Beyond One Battle: Unveiling the Hidden World of Cross Addictions

Blair Sharp Freelance Writer at Recovery Unplugged

Written By

Blair Sharp

Addiction is complex and can be very difficult to understand. Although many people get help and live a better life in recovery, some struggle with new addictions or exhibit addictive behaviors that last their entire lives. 

If you struggle with addiction, you may notice parts of your life where your “all or nothing” mindset appears. Maybe you chug beverages without thinking or eat more cookies than you’d like to admit. Some of these habits are not a severe risk to your health or happiness, but it’s essential to recognize them and why they happen.

To understand cross-addictions more effectively, learning about all its aspects is essential. This way, you can understand what signs to watch out for, the dangers involved, and how to seek help, especially in recovery.

What is Cross Addiction?

Cross addiction, or “addiction transfer,” is when someone replaces their previous addiction with a new one. 

People with addictive behaviors tend to create a dependency cycle that affects their brain’s reward response, causing them to look for other behaviors to replace the first one. 

Sometimes, when people get sober, they become super focused on a new behavior or routine that somewhat replaces their previous addiction. For example, they might start a new gym routine or become overly focused on being a person in recovery.

Why Do Cross Addictions Happen?

People who experience addiction or exhibit addictive behaviors, like gambling or drinking alcohol, may be prone to developing an additional addiction to feed their desire and addictive tendencies. 

Similar brain pathways become activated by various addictions. The person feels pleasure or reward, reinforcing their behavior, making it easier to develop new addictions. 

Biological factors

Substances like drugs and alcohol significantly impact our brain’s reward system. They disrupt our neurotransmitters’ functioning and change our brain chemistry. Because this part of the brain plays a crucial role in pleasure and reward, we’re at a higher risk of developing multiple addictions. 

Psychological factors

Mental health disorders, trauma, or other emotional struggles can contribute to cross-addiction development. Many times, substance use or other addictive behaviors and mental health challenges occur together. This is known as co-occurring disorders. 

Additionally, those who struggle with negative emotions or have poor coping mechanisms may be more likely to develop cross-addictions. They cannot manage life’s challenges without their original addiction and turn to something new.

Some experience emotional cravings that stem from unresolved trauma or distress and turn to behaviors like compulsive eating or excessive exercise to cope.

Social factors

When people feel rejected socially, it lights up the same parts of their brain as drug cravings, which are linked to feeling good, motivated, and addicted. And those who experience social rejection are more likely to turn to new addictions to cope.

Common Cross Addictions – Signs and Symptoms

Let’s break down some common cross-addictions and how to spot them. Plus, what you can do if you’re struggling. 


Characterized by loss of control over your eating habits, overeating, or compulsive eating, food addiction can have severe consequences. You may feel stuck in a cycle or experience weight gain and other health issues. 

Some signs of food addiction are:

  • Isolated eating or inability to eat with others
  • Intense feelings of guilt, disgust, or shame after binge eating
  • Overeating to the point of being uncomfortable
  • Eating large amounts of food very quickly
  • No enjoyment in eating

The severity of food addiction is unique to the individual, and treatment may vary. Seeking help when you notice any symptoms is vital to successfully managing and overcoming them. 


Compulsive and risky sexual behaviors can be part of someone’s struggle with sex addiction, interfere with your daily life, and significantly strain your relationships. It can also lead to inappropriate or illegal sexual behaviors, financial issues, and challenges with your physical and mental health. 

Some symptoms to look out for are:

  • Excessive time spent on sexual activities
  • A preoccupation with sex
  • Sexual activities or thoughts that interfere with daily functioning
  • Inability to control your sexual thoughts or behaviors

Recognizing symptoms and avoiding triggers that lead to inappropriate or risky sexual behaviors is crucial to overcoming sex addiction, including staying away from places, websites, and people who trigger your desire to engage in sexual activities. 

It can be beneficial to work with a trained professional who specializes in sex addiction and mental health to gain guidance and support. An accountability partner can also help you stay on track. 


If you’ve turned to shopping as a cross addiction, you may be experiencing uncontrollable urges to buy things. Like drug and alcohol addictions, compulsive shopping releases endorphins and dopamine in your brain that make you feel good. 

Financial strain is one significant consequence of compulsive shopping, and its impact can be lifelong. Shopping addiction can also strain relationships and have severe adverse mental health effects.

Some signs of a shopping addiction are: 

  • Neglecting personal and social obligations
  • Spending money even when you don’t have any to spend
  • Opening new credit cards frequently
  • Lying to your friends and family about your buying habits
  • Hiding purchases from people around you
  • Spending money meant for other necessities like bills or rent

Implementing practical strategies can help you break the cycle of compulsive shopping. Using cash for purchases, tracking your spending habits, or monthly budgeting can help you regain control over your finances. A supportive friend or family member can act as an accountability partner as you work through your addiction. 


Like compulsive shopping, a gambling addiction can have severe financial consequences you may need to deal with for the rest of your life. Some people experience legal issues, strained relationships, or mental health challenges like depression or anxiety. 

Signs of a gambling addiction:

  • Need to gamble with an increasing amount of money
  • You can’t control or stop gambling despite negative consequences
  • Irritability when unable to gamble how you want
  • Using gambling for stress relief or escape problems

Setting limits on money spent on gambling is helpful. Avoid places or situations that compel you to gamble, like casinos or bars with gambling machines. And drawing healthy boundaries with people who may pressure you is crucial. 

Seek support from a trained professional to gain healthy strategies for avoiding triggers and setting boundaries for yourself. If you struggle with substance use in addition to gambling addiction, consider a specialized program that addresses both issues. 

Prescription medication

Medications such as painkillers, benzodiazepines, and sleep medications can be highly prevalent as cross-addictions and easily accessible. 

To avoid moving your addiction to prescription medications and minimize risk, you must be open and honest with your medical provider about your addiction history and recovery. You may need to explore non-habit-forming medication as needed for pain or sleep issues.

Your doctor may also suggest alternative or holistic therapies for pain management. Techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, meditation, deep breathing, or other relaxation techniques are helpful for sleep issues.

How to Protect Yourself from Cross Addictions

Getting help for cross-addictions can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. It’s essential to first address any underlying issues.

Medical treatment

Addiction treatment can break the cycle and help you live a full and happy life. Through therapy, you’ll learn why you behave the way you do or why you tend to struggle more than someone who doesn’t have issues with addiction. Learning about yourself can be extremely helpful for acceptance and moving on with your life.  

Practice self-care

Put yourself and your recovery first. Having a regular self-care practice can help you stay strong and resilient in sobriety and avoid slipping into a cross-addiction. 

Pay attention to how you’re feeling. Think of negative feelings as a warning sign that you need to take a break or do one of the activities in your self-care toolbox. 

Practice healthy habits like eating well, getting enough sleep, and moving your body regularly. Distract yourself by trying new hobbies, reaching out to friends, and leaning on your support system when needed.

Avoiding temptation

Staying busy is a great way to avoid triggers and temptations if you struggle with addictive behaviors. You can also trick your brain by playing the tape forward. Think about what the negative consequences would be if you gave in to your temptation. 

Don’t keep unhealthy or triggering foods in your home if you struggle with excessive eating. Avoid going to restaurants or other places that may tempt you to indulge. If shopping triggers you, avoid going to malls and delete your phone’s shopping and social media apps. 

If gambling is your thing, say no to casino trips or betting on the next big game. Get rid of your gaming system or limit your time to avoid slipping into addictive behaviors. 

Creating healthy boundaries is vital to avoiding the people and situations that are possible triggers. Decide what you will or won’t do and stick to those self-imposed rules no matter what. You need to put yourself first.

Looking for Help?

If you’re struggling with cross-addiction, support is one phone call away. Call Recovery Unplugged today at 1-(855)-954-1194. Our admissions team is available 24/7 to talk about what you’re going through and offer guidance.

Remember, even when you feel like you’re all alone, people care about you and want to see you get better. But don’t do it for them; do it for yourself. You deserve it.

We take our music-focused treatment for addiction very seriously, so we are going to hold our content to the same precision standards. Recovery Unplugged’s editorial process involves our editing safeguard and our ideals. Read our Editorial Process.

Blair Sharp

Blair is an esteemed writer and sobriety advocate with a background in psychometry. She blends academic expertise with personal narratives to offer valuable guidance for those navigating the path to sobriety.

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