If you or somebody that you know is struggling with multiple substance addictions, then you’ve probably heard the term “polysubstance abuse,” but you might not know what it means. The partial definition is that an individual is abusing multiple substances.
Very often, people who are suffering from mental health conditions will self-medicate with multiple drugs, alcohol, or both before they get a proper diagnosis from a medical professional. Individuals struggling with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are especially susceptible to drug use and polysubstance abuse patterns.
Mixing recreational drugs is very dangerous, and it indicates the person using may have a problem with polysubstance abuse. The individual may incorporate two different drugs to reduce negative symptoms from which the other has produced.
An individual who is looking to recover from addiction from these various substances they’re using, they should learn what the term means, how it affects the individual, and which professional treatment options are available.
What is Polysubstance Abuse?
Polysubstance use is consuming more than one drug at once. Individuals will engage in polysubstance abuse to accomplish a more significant feeling from the effects of taking multiple substances. Usually, the user will have a preferred drug, and they will combine that with other drugs to enhance the primary drugs affect.
For example, individuals who abuse opioids, like painkillers or heroin, will sometimes mix them with benzodiazepines to experience a more intense feeling of relaxation and sedation effect. Although the combination of certain drugs will enhance the desired effects, polysubstance abuse may also increase the potential adverse effects of the drugs taken.
Studies show that mixing drugs can also cause unpredictable consequences; The end result is individuals engaging in polysubstance abuse aren’t able to comprehend severe or negative consequences that may result in unsafe decisions they make while using.
What Defines Polysubstance Abuse?
Individuals were diagnosed with polysubstance abuse or addicted to the feeling of “being high” regardless of what drugs they’re using. Usually, they won’t even have a preference for a particular drug of choice.
Typically, polysubstance abuse is defined by an individual that uses three different substances, although other definitions state it only requires using two substances. Any addictive substance can be a part of polysubstance abuse; alcohol is the more popular used one. A few other drugs that are used in polysubstance abuse include:
Although most instances of polysubstance abuse include mixing illegal drugs and alcohol, prescription meds may also be involved. These medications that are prescribed by a medical professional may help with the physical or emotional problem; they do become addictive and are highly abused.
Diagnosing Polysubstance Abuse
Diagnosing polysubstance abuse may be difficult if the individual is only aware of one substance they are using. To be diagnosed with this condition, it will require meeting specific criteria. First, the individual must be using at least three substances. Nicotine and caffeine, although which are addictive, do not count.
Furthermore, the individual must exhibit a minimum of three symptoms within 12 months:
- They are losing control: Residually using drugs more often than planned.
- Inability to stop using: The individual refuses to cut down or discontinue using the drugs with no desire ever to quit.
- Higher tolerance: The individual needs higher doses to feel any effects of the drug, which may require them to use up to 50% more than what they initially used.
- Experiencing withdrawal: The individual having withdrawal symptoms when not being high or even taking the drugs to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
- Disengaging with activities: The individual will stop engaging in interests and activities and cutting down the amount of time they used to spend on other pursuits; this could include school, work, hobbies, and socializing.
- Time spent using: The individual finds themselves spending more time buying and using drugs and spending more time being high.
- Self-harm: The individual will continue to use even after being aware of the physical harm that it is caused to them.
It is of great importance to understand that it is possible to have multiple addictions. This is not at all the same as polysubstance addiction. For example, individuals may be addicted to heroin, cocaine, and alcohol. This becomes an instance of multiple addictions, not a polysubstance addiction.
To be considered an actual polysubstance addiction, the individual is addicted to the effects of drugs, and the particular drug used is a secondary consideration for them. They will choose to stay with the same three or more drugs because of the convenience and easy access it is to get them.
Polysubstance Abuse Contributing Factors
People commonly ask what caused the individual to start abusing multiple substances. There may be several factors that lead to polysubstance abuse and addiction. Polysubstance abuse history will often begin genetically with somebody who has a parent or another family member who’s been diagnosed with some form of addiction.
Social factors may also play a key role in addition to genetics. Teenagers and young adults may be given multiple substances to try. They will end up enjoying the high that it gives them, and they will continuously crave that feeling of pleasure that the drug they used gave them.
The reason why individuals start using multiple drugs is to enhance the effect of a single drug and create a more intense or long-lasting high.
The third cause of polysubstance abuse disorder has a mental health disorder. Most individuals who are abusing substances are dealing with mental health issues.
Individuals with depression or high anxiety will start using these substances to feel calmer or more upbeat and positive. They enjoy the feeling of being healthy, so they will continue the pursuit to find any drugs to make them feel that way. They usually do not realize the consequences of self-medicating.
Polysubstance Abuse Dangers
Long term and short term effects that are related to polysubstance abuse will differ according to the combination of substances. However, there are a few general dangers that are associated with polysubstance abuse.
Increased Severity of Side Effects
All drugs will come with the potential for adverse side effects. When drugs are abused together, the severity of the side effects will be increased exponentially. The substances will combine to cause addictive effects, and these effects will be unique and more severe than the different effects of each substance. Regular side effects from polysubstance abuse might include nausea, vomiting, balance issues, change to heart rate, body pain, high blood pressure, and respiratory problems.
Acute Health Problems
Drug interactions may reduce your metabolism, which will increase blood concentrations of the substances in question. This will boost the toxicity and can produce new metabolites formed from the breakdown of the usage of multiple substances. Different diseases and disorders may be more common in those who abuse various drugs. For example, chronic diseases, such as hepatitis C, are often found in people who drink heavily and who inject drugs, smoke cigarettes, and use cocaine, making them more at risk for myocardial infarction.
The risk of overdose is always possible with any substance abuse, but the risk will be more significant when multiple drugs are abused. Since certain drugs will mask the effects of the other drugs, the users may inadvertently take a much higher dose than usual because they don’t feel the full impact of just the one substance. This may result in an overdose. If you are to experience an overdose, your long-term health effects may be compromised, and death could be a possibility.
An overdose from taking multiple drugs is very difficult to treat. While an opiate overdose can be reversed with the use of naloxone, it may not work with other substances like benzo’s, stimulants, or alcohol. It is essential to know the polysubstance addiction will require specialized professional treatment to achieve a full recovery.
Complications Due to Co-occurring Mental Health Issues
An individual who’s suffering from co-occurring disorders, which is when a substance use disorder combines with a mental health disorder, this could make the individual more vulnerable to engage in polysubstance abuse. Substance abuse will worsen the symptoms of mental health disorders, which will lead to a mental health issue to worsen substance abuse. When multiple drugs are combined, all of these effects will be amplified.
Combinations of Specific Substances
Along with other drugs, alcohol is usually combined with both prescription and illicit drugs to achieve a more significant high. For example, individuals may use cocaine to counteract the depressant feel the alcohol gives, which will allow the person to drink more for a more extended period.
Combining alcohol and prescription drugs can result in blackouts, respiratory depression, alcohol poisoning, and even death.
Individuals will usually mix alcohol with prescription opiates such as Percocet, OxyContin, Vicodin, Ridellan, Xanax, and Valium. Another common practice individuals are mixing sleeping medications with alcohol to fall asleep faster.
It may be very dangerous and sometimes deadly to consume alcohol with prescription medications. Individuals may drink more than usual due to the interaction of the drugs, and that could result in a higher blood alcohol concentration. Therefore, mixing drugs and alcohol will raise the risk of alcohol poisoning and potentially life-threatening consequences.
Cocaine and Alcohol
Cocaine and alcohol are a couple of drugs that are commonly combined. Both alcohol and cocaine increase impulsive and risky behavior, decrease the ability to make judgments and reduce cognitive function. Alcohol also may increase memory problems, so the individual may not remember the dangerous actions they had engaged in the previous night.
When an individual uses cocaine and then drinks alcohol, the amount of cocaine in their system increases by 30%. This will make the heart rate and blood pressure increase, which may lead to cardiovascular problems. Individuals may also drink more alcohol because cocaine may reduce alcohol effects.
Opioids and Benzodiazepines
Both opioids and benzos are depressants to the central nervous system. The result of combining them can cause the individual to go into a respiratory depression that may lead to a fatal overdose. Action float to the brain that becomes restricted could cause impairments, permanent brain damage, or even death. Also, benzos become metabolized more quickly by individuals who are older in age so this may increase the risk of respiratory complications in them.
The substance abuse and mental health services administration (SAMHSA) has said that up to 1 million emergency room visits over a six-year period had involved benzo’s, or a combination of benzos and alcohol or opioids. They also stated there had been a 55% increase in overdose risk when combining the drugs, compared to only using benzos by themselves. Most benzo overdoses that become fatal occur when they are mixed with other drugs.
Prescription Medication and Illicit Street Drugs
Individuals may believe that prescription drugs are safer to abuse than illegal drugs since a doctor prescribes them; this is not at all true. Most prescription drugs won’t differ in the formula of illicit drugs, and abusing them may result in a range of severe health issues, which may even include death. Polysubstance abuse that involves prescription drugs is just as dangerous as abusing illegal street drugs. This may consist of combining prescription drugs with alcohol, other prescription drugs, or illicit street drugs.
Polysubstance abuse that involves prescription drugs, even cold medicines, may also have severe consequences. The cough syrup dextromethorphan (DXM) may cause hallucinations, and promethazine-codeine cough syrup may induce sedative effects. Study shows that these medications are often combined with alcohol or marijuana, which makes them abusive.
Detoxing from Polysubstance Abuse
Withdrawing from multiple drugs will be much more complicated than withdrawing from just one substance. Utilizing the professionals at an inpatient medical detox facility is highly recommended. The medical detox facility will provide medical professionals to supervise the patient 24 hours per day. This will ensure the monitoring of vital signs, and they can administer prompt action if there is a medical emergency.
The supervising physicians will administer the correct medications to counteract the withdrawal symptoms, like anti-nausea medication to assist with vomiting or antidepressants to address mood swings.
With some substance abuse instances, long-term maintenance medication might be given to the patient. For the individuals who are abusing painkillers like Vicodin and cocaine, the medical staff may provide them with an opiate replacement medication like methadone or buprenorphine to temper the pain and severity of opioid withdrawal.
When withdrawing from cocaine, medical staff will start by monitoring the patient during withdrawal before they administer medication due to the withdrawal symptoms being less intense. When the withdrawal process starts from benzodiazepines, medical professionals may use a long-acting dose of benzodiazepines. This will then be gradually lowered over time to ease the patient off the drug. This lessens the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
With such unpredictability of withdrawals from multiple substances, the continued monitoring from a medical professional is highly suggested. Along with the support and encouragement that is given in a medical detox center, the patient will have a higher success rate to detox and withdraw from the substance use and decrease the chances of a relapse.
Polysubstance Abuse Treatment
Although detox is a critical first step in the recovery process, it will not be valid on its own. It is crucial to follow the detox process with a comprehensive addiction treatment program that will include therapy from a medical professional.
Every case of substance abuse disorders, which also includes polysubstance abuse, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), will often be used. This type of therapy will focus on behavioral and thought patterns that are involved in substance abuse to help modify the thoughts and change the individual’s behaviors. Treatments such as CBT may be useful in assisting with the destructive behavior patterns that come with substance abuse.
Each individual will have a tailored process to fit the individual who is going through a substance-abuse treatment program. An effective substance abuse treatment program will be customized to treat and address all of the individual’s needs, not just the ones that are related to their substance abuse. With polysubstance abuse, this one tail identifying The reasons they had led to start using drugs and then to deal with those issues appropriately.
Most often, treatment plans will be restructured throughout the patient’s recovery process. As the individual is progressing during recovery, various alterations may take place, and if a particular therapy isn’t sufficient, another one will be implemented.
Any co-occurring mental health issue must be identified early in the treatment process, and often during the initial assessment for the patient. This will ensure that the individual will be effectively cared for rather than just for the substance-abuse issue. During comprehensive care, individuals engaging in polysubstance abuse can leave the wants and needs of all substances they used in the past and help them embrace a healthy and sober lifestyle.
Get Help for Polysubstance Abuse Today
Here at Ken Seeley Rehab, we are here to assist you on a successful path to recovery. We specialize in counseling and individual treatment to accomplish proper healing and sobriety. We understand that everyone recovers differently, and there is no definitive timeline for an individual to recover. Our professional medical team will assist with the recovery process that you need.
Contact Ken Seeley Rehab today!