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Cross Addiction

Written by Jade McNulty BMS’23 Neuro’23
Published on April 8, 2021

If battling one addiction was not enough, having one dependency increases the risk for another addiction. This phenomenon known as cross addiction is when an individual has two or more addictive behaviors that may cause harm in their life. Gambling, sex, food, stimulants, and much more are all addictions someone suffering with alcohol addiction may develop. Sometimes both addictions co-exist in a person while others can develop the second addiction in recovery (i.e. developing a gambling addiction while in alcohol recovery). The new substance can trigger the same reward system that caused the initial addiction and can elicit the same feeling of euphoria in the body.

Oftentimes, cross addiction can occur due to a patient’s lack of understanding. Individuals can understand that they are addicted to a substance, but believe it is limited to that singular substance. For example, if a recovered alcoholic undergoes surgery, they may be prescribed opioids to deal with their pain. The brain will recognize the elation caused by the drugs and morph to keep those feelings occurring, which may lead to an addiction toopioids.

Unresolved mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, can also be the root of cross addiction. Those suffering from mental illness can sometimes crave a sense of escape found in drugs and may use them to self-medicate to feel better. Dopamine is used to communicate with the reward system of the brain and triggers feelings of pleasure to occur. Surges of dopamine can reinforce behaviors to cause addiction. Addictions can come from compulsive behaviors that develop due to mental illness.

In college athletes, the most common cross addictions occur with alcohol, steroids, and gambling. Alcohol is a common initial substance found on college campuses. Most students have access to it, whether it be from off campus events or purchasing it themselves when at legal age. Due to the pressure put on young athletes, the risk for addiction is higher than the typical student. nce an addiction is developed, the user’s  risk for a cross-addiction increases. In addition to alcohol, some may turn to drugs to enhance their performance and decrease some of the stress while others look for outlets to feel better. Gambling is also a popular method to elicit such feelings and due to it’s fast reaction time, many student athletes fall victim to this game.

Though these chemical processes and risk factors cannot be removed, increased knowledge on the topic can decrease rates of cross addiction. Keeping people informed on all aspects of addiction can lead to safer use of substances and decrease rates of addiction overall. If those recovering from one addiction knew their increased risk of developing another addiction, there may be fewer individuals suffering from cross addiction. There needs to be more information provided to those in recovery. Addiction does not end once one recovers. 

Categories:  StudentsSUDI