Why Should You Watch Out for Multiple Addictions While in Recovery?

Why Should You Watch Out for Multiple Addictions While in Recovery?

Recovering from addiction isn’t easy, and one of the biggest challenges facing recovering addicts is relapse.  For people with multiple addictions, this is an even bigger challenge. Addictions are frequently co-occurring, but should they be treated at the same time?

Treat One Addiction at a Time?

Treatment programs that try to treat multiple addictions at once may be overwhelming for the patient, greatly reducing his chances of successfully overcoming his addictions. Instead, treatment programs that target just one addiction in patients with multiple addictions are thought to be more effective, helping patients control one addiction and thereby setting them up for an easier recovery from other coexisting addictions, whether they are behavioral or substance related. While not all addictions or addicts are the same, the addictive process operates on the brain in a recognizable way, revealing commonalities between individuals with addictions, whatever their particular circumstances may be. Therefore, when one addiction is managed, the patient is already on the road to recovery from his or her other addictions.

Treat Multiple Addictions at the Same Time?

But is this truly always the most effective way of dealing with multiple addictions? While different addictions may seem to be associated with different behaviors, if you look beneath the surface, they are probably motivated by the same negative feelings. For example, an estimated 40%-60% of people with a sexual addiction also have a substance abuse problem.

The substance addiction feeds into the sexual addiction because it can help an individual deal with pain from risky sexual behaviors or overcome inhibitions and allow her to engage in the desired sexual behaviors that she might shy away from if not under the influence. The shame the individual may feel regarding her sexual addiction may lead to using drugs or alcohol to escape from her emotions. Other times, an individual with a sexual addiction may try to mask this addiction with another one. It is common for someone to deny having a sexual addiction by attributing her unsafe sexual behavior to the consequences of drinking too much.

In any of these cases, it is clear to see that the substance addiction and process addiction are feeding off of each other. In such a case, treating only one of multiple addictions seriously inhibits the recovery processes. Left untreated, a sexual addiction may encourage the patient to relapse into drug use during treatment for the substance addiction. Recovery should address the addictive process as a whole, not only the feelings and behaviors associated with one addiction.

Simultaneous treatment of multiple addictions can also be effective in dealing with a patient suffering from addictions to multiple substances. This situation is sometimes known as polysubstance addiction. For example, an alcoholic individual will usually experience anxiety when not under the influence and, because he won’t tell his healthcare provider how much he really drinks, he is prescribed anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines. Alcohol and benzodiazepines potentiate each other, as this individual finds out, and he becomes addicted to the medication as well. This can also happen with non-pharmaceutical substances, like a meth user using opiates to induce sleepiness because the stimulant makes it hard to fall asleep.

While the idea that treating one addiction at a time is less overwhelming for a patient with multiple addictions, this route seems less likely to lead to a sustained recovery since the other addictions frequently induce a relapse. Finding a treatment provider with experience helping people with multiple addictions is generally a more effective way to finally break the cycle of abuse


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