Cross-addiction (swapping one substance for another) is the leading cause of relapse in recovering individuals. Recovering people must be constantly alert to the possibility of triggering a relapse of their disease through the intake of drugs or alcohol. Just as a diabetic needs to be cautious about the intake of sugar, a person recovering from alcoholism must be vigilant to avoid the use of anything habit-forming, including other types of habit-forming drugs. A person recovering from addiction to prescription drugs or other substances must be very cautious regarding use of any habit-forming substances as well, including alcohol. There are also numerous prescribed and over-the-counter drugs/substances that should be avoided (cough medicine, mouthwash with alcohol, antihistamines such as Benadryl).
Cross-Addiction is best explained this way: once a person has been addicted to a substance, they have lost the ability to have a casual relationship with any other addictive substances. In other words, a person who is addicted to one substance is really addicted to ALL substances, even if they have never used them. Abstinence from all mood-altering, mind-altering substances (and addictive behaviors such as gambling) is the best way to prevent a relapse into addiction.
A person who has struggled with an addiction to any substance will likely become addicted to any other addictive substance if they use it. At some point in their recovery, it is likely that the recovering person will probably find themselves exposed to certain medications (including prescribed and over-the-counter). It is extremely important that the addicted person be vigilant and take extreme caution when visiting any medical professional that can prescribe. It is important to let the doctor know that there is a history of addiction and give instruction that there should be NO ADDICTIVE MEDICATIONS prescribed at all. Even with this instruction, it is important to still exercise caution when given a prescription for any medication. Many doctors may be unaware of mood-altering, mind-altering properties of certain medications, especially with new medications coming onto the market on a frequent basis. Learning what drugs are safe versus what drugs can trigger addiction is extremely important. Many sleep aids, analgesics, and other drugs are marketed as “non-narcotic” to physicians and the general public, but this does not mean that they won’t trigger addiction. Many of them do. Anything that causes sedation, dizziness, or euphoria has the potential to trigger addiction. Don’t expect your doctor to know this. Look it up yourself. If there does come a time when mood-altering, mind-altering drugs are prescribed (for after a surgery or some other emergency medical situation), such medications should only be taken as prescribed by the primary physician in conjunction with an addiction specialist (addictionologist, counselor that specializes in addiction/works at a treatment facility, etc) and only for a limited period of time. This should be carefully considered and understood as a “last-resort” measure and one that should be given much thought and attention prior to the introduction of the substance(s) in the system and following the discontinuation of the use. It is highly recommended that the person increase their 12-step attendance, consult with their sponsor regularly (by phone or in person throughout), and inform trusted members of their support-system of this vulnerable time and the need for greater accountability. Oftentimes, recovering people will even go so far as to have any addictive take-home medications given after a surgery locked up in a safe and dosed-out/strictly monitored by a trusted family member.
An individual may think the use of addictive substances other than their drug of choice is permissible without risk of relapse. In reality, any addictive drug or compound, including alcohol, will “trigger” specific receptor areas in the brain (or “reactivate the disease”) and eventually lead the person with a history of an addiction disorder back to active addiction either through the use of their original drug of choice or a new drug of choice, OR through a new addictive behavior such as gambling, food addiction, sex addiction, compulsive shopping, etc.