What is Transfer Addiction? How to Avoid Replacing One Addiction for Another
What is Transfer Addiction?
Transfer addiction is the act of trading one addiction for another, and it happens when a person who is in recovery begins to substitute one addiction for another, typically during or after treatment for the original addiction. This can be an issue for those recovering from drug addiction and alcohol use disorder to bariatric surgery patients.
Whether you have a dependence on drugs or alcohol, or another substance use issue, going to rehab does not automatically cure addiction. Addiction is a chronic disease that you will have to manage for the rest of your life. Learning to replace old, unhealthy habits with new healthier options is important, but it is also important to keep an eye on your “addiction brain”, ensuring that your new behaviors do not cross the line into old territory.
How Addiction Replacement Works
When you are experiencing addiction replacement, you allow a new addition to take the place of another, so you can get the same positive feedback from your brain. It can be uncomfortable to make sweeping changes to your usual routines and habits, making it easy to fall back into addiction if you are not vigilant.
Because logic and thinking processes are often affected when battling an addiction, you may be able to talk yourself into addiction substitution with the reasoning that it is not technically relapsing, because it is a new behavior or substance you are doing. You may even be doing exactly what your counselor or therapist told you, switching out your unhealthy drug abuse for “healthy” behaviors.
The addiction is simply transferred from one habit to another because it wasn’t the substance you were craving, it was the fulfillment of underlying needs that you wanted, a chemical imbalance in the brain that makes you prone to addiction (sometimes colloquially called an “addictive personality”)
Causes of Addiction Transfer
After using drugs or alcohol for a long period of time, a person’s brain becomes wired in such a way that they will do nearly anything to get hold of the addictive substance, even when they know there are negative consequences to their life, health, and finances. Dopamine levels in the brain are lower, which can limit the amount of happiness a person can feel. This low level of pleasure in everyday life may lead a recovering addict to addiction transfer.
Many people will also resort to addiction transfer while in recovery so they can relieve uncomfortable feelings that come with being newly sober. Pain, stress, and anxiety are all present in everyday life, and people may turn to alternate addictions for relief. There is a comfort in repeating old behaviors, so repeating these behaviors and activities may make them feel like the unpleasant side effects of cravings and withdrawal are reduced.
Addiction transfer does not always mean moving from one substance to another. Addictions can also be to “healthy” habits or other activities. Common addiction replacements include moving away from cocaine addiction, an eating disorder or food addiction, opioid addiction, alcohol addiction heroin addiction, or other compulsive behaviors, replacing them with other addictive behaviors like:
- Binge eating
- Compulsive exercising
Ways to Identify Addiction Transfer
It may be difficult at first to identify an addiction transfer, sometimes called “cross addiction”, because it does not always mean you have begun using other drugs or alcohol in place of your original addiction. On the surface, it could look like a healthy habit or harmless activity, but when you cannot stop shopping or eating, there are also harmful consequences.
The signs of a transferred addiction are similar to the signs of any other addiction, including:
- Neglect of personal hygiene or other self care
- Health problems because of the addiction
- Foregoing sleep and normal interests and behaviors to participate in the new activity
- Becoming obsessed with, or constantly thinking about the new activity
- Having trouble at work or school because you are spending too much time on the new activity
- Having issues at home or in relationships due to the new activity
- Feeling stress or anxiety or even suicidal thoughts if you cannot do the new activity or do not have access to the activity or substance
You may want to ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the level of compulsion with the new behavior or substance? Are you doing it thoughtlessly, even when you don’t particularly want to? For example, do you zone out and eat an entire bag of chips, or do you stay up later than you meant to, even when you are extremely tired, to continue gaming or watching pornography?
- Is the new behavior affecting your life in a negative way? For example, do you feel negatively about yourself after overeating or are your loved ones making comments about how much time you are spending at work or playing video games? Are you continuously spending over your budget while shopping?
It is important to examine your thoughts and actions closely while you are in recovery, especially if you begin to experience strong emotions about a substance or activity, or recognize these signs and symptoms of addiction occurring in yourself again. Be honest with yourself, and seek help if you believe you have a transfer addiction.
Is Addiction Transfer Treatable?
Yes, a transfer addiction is a treatable condition. It may require admitting you need further help, which may feel defeating, embarrassing, and frustrating, as you may feel like “I just did this!” You will likely need to spend more time in rehab, as the key is to address the underlying roots of addiction, rather than only treating the symptoms.
Addiction is a long-term condition, and requires not only stopping the substance or action but also figuring out and treating the “why” of your addiction while simultaneously treating chemical imbalances and emotional issues. It may take therapy, education, counseling, relapse prevention, and maybe even a dual diagnosis program if mental illness is suspected to help you get control over your life once more.
Preventing Transfer Addiction with Help from Resurgence
The first and most important method of preventing transfer addiction is to work with a team of addiction professionals in a rehabilitation setting to heal the underlying causes of addiction. Getting to the root of the addiction and healing the underlying issues is the best way to ensure you will not make the same mistakes over and over, as you will have a new outlook on life, with new strategies and tools to help you get through difficult times.
Resurgence Behavioral Health’s addiction treatment program offers a rehab program and addiction recovery that takes a whole-patient approach, providing not only a safe and effective medically assisted treatment (MAT) detox program, but also an integrated continuum of care, with a multidisciplinary approach that helps each patient heal their body, mind, and spirit through a variety of therapies such as:
- Medical detox programs for alcohol and drug treatment
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
- One-on-one counseling
- Rational emotive behavioral therapy
- Life skills and vocational skills classes
- Group therapy, including SMART recovery and 12step programs and groups like alcoholics anonymous
- Health care and medical care
- Holistic substance abuse treatment and addiction treatment
- Diet and exercise
- Community building
- Experiential therapy
- Family therapy
- Dual diagnosis treatments like specialized therapy and psychiatric medications for cooccurring disorder treatment like trauma or mental illness
An important part of drug rehab, addiction recovery, and preventing an addiction transfer is to gain relapse prevention skills and learn to be proactive in identifying your triggers that may lead to a relapse or a transfer addiction. Common triggers may include:
- Feeling judged or attacked
- Feeling invalidated or misunderstood
- Boredom or loneliness
- Emotional distress
- Being around or seeing their drug of choice
- Feeling a loss of control or feeling unsafe
- Untreated mental illness, trauma, or abuse
- Seeing something triggering on TV, in movies or even reading about it
- Having relationship or work problems
- Trying to relax after a stressful day
- Celebrations, parties, and holidays
Learning healthy coping mechanisms, as well as understanding addiction and learning to be aware of the warning signs of a new addiction developing, and adopting preventative measures are all invaluable skills to have when you leave rehab. At Resurgence, our counselors and therapists will work with you to not only improve your quality of life, health, and overall wellness but also realistically prepare you for when times become difficult.
Getting to the underlying causes of addiction is the only way your treatment provider will be able to help you prevent transfer addiction from occurring. At Resurgence Behavioral Health and drug rehab center, we have drug and alcohol detox, short- and long-term rehab programs, along with partial hospitalization programs, intensive outpatient programs, and outpatient programs that will ensure you have all the care and support you need, with an easy and gradual transition between inpatient residential rehab and living on your own in the world again.
We have extended aftercare programs for treating addiction that allow you to remain in contact with mental and physical health care with substance use disorder treatment, as well as providing sober living home referrals, recovery programs, and connections to a local sober community near you. Addiction transfer happens to many people. With Resurgence, there will always be a place to turn when you experience a trigger. From connections to our alumni program to support groups to counselors and therapists, our team will ensure you will never be alone in your recovery.
If you are experiencing addiction, are dealing with substance abuse, or believe you may be heading toward a transfer addiction issue, contact our team today for help with insurance verification, and to find out how we can help you work through the underlying issues and get you into the recovery programs you need. Our admissions process is easy, and our admissions team is judgment-free and trauma-informed. We are only a phone call away.
— Resurgence Behavioral Health (@RBHRecovery) March 9, 2022
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