Understanding Transfer Addiction

Nov 2023 Understanding Transfer Addiction

One of the many challenges of maintaining recovery from addiction is finding healthy ways to fill the hours that you previously devoted to seeking, using, and recovering from drugs. Failing to establish a balanced, productive lifestyle can put you at risk for myriad negative outcomes, including transfer addiction.

What is Transfer Addiction?

Transfer addiction, which is often sometimes referred to as cross addiction, involves replacing one addictive or compulsive behavior with another. Here are a few examples of what transfer addiction can look like:

  • A person who completes treatment for cocaine addiction begins to exercise excessively, to the point that they are causing harm.
  • Someone who is working to overcome binge-eating disorder replaces food binges with substance abuse.
  • An individual who has been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) stops drinking. However, they start using cannabis on a daily basis.

As suggested in the first example above, transfer addiction doesn’t always involve two clearly self-defeating behaviors. Appropriate exercise can be a vital component of a healthy recovery plan. But when this behavior stops being a choice and becomes an obsession or a compulsion, then the person may be dealing with transfer addiction.

Signs & Symptoms of Transfer Addiction

Transfer addiction can look very different from one person to the other, depending on factors such as which type of addiction they are working to recover from and what compulsive behavior or behaviors they have begun to engage in.

In general, though, the following signs and symptoms may indicate that someone has developed transfer addiction or cross addiction:

  • They have begun to neglect their personal, academic, or job-related responsibilities.
  • They spend an inordinate amount of time focused on their new behavior.
  • They continue to engage in their new behavior even after experiencing harmful effects.
  • Their new behavior has become a source of conflict with family members or friends.
  • When they can’t engage in their new behavior, they become agitated or irritated.

If the person has replaced one form of drug addiction with another, or if they have substituted substance abuse for compulsive overeating, they may also exhibit signs such as the following:

  • Dramatic shifts in mood, attitude, motivation, and energy
  • Acting with uncharacteristic impulsivity, recklessness, or aggression
  • Lying or being deceptive about their whereabouts and activities
  • Undergoing noticeable changes in weight or appearance
  • Having unexplained financial problems 

Anyone who exhibits these types of signs and symptoms should consult with a doctor, mental health professional or other qualified caregiver. Completing a thorough assessment and receiving an accurate diagnosis can be vital steps on the path to improved health.

Causes of Transfer Addiction

There is no single cause of transfer addiction that can apply to every person who struggles with this condition. As is the case with most mental and behavioral health concerns, a person’s risk of developing transfer addiction can involve several factors, such as the following:

  • The individual is living with untreated trauma or another untreated mental health concern. Also, they are attempting to distract or numb themselves via a compulsive behavior.
  • The person isn’t connected with an effective support network. They can easily return to compulsive behaviors as a means of coping with stress or pressure.
  • They haven’t found healthy and enjoyable ways to fill the time they previously spent using substances. This can cause them to instead develop another unhealthy habit.
  • They are prevented from engaging in their “old” compulsions. For example, they underwent bariatric surgery and can no longer overeat. However, they still haven’t learned how to manage the urges they still feel. 

How to Prevent Addiction Transfer

Here are a few strategies that can minimize a person’s risk for transfer addiction:

  • Stay in therapy. Even after completing a residential, partial hospitalization, or intensive outpatient program, continuing to meet with a therapist or counselor can stop small problems from becoming major concerns.
  • Avoid isolation. Participating in peer support groups or simply having regular conversations with trusted friends can prevent you from falling into maladaptive behavior patterns.
  • Keep a journal. Journaling can provide you with a valuable perspective on your experiences and emotions. The simple act of recording what you did and how you felt on a regular basis can allow you to identify issues that may push you into relapse or another compulsive behavior.
  • Schedule your day. Boredom can be significant obstacle on the path of recovery. Planning ahead can help you avoid this threat. Scheduling your days can also help you notice if you’re spending too much time on an activity that can undermine your health, such as excessive exercise.

How Can Transfer Addiction Be Treated?

The ideal course of treatment for transfer addiction can be influenced by many individual factors, including what type of addiction the person originally developed and which type of compulsive behavior they turned to as a replacement. 

If the replacement behavior involves the abuse of alcohol or other drugs, the individual may need to complete detox to safely rid their body of the substance they have been using. 

Following detox (or from the outset of treatment for those who don’t need this service), various forms of therapy may be appropriate:

  • Individual therapy sessions are confidential settings where patients can process their experiences, discuss topics that they may be hesitant to bring up in a group setting, and receive focused feedback from a member of their treatment team.
  • Group therapy can be ideal environments for practicing skills such as effective communication, self-advocacy, and conflict resolution. Groups can also help patients discover the value of sharing support with others who are also working to build healthier lives in recovery.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help patients identify and change maladaptive thought patterns and self-defeating behaviors.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) encourages patients to develop and enhance their skills in areas such as mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy can be an extremely valuable component of care for people whose struggles with transfer addiction are related to a history of untreated trauma.

These are by no means the only interventions that can help people who have developed transfer addiction or cross addiction. But they are examples of the many evidence-based services that can be beneficial in the right circumstances. 

Remember: No single form of therapy is perfect. What’s most important is finding a provider that will assess the full scope of your needs. This includes them helping you select the therapies and support services that are best for you.

Contact Our Addiction Rehab Center in Palm Springs, CA

If you believe that you have begun to replace one addictive behavior with another, Phoenix Rising Recovery can help you regain control of your actions and resume your recovery journey. 

At our addiction rehab center in Palm Springs, California, you can work in active collaboration with a team of highly skilled professionals. These dedicated caregivers can help you identify your short- and long-term goals, then design a personalized plan to help you achieve these objectives and experience true healing.

To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call us today.