Guide on Understanding Addiction Transference [Cross-Addictions]

craps table to represent gambling addiction transference

Table of Contents

The Way Addiction Changes The Brain

Before we discuss drug addiction transference, let us first dig into the powerful nature of addiction. Did you know that around 4% of Americans met the criteria for an official drug use disorder within the last year, and nearly 10% have dealt with one at some point in their lives?

Addiction is a disease that has a lot of impacts on a person physically, mentally, and emotionally. If you or your loved one is faced with an addiction, you may not realize that it is more than just a lack of willpower. Drugs and alcohol have dramatic effects on the brain. So, how does addiction happen?

Addiction causes a variety of chemical changes in the person’s brain. According to, this is how addiction works:

As shown, drug addiction can have a powerful hold on a person’s life. As an addict, you quickly get caught in a vicious cycle to seek that same pleasure. Addiction can also play a part in developing other ailments like depression and increased anxiety in the user.

This emotional rollercoaster addicts deal with is why a strong support system and consistent treatment are so vital. Particularly because of the risk for other issues like transference occurring.


Understanding Addiction Transference

Now that there is an idea of what addiction entails let’s explore drug addiction transference. Transference in addiction can also be referred to as a substitute addiction or a cross-addiction.

In the book “Cross-Addiction: The Hidden Risk of Multiple Addictions,” Johnson notes the following:

“Addiction transference occurs when an individual exchanges one compulsive behavior for another compulsive behavior, such as when a former heroin addict is no longer using, but instead is abusing alcohol. Addiction transference can refer to two or more addictions co-occurring at the same time or an individual being in recovery from one drug that begins to use and becomes addicted to another drug.”

As you learned above, addiction is a mental battle. Transference of addiction shows that the substance itself is not the main concern; instead, the focus should be given to breaking the psychological nature of addiction.

You may have heard people use terms like “addictive personality” to describe the phenomenon of addictive behavior spilling into aspects of life. Those battling addiction may not realize that they need to avoid most substances on their journey to recovery so that they do not fall into the trap of simply swapping substances out.

So why does this happen? Healing from an addiction is no simple matter. There are phases of extreme discomfort and even the potential for relapse at any point in the journey. People may deal with addiction transference in an attempt to avoid these rough patches.

The individual may even be dealing with other underlying issues like anxiety or depression that can lead to addiction transference. With this idea in mind, it’s important to remember that people can become addicted to more than just drugs and alcohol.

Types of Behavioral Addictions

Now, in the case of drug transference, it may be helpful to know if the other forms of addiction may go hand in hand with substance abuse.

The various types of addiction help identify how someone could be in counseling for addiction and still suffer from transference.

Other forms of addiction include:

Gambling Addictions

Whether it is at a casino or online, people can be addicted to gambling. Some mental health professionals state that gambling is one of the hardest addictions to break in individuals. The devastation gamblers can cause in their lives is extreme.

Eating Addictions

Individuals can have damaging relationships to food that, like drugs, trigger dopamine in the brain to create a vicious cycle of urges. In many cases, overeating can become a problem in early recovery after an individual has had abstinence from drugs or alcohol. If the underlying emotional and mental issues are not addressed, it is possible to overeat and gain a lot of weight.

Pornography or Sex Addictions

Addiction to any form of sex or sexually related content is a legitimate disorder that can disturb relationships, work-life, and a person’s health. Pornography is known to cause problems within marital and romantic relationships, and research has shown that it leads to women’s objectification. Visit for more information on the devastating impact of pornography addiction and how to get help.

Internet Addictions (social media, gaming)

Individuals can become addicted to the internet, whether it be social media or gaming. Any excess use of the internet can disturb other parts of everyday life. Much like addiction to drugs, it can lead to problems within relationships, at work, or at school.

list of behavioral addictions

Behavioral Addictions and Substance Abuse Disorders

Behavioral addictions can go hand in hand with substance abuse disorder. The National Institutes of Health made a great example of how a behavioral addiction could start after alcoholism treatment as a substitute for drinking. The relevance is because around 35-63% of people with gambling disorders are also estimated to have substance abuse disorders.

The same connection between behavioral disorders and substance disorders can be made with other examples as well. Someone suffering from an eating disorder may abuse drugs to help “control their weight.”

An individual with a sexual-based addiction is 64% likely also to have a substance abuse disorder. While nearly 40% of people with an internet-related addiction also have substance abuse disorder. These co-occurring disorders are why treatment is so necessary. Overcoming addiction requires a complete mental shift and likely even a lifestyle change as well.

Signs You May Suffer From a Behavioral Addiction

  • You switch friends frequently
  • You spend a lot of time alone
  • You have lost interest in your favorite activities
  • You no longer take care of yourself- for example, you may have stopped showering, getting dressed, or brushing your teeth
  • You have become really sad and tired
  • Your appetite has changed
  • You are oddly energetic, talk fast, or say things that make no sense
  • You are frequently in a bad mood
  • Your emotions frequently fluctuate between feeling bad and feeling good
  • You miss important appointments or deadlines
  • You have problems at school or work
  • You have problems in familial or personal relationships
  • You lie and steal to keep up your habit
  • You suffer from memory loss, poor concentration, lack of coordination, slurred speech, etc.

The Importance of Treating Behavioral Addictions

If you have read the signs and believe that you or your loved one are facing addiction transference, understand that treatment is the only cure for addiction. Treatment is effective and necessary for breaking the cycle of addiction in whatever ways it decides to manifest.

When dealing with substance abuse and other disorders, there is also the risk of relapse, which, while returning to a substance is a normal part of the journey, can be deadly if left unchecked. Treatment allows you to navigate these ups and downs safely.

Another reason to prioritize treatment is that it helps you create new habits that you can apply to any form of addictive behavior. While in rehab, you have no choice but to focus on your internal thoughts and actions. Behavioral therapy is a popular and great tool for this.

Behavioral therapy helps to modify your attitude and behavior around substance use. So even as you continue to work, you will have that reminder to truly pay attention to your body and take care of yourself.
One of the other greatest benefits of treatment is the ongoing support it provides.

When you enter rehab, you build a network of people who have your back even after completing treatment. As you likely know, addiction is a journey with a lot of twists and turns. The support you gain from treatment can help you navigate the highs and lows that come on the path to recovery.

The Different Types of Treatments for Behavioral Addictions

Want to know something else great about treatment? Well, treatment can be very flexible to your lifestyle. You have various options in terms of length, location, and the type of treatment you may pursue. Here we will look at the different types of programs available to you for treatment.

Long-term residential treatment

Long-term residential treatment is an option that grants you care 24 hours a day. This typically occurs in non-hospital settings. Residential treatment can be contentious at times and is highly structured. It includes activities designed to help participants explore negative beliefs, self-concepts, and destructive patterns of behavior. In turn, it helps them develop new, more positive, and constructive ways to interact with the world around them.

Short-term residential programs

Next, this option provides intense but fairly quick treatment based on a 12-step approach. This falls under the umbrella of the original residential treatment model but typically only lasts about 30 days. With this shorter stay, you will want to remain engaged in outpatient treatment programs and aftercare programs. These programs help to offset the risk of relapse once you have finished treatment in the residential setting.

Outpatient treatment

Outpatient treatment has various types of intensity and services that it offers. If costs are an issue, this option is typically less costly than residential or inpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment makes it a great option for people with jobs or other intense responsibilities. This type of treatment typically requires 10-12 hours of a week spent at a treatment center.

In many outpatient options, group counseling plays a major role in treatment. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous that outpatient treatment uses have been shown to help keep addicts sober. There are also outpatient programs created to treat patients with medical or mental health problems and their specific drug disorders.

Ready to Get Help?

Ultimately, if you or a loved one is ready to get help, it is best to act quickly. Addiction is a powerful force and can intensify quickly if left unchecked. You cannot fight it on your own, but it is more than possible to overcome with treatment. As shown, addiction is less about the substance and more about the psychology.


NIH: Study Drugs & The Brain
NCBI: Introduction to Behavioral Addictions Types of Treatment Programs

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