly compelled to keep upping the bet
  • Feeling restless or irritable when they attempt to stop or control their gambling
  • Using gambling to escape feeling uncomfortable or distressed

Compulsive Sexual Behavior

Compulsive sexual behavior is when a person cannot manage or control their sexual tendencies. This addiction is characterized by a persistent pattern to control intense and repetitive sexual urges. A study from 2014 found that 3 to 6 percent of Americans experience compulsive sexual behavior. Some symptoms of this addiction are:

  • Constant sexual activities, even at the expense of health, personal care, and other interests
  • Inability to control repetitive sexual behavior even when there is no longer positive consequences or benefits from it

Exercise Addiction

Exercise addiction is understood as an unhealthy obsession with working out or any form of physical activity. It is thought that 15 percent of exercise addicts are also addicted to substances or alcohol and about 25 percent possibly experience other cross addictions. In many cases, exercise addiction is used as a “healthy” alternative to other more dangerous addictions. Signs of exercise addiction may be:

  • Experiencing uncontrollable urges to exercise
  • Reducing activities in other areas to ensure you have time to exercise
  • An inability to reduce exercise
  • Experiencing withdrawal after long periods of not exercising

Food Addiction

Food addiction is when an individual eats copious amounts of food in a short period of time even when they are not hungry. About 20 million women and 10 million men have or had an eating disorder in their life. Some symptoms of food addiction are:

  • Eating very rapidly 
  • Eating until uncomfortably full
  • Inability to eat with others due to embarrassment
  • Eating large amounts without feeling hungry
  • Feeling disgusted with yourself

How to Avoid Cross Addiction?

Cross addiction is preventable. When in recovery from another addiction, be incredibly cautious of taking part in activities and using substances that can be seen as addictive. Moreover, make a list of your triggers and avoid them the best you can. A good rule of thumb, especially in early recovery, is to avoid bars, clubs, and other social situations where drugs and alcohol are normalized. Developing coping mechanisms that best work for you when you are having cravings and having a plan to prevent relapse is the best way to avoid cross addiction. 

Cross addiction often happens when someone is trying to fill the void another addiction left. Try to find activities that improve your life and make you happy to fill this void. Trying out new hobbies and not turning to other addictive substances and behaviors to cope is crucial in avoiding both relapse and developing a cross addiction.

Treating Cross Addiction with NuView Treatment Center

If you’re struggling with cross addiction and require additional support to stop, NuView Treatment Center can help you. NuView Treatment Center in Los Angeles offers outpatient addiction treatment that is made to give clients the tools they need to recover from many types of addiction. The evidence-based treatment programs available at NuView can help clients address the underlying issues, such as mental health disorders and interpersonal problems, that are motivating their addiction. NuView’s highly trained staff can help you develop the necessary coping mechanisms to address your cross addiction and help prevent developing any other addictions in the future. 

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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