Cross addiction

I’ve become very aware of the issues of cross addiction this week.

A patient, who I previously supported through an alcohol detox, has relapsed –  not by drinking but with harmful use of drugs. Just like with alcohol , the use has escalated, is out of control and is causing serious issues in their life. Just like with alcohol, the drug use is secretive, destructive and so damaging.

i am very aware that my food / body image issues are part of a cross addiction syndrome. I have lost 21lbs since the Summer, I look less dumpy and feel more attractive (no idea why this matters to me at the moment but it really does) but the addiction part is more than that. It’s about control, I can’t control the emotions I’m experiencing; sitting with them is frustrating, painful and I feel I am making little progress. But I can control what I eat. I can distract myself from insoluble emotional distress by punishing my physical self… starvation comes with its own endorphin high, and the added kick of fitting into clothes a size or two smaller, of people telling me I look “great” , of being complimented on my weight loss… it’s heady stuff. This is not new, I’ve struggled on and off with eating / body image issues all my life. Right now it’s very hard for me to eat a complete meal, to sit down with the kids and eat, or to eat much at all. It’s “just about” 0k at the moment- I’m eating enough and my weight is stable at the moment… but it’s a bit precarious…

Cross-addiction (swapping one addiction for another) is the leading cause of relapse in recovering individuals.  Essentially  a person recovering from alcoholism needs to be vigilant and avoid the use of anything habit-forming, avoid excesses in all things … including taking other types of habit-forming drugs, dieting, eating, gambling, exercising, excessive working …..I think this is why it’s said that giving up alcohol is actually only the start – and in reality it’s possibly the easiest part …

i didn’t really understand that before – well I did intellectually- but now I understand it viscerally and emotionally. All that drinking was covering something up, it served a purpose for me (as well as being horribly destructive) and whatever-that-was is still there … and still hard to deal with.

From my research / reading , the concept of  cross-Addiction is best explained this way: once a person has been addicted to a substance, they have lost the ability to have a casual relationship with any other addictive substances, or behaviours. In other words, a person who is addicted to one substance is really addicted to ALL substances, even if they have never used them. Abstinence from all mood-altering, mind-altering substances (and addictive behaviors) is the way to prevent a relapse into addiction. It’s probably due to the addicts propensity to avoid “sitting with” painful feelings, and the urge to blot them out with ANYTHING is extremely powerful… and it’s a work in progress for many of us… probably this is why addicts are always ‘in recovery’ not recovered.

It all comes back to “balance”

and I have a LONG way to go …


15 comments

  1. It is the addictive personality. Craig Nakken’s book on the subject helped me see that in my own life it started at a young age with compulsive collecting which then grew in to a shopping addiction and eventually alcoholosm joined the party. I am aware that I am vulnerable now having quit two major addictions. Perhaps awareness of my addictive personality helps. It sounds as though you are managing your eating disorder o.k for now but be careful, you know better than most 😘

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  2. I love reading your posts from a medical perspective. ; )
    My next drug of choice is SUGAR! I used to think it was harmless, but all of the new research shows it’s tremendously damaging. I actually have to abstain completely, or I will begin to crave it again. Tomorrow is another Day 1 from a sugar-abstaining perspective. Wish me luck.

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  3. I get it. Anorexia and bulimia were my go-to “coping” mechanisms long before alcohol got involved. Alcohol was really just the last bad coping mechanism I turned to. That is why I know I have to make a better life than my previous sober life because something was way out of balance there too. Good luck to you. We can do this.

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  4. Really interesting post. I Stopped smoking last week, now I’m eating chocolate. Maybe I should just try sit with whatever makes me uncomfortable. This trick is to catch yourself while you are reaching or doing the addictive behaviour. It needs a certain degree of presence.

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  5. Pingback: Cross Addiction – So this is Sober

  6. I’m a starver restrictor too.
    The control is a shaky thing.
    I know when I’m doing it. There’s a sense of glee….

    I try hard to not deny it when I start obsessing with food. It’s not for health, etc…

    I continue to try to be aware of my motivations. It help me slow the slide into more self destructive behaviour.

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    • I’m glad someone else ‘gets’ it. The kick I get out of ordering size 2 (US) clothes is ridiculous. … I know that. right now. I wont stop because I FEEL good. And i look good, and I enjoy that ; whilst being slightly disturbed that I do… Lily xx

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  7. Yep. All sorts of other addictive patterns in my past. Now hyper vigilant that I font replace one poor coping mechanism with another. I’ve gone for Headspace and swimming. I guess this is why a lot of ex addicts take up running?

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  8. I think that we all have something that puts us into a space away from ourselves. I guess the important thing is determining the difference between numbing out and chilling out. Watching a movie or eating chips can be chilling out. Watching 18 hrs in a row and eating 7 bags of chips in one go can be seen as numbing out. I wouldn’t say that I have an issue with all substances and behaviours. I take drugs like codeine for my back, but don’t abuse them (I only drank, didn’t do drugs), and I can go for runs, but not feel like I need to chase the high because frankly, I can’t / don’t run that much! But is my *propensity* to catch something shiny and run rampant with it? Definitely. I can obsess about certain things. Not all, but I can plunge into a project with full gusto and ignore other things. Am I addicted to it? Not sure – over committed? Maybe…ha ha.

    Anyway, it’s always good to examine our motives and our behaviours. I know that sugar is one thing for me that is an issue! So I am careful and aware of where I stand with it.

    Thanks for this – always a great reminder that certainly our addiction can shift. It may be in smaller or greater ways, but it can.

    Cheers
    Paul

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  9. helpful post. i quit smoking over 3 years ago but am/was addicted to nicotine gum ever after. i now have nearly 2 years of no drinking but when i really get stressed (read emotional, sad, i don’t know what to do with these feelings) i smoke a packet of siggies – booze is the no-go zone. i feel i have still so much work to do to be able to just have uncomfortable feelings. scary.

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  10. Thank you for the good read. Although I don’t quite agree with you but that’s from my own experience not facts this is good information. I do believe that for most addicts this is the case but not for all!. I have weed and alcohol here in the house. I had one of the worse most painful days ever and just as you said I don’t know how to deal with or cope with this pain inside me. However I went the whole day crying and venting and thinking and blogging without even taking 1 hit or 1 drink. Is it easy? Hell no I really want to get high or drink just to stop these damn emotions I don’t understand nor can I control. However I can control me and that is exactly what I did. I made a choice to feel my shit rather then try to cover it up and so far I’m sticking to it. Who knows though maybe you are right and I will relapse but so far my faith in God and my will is enough. One day at a time, one minute at a time, one second at a time, however you need to do it but it can be done.

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