Cross Addiction and the Addictive Personality

Substance use disorder is an addiction. Excessive shopping is an addiction. Anything excessive is an addiction – exercise, gambling, health fads, working and fast foods. The most common addictions we hear about these days in society are addictions to alcohol, drugs, opioids and food. Many people don’t even realise that they are addicted to something until something changes drastically in their lives and they hit rock bottom or lose a loved one or get extremely ill or lose a job.

Many people who have to deal with their addictions because it starts affecting their daily lives, switch to another addiction. This is called cross-addiction. For example, someone who is addicted to alcohol may stop drinking and be successfully sober for years, but all the while they have been nurturing another silent addiction – to work, to exercise, to a health fad, to volunteering or to another substance such as a certain food or drink.

Transferring one Addiction to Another

“I seem to have transferred my passion for alcohol directly to a passion for sobriety,” acknowledges Janet Gourand, founder of Tribe Sober.  “Helping others to discover the benefits of an alcohol-free lifestyle via Tribe Sober has turned into a full-time job for me.  It’s very rewarding work and nothing makes me happier than seeing our members thrive in sobriety – I certainly get a dopamine hit every time someone hits a sober milestone!” On the other side of the coin, Janet knows that her work could be that other new addiction so she consciously remembers to take breaks and have ‘me-time’.

“I have to book yoga and aqua-aerobics classes during the week to ensure that I don’t sit at my computer all day long.  Whether I am writing articles, editing podcasts or engaging with Tribe Sober members there is always plenty to do and the just hours slip by. So yes, I probably work a bit too hard…and I certainly drink too much coffee!”




That brings me to the question a lot of people are asking – is there really a thing called an addictive personality and do people really replace one addiction for another? I know a guy who was addicted to crack meth and when he finally got help, went to rehab and got clean, he became a rabid drinker and cigarette smoker! I personally know that I have inserted many controls into my life to be able to cope such as the way I manage my day starting with a walk in nature, working flexible hours, cleaning my house, sorting out my children and working until late again. I also eat in my own strange way which is to eat early say from 3 pm or 4 pm and eat in stages until 7.30 pm. I then only drink cocoa and I only like powdered milk and I love coffee and I never touch sugar or meat! So ya…

Can an alcoholic safely have a drink 10 years down the line? Is it OK for an alcoholic to develop a shopping or running addiction? Is it true that once an addict, always an addict? It would seem that the answer all depends on the person’s background, childhood and the reward system of the brain. Many addictions, not all, stem from childhood trauma, genetic history, anxiety or depression and even boredom.

Addiction is a Complex Issue

Peter Grinspoon notes that when he spent 90 days in rehab for opiate addiction, he was told that “addictions are routinely substituted, and that if one is ever addicted to any substance, then lifelong abstinence from all potentially addictive substances is one’s only hope of salvation. This seemed to make sense, as a person would have the same lifelong predispositions to an addiction: genetic makeup, childhood traumas, diagnoses of anxiety or depression — all of which could plausibly set them up to become addicted to, say, alcohol, once they have put in the hard work to get their heroin addiction under control. In medical terms, the concern is that different addictions can have a common final pathway in the mesolimbic dopamine system (the reward system of our brain), so it is logical that the body might try to find a second pathway to satisfy these hungry neurotransmitters if the first one is blocked, a ‘cross-addiction.’”

Grinspoon says that the abstinence-only model is old and that when in recovery, the person needs to look seriously at logic and evidence to come clean and live a so-called ‘normal’ life. He reckons that the longer the recovery, the stronger the resilience to any new addiction. It is interesting to note that some people become addicted to a substance even when they come from a clean family where no alcohol, cigarettes, opioids or excessive behaviours were ever evident and that others become addicted when they come from a family of drinkers, smokers, excessive eaters and more – or not?!

Grinspoon’s advice to addicted individuals who experienced time in rehab is to “develop a ‘toolbox’ that helps us navigate life’s challenges and stresses in a much healthier way. We learn to connect with people, push our egos aside, and to ask for help if we need it. Thus, when faced with stressful situations that formerly would trigger us to drink or drug, we might respond by exercising or calling a friend, rather than using a substance. As such, we substitute addictions with healthier activities that perform the function that the drink or drug used to, albeit in a much more fulfilling way.”

Tribe Sober also encourages members to develop a toolkit in sobriety to help them take it day by day!

Workaholics have formed an Unhealthy Addiction

So where does the workaholic fit in here, the person who was the alcoholic and now becomes addicted to work as a replacement for that frenetic drinking – frenetic working at all hours of the day and weekends? Workaholism can be as destructive to the family as alcoholism is and can prevent the person in recovery from fully recovering from their addiction, this cross-addiction now taking over their lives in the same way!

According to Advanced Recovery Systems, “Students can be workaholics, as can housewives, househusbands, and stay-at-home parents. What these people have in common is an unhealthy drive to achieve and a feeling of never being good enough. Wherever workaholism happens, it damages the person who is trapped in it, and it can damage their families and friends too. Some mental health professionals consider workaholism as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or as a hybrid between OCD and addiction. It can be a risk for the person who is in addiction recovery who does not develop healthy methods of coping with the everyday stresses of life.”

Cross-Addiction and Dopamine

This is fascinating to me as I fit into this mould in many ways! Cross-addiction is described as the replacement of one addiction for another, with similar patterns and similar causes and effects as the initial addiction. Som cross-addictions are those that bring sensual pleasure such as porn, sex, gambling, eating and shopping.

Which brings us back to the brain and dopamine.  Janet Gourand always reminds her Tribe Sober friends to find goals and to keep seeking goals and to attain and achieve goals and that will sort out the low dopamine in the brain. Can this lead to an addiction though? Workaholics seek more and more things to achieve and tick off and do while gamblers keep aiming for that ultimate win!



Trey Dyer notes that “Cross addictions do not always involve drug or alcohol use. Many individuals replace a substance use disorder with an impulse control disorder, which affects the reward pathway of the brain in the same way that substances of abuse do. People may develop addictions to sex, pornography, gambling, shopping, food or other impulsive behaviors.”

According to many studies, any behaviour that produces dopamine will reinforce substance and process addictions.

He is spot on when he says that dopamine also plays a pivotal function in the increase of cross-addiction behaviours. People who stop their addiction to a substance often face a dopamine deficiency because their brain has become dependent on that substance to release dopamine, such as alcohol, drugs, opioids, and food.

“People may turn to a new substance that produces the dopamine-induced high they are lacking to prevent withdrawal or alleviate discomfort, even if they are determined to avoid using their problem substance. Impulsive behaviors such as sex, watching pornography, gambling and eating also cause the brain to release dopamine, producing euphoria and reinforcing the behavior. The impulsive behavior often becomes the new drug for individuals who develop cross addictions because these behaviors activate the same brain pathway and produce effects similar to those produced by drugs or alcohol.”

I find this all very fascinating and it is part of the ongoing learning people who have addictions need to do – keep learning, reading, listening to podcasts, connecting with similar people who are in recovery, and getting in touch with the experts who write all these articles and understand where addictions come from.

Let us know if you have developed a cross-addiction at all and how you are coping in recovery at this time.

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The 11 Year Fact

Did you know that the average dependent drinker will struggle alone for 11 years before reaching out for help?

Don’t wait for 11 years – join Tribe Sober today!