Addiction Recovery, Substance Abuse

What is Transfer Addiction?

Pills that fell out of a glass

Recovery is not as simple as quitting drugs or alcohol and waiting for all side effects to disappear. There are many roads to recovery, and some of them can lead to dead ends. This means that it is possible to start doing something that you believe will aid your recovery but is actually hindering it. Transfer addiction (or addiction transfer) is one such example. Addiction transfer is a term that mental health professionals use to describe changing one addiction for another. People in recovery often resort to addiction transfer when they attempt to smooth over the disruptions to their daily lives that result from giving up one substance for another. It is vital to understand how addiction transfer works. Therefore, today we’ll be giving an answer to the question: what is transfer addiction?

What Exactly Is Transfer Addiction?

When a person in recovery starts to swap one addiction with another, this is called a “transfer addiction.” This phenomenon can occur either during or after the initial addiction treatment. It’s possible that patients undergoing bariatric surgery, as well as those recovering from substance abuse and alcoholic relapse, will encounter this difficulty. This is why it is so important to look at addiction as a lifelong condition that requires constant attention. While it’s crucial to learn to substitute better behaviors for those you’ve outgrown, people in recovery also need to keep an eye on their “addiction brain” to make sure they don’t slip back into old patterns. 

How Addiction Transfer Works

People prone to addiction transfer frequently switch from one form of addiction to another in order to feel the same gratifying effects. This is dangerous because widespread changes to one’s routine and habits might be unsettling, increasing the risk of relapsing if one is not watchful. Additionally, people who suffer from transfer addiction often convince themselves that substituting one addictive behavior or drug for another is not the same as relapsing. The chemical imbalance in the brain (often referred to as an “addictive personality”) causes a person to be predisposed to addiction, so when they fail to satisfy their addiction with one habit, they will try to do so with another.

A man running on a highway.
If handled properly, addiction transfer can have a positive effect.

That being said, with the right addiction treatment approach, addiction transfer can turn into something positive. For instance, a person in recovery can try replacing their drug use with more positive habits. Exercise, diet, yoga, mindfulness, socialization, and meditation are all great examples of behaviors that are healthy and non-addictive. That said, some of these habits (like exercise) can be destructive if taken too far. Therefore, it is important to set specific goals for each activity and make sure to do them slowly.

Addiction Transfer Causes

When someone has an addiction, their brain changes in such a manner that they will do almost everything to feed that addiction. Consequently, an individual’s ability to experience happiness may be constrained by low levels of dopamine in the brain. Many individuals will turn to transfer addiction as a means of coping with the unpleasant emotions that might arise in early sobriety. Addictive routines may be soothing and help individuals feel less agitated and anxious while they go through the challenging processes of withdrawal and overcoming cravings. Sometimes, a person’s addiction may shift from one drug to another. Addictions may also manifest themselves in seemingly “healthy” behaviors, as we’ve mentioned. Common examples of substituting one addictive behavior for another include the use of cocaine, the development of eating disorders such as food addiction, the abuse of opioids, alcohol, heroin, or other compulsive behaviors.

A person coping on the floor.
Addiction transfer is frequently the result of difficulties encountered during rehabilitation.

How To Identify Transfer Addiction

addiction transfer may be hard to see at first. This is primarily due to the fact that people tend to focus far more on keeping the old addiction at bay than on preventing a new one. While compulsive shopping and overeating may seem like innocuous hobbies at first glance, they may have serious health effects in the long term. The symptoms of a transferred addiction are similar to those of other addictions:

  • Forgetting to take care of basic hygiene needs or other forms of self-care
  • Giving up rest and one’s usual pursuits in favor of the novel activity
  • Developing an unhealthy preoccupation with the novel pursuit
  • Having issues in other areas of your life as a result of your new hobby
  • Trouble at home or in relationships because of the new activity
  • Feeling stressed, anxious, or even suicidal if unable to participate in the novel activity or obtain the substance

Is Addiction Transfer Treatable?

Addiction transfer is something you can manage if you know what to do. Admitting you need additional assistance may be discouraging, humiliating, and upsetting. This is especially the case if someone feels like they just got through a difficult rehab. That being said, the true challenge of addiction lies in resolving its structural and psychological underpinnings rather than just alleviating its surface manifestations. The truth is that many people need to spend a far longer time in rehabilitation than they would first anticipate.

A person in therapy conversing with a therapist.
Counseling or therapy is necessary for the treatment of transfer addiction.

Long-term addiction treatment involves addressing not only the drug or behavior itself but also the underlying chemical imbalances and emotional disorders that contribute to the development of the addiction. Regaining command of your life may include participation in a dual diagnosis program, as well as treatment, education, counseling, and relapse prevention. In some cases, it may even require a new environment. For this reason, it’s good to know that experts can help you start over in a new place, be it Boynton Beach or any other location renowned for its recovery centers. 


So, what is transfer addiction? To sum it up, it’s a tendency to temporarily or permanently transfer an addiction to a new type of substance or activity in order to experience a pleasant feeling, even though it may have serious negative consequences. Anywhere from 10% to 90% of people with drug addictions switch to another drug when that first one goes away. For this reason, it is important to know what addiction transfer is, how to recognize it, and the importance of preventing it from happening in the first place.