Substance Use

What is Transfer Addiction?

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In the landscape of addiction and mental health, understanding various patterns of behavior and their implications is critical. One such pattern, transfer addiction, is increasingly gaining attention, especially among patients who have undergone significant medical interventions, such as bariatric surgery.

But what exactly is transfer addiction, and how does it manifest?

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Transfer AddictionDefined

Transfer addiction, often referred to as addiction transfer or addiction replacement, is where an individual substitutes one addictive behavior with another.

 For instance, someone might shift from compulsive eating behaviors to increased alcohol consumption or shopping addiction after undergoing weight loss surgery.

How Addiction Replacement Works

Addiction replacement, is the phenomenon where an individual substitutes one addictive behavior or substance for another in pursuit of the brain’s reward system, primarily driven by the neurotransmitter, dopamine. (1)

This shift often happens when individuals, in their recovery journey, still seek dopamine-induced pleasure but from a different, sometimes perceived as “healthier” source. 

The danger lies in the rationalization of this new behavior, mistaking it for recovery instead of a mere shift in addiction.

Addressing the root causes, not just the symptoms, is crucial for genuine recovery, emphasizing the need to tackle the underlying imbalances and triggers that drive addictive behaviors.

Understanding the Causes of Addiction Transfer

While in treatment, a lot of people turn to addiction transfer to deal with the painful emotions that come with being freshly sober. 

Everyday life involves pain, stress, and anxiety, and some people seek solace in other kinds of addictions.

Repeating familiar habits can be comforting, therefore, doing so may make individuals believe that the unpleasant side effects of cravings and withdrawal are lessened.

Addiction transfer does not always mean moving from one substance to another. It’s also possible to be addicted to “healthy” habits or other things.

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 and replacing them with addictive behaviors like:

  • Overworking
  • Binge eating
  • Gaming
  • Nicotine
  • Compulsive exercising
  • Shopping
  • Pornography and sex
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Gambling

The Relationship between Bariatric Surgery and New Addictions

Bariatric surgeries, like the gastric bypass, are becoming increasingly popular solutions for those battling obesity. While these procedures can lead to transformative weight loss results, post-op concerns such as substance abuse and binge eating are not uncommon. (2) (3)

Some bariatric surgery patients might find themselves gravitating from their original addiction, like food addiction, towards new addictions, like alcohol use, drug abuse, or even shopping addiction.

Mental Health and Dopamine: The Underlying Connection

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, plays a pivotal role in the story of transfer addiction.

Especially after bariatric surgery, the way the body processes dopamine can change, leading to increased cravings and a propensity to seek out other substances or behaviors, such as opioids or alcohol, that stimulate dopamine release. (4)

Recognizing the Signs of Addiction Transfer

Identifying addiction transfer, also known as “cross addiction”, can be challenging since it doesn’t necessarily involve shifting to another drug or alcohol. 

Sometimes, it may manifest as an ostensibly benign activity or habit, but problems arise when moderation is lost, such as in uncontrollable shopping or overeating.

Key indicators of addiction transfer include:

  • Neglecting personal hygiene and self-care
  • Experiencing health issues as a direct result
  • Abandoning regular interests for the new addiction
  • Obsession with the new activity or substance
  • Interference with work, school, or personal relationships
  • Intense negative feelings, including anxiety or suicidal thoughts, when deprived of the new addiction

To assess potential transfer addiction, introspective questions can be helpful:

  • Are you engaging in the new behavior on impulse, even when you don’t want to?
  • Is this behavior adversely affecting your life, self-perception, or relationships?
  • Are you overshooting your financial limits or ignoring essential tasks because of it?

It’s crucial for anyone in recovery to monitor their feelings and behaviors closely. Recognizing these signs early and seeking assistance can prevent a slide back into addiction’s grasp.

Treatment Process for Transfer Addiction and Substance Abuse

Addiction affects you physically and mentally, so recovering requires your mind and body to adjust to being without drugs or alcohol. 

For this reason, you shouldn’t try to overcome your addiction alone. It can be dangerous, especially for certain drugs that can have severe and even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

The treatment process has five steps, from intervention to recovery. The duration of each depends on the individual.

  1. Intervention: An intervention is a carefully planned and organized meeting between an individual struggling with addiction and their loved ones. The goal of the intervention is to confront the individual about their substance abuse and encourage them to seek treatment. Interventionists or addiction specialists can facilitate the intervention and help guide the conversation.
  2. Admissions: The admissions process involves meeting with an intake coordinator or counselor to discuss the individual’s history of substance use, their current needs and goals, and available insurance coverage and payment options. This part of the process can take place over the phone or in person and helps determine the best course of treatment for the individual.
  3. Detox: Detoxification, or detox, is the process of removing drugs or alcohol from the body. This is typically the first step in addiction treatment, as it allows the body to rid itself of the toxic substances and begin to heal. Detox can take place in an inpatient or outpatient setting and may involve medication-assisted treatment to ease withdrawal symptoms.
  4. Rehab: Rehab is the core of addiction treatment, where individuals receive comprehensive treatment and support for their addiction. Rehab can take place in an inpatient or outpatient setting and typically involves individual and group therapy, as well as other forms of holistic treatment such as meditation, yoga, or art therapy. The length of rehab can vary depending on the individual’s needs and progress.
  5. Recovery: Recovery is an ongoing process that continues after rehab. It involves developing healthy habits and coping strategies to prevent relapse and maintain sobriety. Recovery can include ongoing therapy, participation in support groups, and engagement in healthy activities such as exercise, hobbies, or socializing with sober friends.

No matter your drug of choice, you have a wide range of treatment program options available to you. Your treatment provider can work with you on ways to improve your physical and mental wellness and long-term self-care.

Some people benefit from 12-step programs, whereas others might have more success with hospitalization. It all depends on the underlying issues related to your original addiction, such as mental illness.

Zinnia Health: Self-Care, Aftercare, and the Road Ahead

With specialized treatment programs in addiction and mental health, Zinnia Health stands as a beacon of hope and healing across the nation.

Recovery from transfer addiction is a multifaceted journey.

Like the Zinnia flower, which grows and thrives under varying conditions, Zinnia Health is resilient, adapting to every individual’s unique needs and challenges.

Here, individuals learn healthy coping mechanisms to counter compulsive behaviors and addictive tendencies. Aftercare is vital to maintaining the progress made, with group therapy and self-care routines playing crucial roles in ensuring long-term wellness.

We promise to provide the highest quality of care, devoid of the word “no.” Our success rates speak for our commitment, consistently surpassing national averages.

How To Get Treatment for Your Transfer Addiction

Cross-addiction is a treatable disease, but overcoming drug or alcohol dependence requires professional help and support. Addiction treatment may involve a combination of medical detox, therapy, support groups, and other levels of care. With the right treatment and support, it’s possible to overcome addiction and regain control of one’s life.

At Zinnia Healing, we understand the challenge of stopping drug use to live a sober life. That’s why we offer a range of customized therapy programs suited to the needs of each individual. Contact our team of substance abuse treatment professionals by calling (855) 430-9439.


Call us
Ready to get help?
(855) 430-9439
Why call us? Why call us