New Study Disproves So-Called 'Cross-Addiction' Myth

By Victoria Kim 09/24/14

People who overcome one addiction are less prone to developing another.

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It is often believed that people who have had a substance use disorder are at increased risk for developing another, but recently this so-called “cross-addiction” myth has been debunked.

A new report has found that people who are able to overcome one addiction are less prone to developing another. Those who achieve remission have less than half the risk of developing a new substance use disorder compared with those who do not remit.

“The results are surprising, they cut against conventional clinical lore which holds that people who stop one addiction are at increased risk of picking up a new one,” senior author Dr. Mark Olfson, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, told Reuters. “The results challenge the old stereotype that people switch or substitute addictions but never truly overcome them.”

The study, published earlier this month in JAMA Psychiatry, analyzed nationally representative data from the National Epidemiological Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) of 35,000 people and their use of sedatives, tranquilizers, painkillers, stimulants, cannabis, cocaine, crack, hallucinogens, inhalants, heroin, alcohol, and nicotine.

The researchers compared those who did and those who did not achieve remission from a previous addiction, and observed whether they developed a new addiction.

“While it would be foolish to assume that people who quit one drug have no risk of becoming addicted to another drug, the new results should give encouragement to people who succeed in overcoming addiction,” Olfson said.

The “cross-addiction” myth, which has permeated conventional wisdom, actually has little support, according to Olaya Garcia-Rodriguez of the department of Psychology at the University of Oviedo in Spain. “The ‘Substitution’ hypothesis is mainly based on clinical lore that may be biased with clinicians’ subjective perceptions of specific patients’ progression,” she said.

This study, which is the first to test the concept with a large and representative sample in the general population, can inform clinicians with a greater understanding of the prevalence and risk factors for drug substitution.

“I hope that these results contribute to lessening the stigma and discrimination that many adults and young people with a history of substance abuse face when they seek employment,” Olfson said.

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