Woman calls 911

Cross-Tolerance: A Real Issue and How to Prevent It


Sober Recovery Expert Author

Woman calls 911

Individuals in recovery are generally aware and warned of the dangers of substitute addictions. However, for whatever reason, information on the concept of cross-tolerance is not as widely distributed.

The phenomena of cross-tolerance does not account for all substitute addictions. That is, having knowledge of one does not automatically imply knowledge of the other. In fact, many substitute addictions are process addictions, a reality in which cross-tolerance does not apply.

It may be necessary for a patient who is in recovery to share with his or her doctor the potential for cross-tolerance before moving forward with any new medications.

Merriam-Webster defines cross-tolerance as “tolerance or resistance to a drug that develops through continued use of another drug with similar pharmacological action.” For example, cocaine addicts who substitute their coke addiction with crystal meth or crack. Additionally, and even less discussed, this notion also explains somewhat accidental relapse scenarios that begins with a physical trauma and results in the use of addictive pharmaceutical drugs.

First Line of Defense

Cross-tolerance is a real and dangerous issue when it comes to pharmaceutical drugs. Unfortunately, it is also one that is not so easily prevented without self-advocacy and vigilance. This is why recovering individuals are responsible for informing healthcare professionals about their own pre-existing health issues. Addiction is, of course, no exception.

However, even that level of prevention is not enough. Not every recovering person is aware of the lack of general knowledge about addiction and cross-tolerance within the generalized medical community itself. Typically, doctors receive little education regarding addiction and the possibility of cross-tolerance.

Therefore, it is important to not only discuss an addiction diagnosis with doctors prior to treatment but also to inform them of the implications of that reality. In other words, it may be necessary for the patient to share with the doctor the potential for cross-tolerance before moving forward with new medications. It is also necessary to discuss this information with friends and family members or anyone who might be contacted in the event of a medical emergency.

A Protection Plan

Because cross-tolerance is an adverse reaction, items such as medical alert cards or jewelry are smart and effective methods of prevention. Additionally, acquiring or assigning someone to be an emergency contact is imperative.

You should also equip your emergency contact, close friends or family members with information. Be sure to provide a list of drugs, or at least the class of drugs, which would have a cross-tolerance effect. Empower these individuals with the knowledge that not all medical professionals have a full grasp on its serious consequences and that in the event of an actual emergency, a higher level of assertion may be needed to get the best possible care to protect against a potential relapse.

For anyone in recovery, the issue of cross-tolerance is truly a life or death situation. Therefore, you must request as much information as possible from addiction specialists, recovery coaches, counselors and other experts in the field in order to protect yourself. And perhaps, the simple act of inquiring can even spur more addiction professionals to access important resources on cross-tolerance as well as demand more research, education, information and advocacy for the safety of people in recovery.

If you or someone you know is seeking help from addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 866-606-0182 to start the path to recovery today.

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