Understanding Addiction Transfer


AUGUST 24, 2020

Edited by Editorial Team

Editorial Team

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Understanding Addiction Transfer

When a person tries to walk on the often shaky and unstable path to recovery on their own, they are more than likely unaware of a condition known as cross-addiction. Mental health specialists also refer to this as addiction transfer.

Cross-addiction is a tactic that an addict employs to try to compensate for the uncomfortable changes in their habits and routines, wherein they begin to substitute one addiction for another.



Getting and staying sober is very challenging, but with the right support network and tools, it's completely attainable.

Since it has the potential to cause a person to struggle with even more alcohol and substance abuse problems than they did before, it is important to understand how addiction transfer works. Taking the time to learn how it begins, the ways that addictions are often transferred, how to know if an addiction has become a problem, and what to do when you need help to get an addiction under control could help you stop the problem before it starts.

addiction transfer

How Addiction Transfer Begins

Many people turn to cross-addictions because of the advice of a counselor who is attempting to get them to switch to a healthier habit. The theory behind this method is that most people who struggle with addictions have an addictive personality, specific changes or damage to their brain, or a chemical imbalance in their brain. This makes it difficult for them to not be addicted to something all of the time.

If an individual’s addiction tendency can be diverted to something that is healthy for them, then, supposedly, their problems will be minimized. However, there are some cases where addictions are transferred to other substances instead.

What generally happens in this scenario is that an individual tries to quit using one particular substance, but the withdrawal symptoms seem too uncomfortable to deal with, so others encourage them to use another substance as a crutch to help them get through the tough situation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for them to become addicted to the new substance.

The Different Ways That Addictions Are Transferred

Most people who start transferring their addictions use a substance that will affect them in a similar way that the previous substance did. For example, a person who is used to using a certain amount of cocaine on a daily basis might switch to other amphetamines or “uppers” because they will induce the same energy boost and feelings of elation.

However, it is important to mention that not all individuals switch to another substance. Some may change their addiction to a habit that can cause them other problems. So, in other words, a person who is used to spending all of their time in a bar drinking alcohol may start to go on shopping sprees instead. Perhaps spending large amounts of money gives them a temporary high that helps them to avoid any negative emotions that they may be dealing with. Sex, pornography, gambling, and binge-eating are some of the other common addictions that an addict might use as a replacement as well.

what is addiction transfer

How to Know When a Transferred Addiction Has Become a Problem

Like all addictions, there are signs that an individual needs to be aware of to determine whether or not their new addiction has escalated into something bigger than they can handle. Using any substance that is illegal, or even just having it in your possession, can lead to jail time, fines, and other problems. So if someone is willing to risk these consequences for the sake of an addiction, this is a serious warning sign that they need to consider getting help.

signs of addiction transfer

Some other things to look out for include:

  • Experiencing anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts whenever access to the transferred addiction isn’t possible
  • Losing a job, home, relationship or friendship because of the addiction
  • Obsessive thoughts about how to get more of something related to the addiction
  • Health problems because of the addiction
  • Money problems that are directly caused by the addiction

What to Do When You Need Help to Get an Addiction Under Control

The first step to conquering any addiction is admitting that there is a problem in the first place. This might sound simple to do for someone who has never struggled with any kind of addiction before, but for those who have transferred one addiction for another, it can feel very self-defeating. Those struggling with addiction transfer may feel like they have conquered one problem, but now they have a new one to deal with.

Co-occurring disorders

The only way to end the cycle of continuously transferring harmful addictions is to deal with the underlying emotions or chemical imbalances that are causing the problem in the first place.

Attempting to quit alone is hard and you don’t have to walk this journey by yourself. Take advantage of our addiction treatment center at SpringBoard Recovery, we will help those who are ready to turn their life around and stop addictions for good. If you or someone you know is struggling with cross-addictions, or any other kind of alcohol or substance abuse problem, call today to make an appointment with one of our trusted care professionals.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the Definition of Addiction?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a, “chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain.” When a person is addicted to a drug, they have a complex brain disorder as well as a mental illness.

People get addicted to drugs, alcohol and certain behaviors because of repeated use or actions. This happens because of the brain’s dopamine response whenever they are introduced. Over time, the brain becomes unable to make dopamine without the presence of the addictive substance or behavior. This results in the individual needing to use in order to feel like themselves.

Do Cross Addictions Ever Happen by Accident?

Yes, cross addictions frequently happen by accident. For instance, a person may be an alcoholic, and if they have surgery, their doctor may prescribe a drug like Vicodin or Oxycodone to help with their pain. The presence of their current addiction makes it much more likely that they will eventually become addicted to their medication. This can happen quickly, even over the course of a few days for someone who is already an addict.

Addictions tend to happen progressively, and this can take some time with a new substance. But even with moderate use, unless something is done to interrupt the process, it is very likely that the individual will become addicted to the new drug.

Addictions happen by accident all the time. It is not uncommon for people to start using a substance, thinking that it is beneficial for them, only to find out that they have gotten addicted to it. We see this will many types of drugs, including:

  • Opioid painkillers
  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Prescription stimulants
  • Steroids

What is Addiction Interaction Disorder?

The term, addiction interaction disorder refers to co-existing addictions or compulsive behaviors. A lot of people who are addicted to drugs also have a problem with alcohol, or they may have addictive behaviors such as shopping, gambling or sex. When people do not get the help they need, all of the above can become chronic and compulsive.

Also, cross addictions do not just coexist with each other. Quite often, they interact with one another, reinforce each other and fuse together. This is why when a person goes to rehab to get help, they need to be forthcoming about all of their addictions. Only treating one is not sufficient for a successful recovery.

Does Addiction Transfer Mean Both Addictions are Present at the Same Time?

No, they do not need to be actively present at the same time. Quite often, people will report having been addicted to one drug and then years later, they will report getting addicted to a different one.

Unfortunately, it is much easier for a person to get addicted to a drug, alcohol or a behavior after having been addicted in the past. Addiction transfer is much more common than most people realize.

Do People With Cross Addictions Typically Suffer From Co-Occurring Disorders?

Cross addictions are extremely common for people who struggle from co-occurring disorders. This is especially true for those who were once addicted in the past, recovered, and now have a new addiction that they need treatment for.

Transfer addictions are often used as a way to fill a void that has been left by the original addiction. Not all treatment centers offer help to people with co-occurring disorders. If these conditions are left untreated, the original addiction may return, or the person might choose a different substance or behavior as a way to compensate.

Is There a Cure for Cross Addictions?

Unfortunately, there no cure available for addictions or for cross addictions at this time. This is because it is a chronic disease that typically requires long-term treatment. But the good news is that any substance abuse problem can be managed well as long as the individual is getting the right kind of treatment and support.


  1. Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/addiction-and-recovery/201904/the-challenge-cross-addiction
  2. WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/features/do-you-have-addictive-personality#1
  3. Medical News Today: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323465
  4. Verywell mind: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-withdrawal-how-long-does-it-last-63036
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cocaine
  6. HelpGuide: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/addictions/gambling-addiction-and-problem-gambling.htm
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-use-addiction-basics
  8. The New England Journal of Medicine: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp048240
  9. Scientific American: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/addiction-interaction-relapse-and-recovery/
  10. National Institute on Drug Abuse: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery

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AUGUST 24, 2020

Robert Castan is a member of the Executive Leadership Team at SpringBoard Recovery. Robert started his professional career as a house manager and has become an industry leader and trusted voice in the treatment world. He brings extensive knowledge of organizational growth, industry-leading outcomes, and comprehensive marketing to SpringBoard Recovery. Robert has been walking his own path of recovery for over 10 years. This path has truly driven his ambition to help make treatment available to others who are struggling with addiction. Robert finds great joy in traveling and keeping physically active, with an emphasis on biking. Robert resides in Arizona with his husband and two four-legged children.   The U.S. Alcohol Crisis, Still Deadlier Than the Opioid Epidemic   Zombies and Other Future Threats to the Health of American Youth Dire Mental Health: A Catalyst for Post-Pandemic Drug Addiction The Benefits of Rehab Center Staff Working Their Own Recovery Opinion: The Opioid Crisis + COVID-19 = The Perfect Storm Robert Castan on Successful Addiction Treatment and Entrepreneurship Castan: The road less traveled of addiction & recovery in Scottsdale Opioids & COVID Driving Phoenix’s Rising Fatal Drug Overdoses Opinion: The Opioid Crisis + COVID-19 = The Perfect Storm Successful Addiction Treatment Programs & Entrepreneurship

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