Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on March 29, 2019.
When you struggle with addiction — to drugs, alcohol or anything else — every day is a battle. When you take the steps to rehabilitation, the road to recovery can be just as hard. While detoxing and recovering from your addiction might be the most difficult thing you ever do, it's also the most important.
If you're on the path to becoming — and staying — sober, it's crucial for you to avoid some of the common pitfalls people struggle with during recovery. You might think you've beaten your addiction when you've gone through treatment for your problem substance, but even when you don't relapse, cross-addiction can threaten your recovery process. Here's what you need to know about addiction transfer and how to avoid it.
While many people look at addiction as dependence on a specific substance, it's more complicated than that. Addiction is about much more than the substance itself or even the behavior it causes — it stems from underlying mental conditions and compulsions. If a person is susceptible to one kind of addiction — like alcoholism or drug addiction — they run the risk of forming another addiction as well.
People with addictions often have compulsive personalities. When you abuse a substance, you're chasing after the high it provides — and you become obsessed with the feeling more than the substance itself. When someone is recovering from one substance addiction, it's common for them to replace the urge for this feeling with another substance or habit. This transferral of compulsion is called addiction transfer or addiction replacement.
When you're newly sober and recovering from an addiction, you might be dealing with pain, stress and anxiety during and after your detox period. To replace the urge for your addictive substance, you might learn to focus on something else instead — like exercise, work, shopping or a certain food.
Channeling your energy away from your addiction is healthy — but if you become obsessive or compulsive about the new habit or substance, it can become an addiction replacement. Your new addiction fills the emotional or psychological "lack" your previous addiction left behind, becoming a new high you crave for emotional fulfillment. Addiction transfers commonly include behaviors like:
While an addiction replacement might seem like a better alternative to the original substance addiction, it's a dangerous habit. Living with cross-addiction means you haven't yet learned how to overcome your compulsive, addictive behavior, and it can even increase your chances of a relapse.
To recover from addiction, avoid addiction transfer and begin the process of true healing, you'll need to address underlying emotional issues. When you understand your personality, identify your triggers and are familiar with the thought patterns that lead to your addictive behavior, you can begin to work for balance, better mental health and lasting sobriety.