Polysubstance Abuse and Addiction

Many people who abuse drugs and alcohol develop polysubstance dependence. There are many dangers and risks associated with abusing multiple drugs. From potential overdose to long-lasting side effects, polysubstance use can cause great harm.

Polysubstance Abuse Meaning

Polysubstance abuse is the misuse of more than one drug at a time. People may use more than one drug at a time to enhance the effects of the substances, to help stifle negative side effects, or to help deal with the come-down or withdrawal. Alcohol and marijuana are the two drugs most commonly used in conjunction with other drugs, but people may abuse multiple drugs in many different ways. With the abuse of multiple drugs, addiction is likely to develop.

Commonly Abused Drug Combinations

Many drugs are often used in conjunction with one another. Whether the substances are used to create a stronger high or negate some side effect, the ultimate goal for the person is to feel better. Here are a few common combinations of drugs that are abused together:

  • Alcohol and marijuana
  • Alcohol and cocaine
  • Alcohol and MDMA
  • Benzodiazepines and opioids
  • Benzodiazepines and alcohol (very dangerous)
  • Hallucinogens and marijuana
  • Opioids and methamphetamine

People may abuse drugs like Adderall or Ritalin along with alcohol in order to stay awake while drinking. There are many combinations of drugs people use together that don’t involve illicit substances, and these combinations can be just as dangerous.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of polysubstance abuse will depend largely on which drugs are being used. Symptoms may be very similar to those of monosubstance abuse. However, with the abuse of multiple drugs, it’s likely that symptoms will be more obvious and severe. As with addiction to or abuse of any drug, you may notice that someone experiences:

  • Changes in mood or mood swings
  • Irritability and anger
  • Disinterest in normally pleasurable activities
  • Change in eating habits
  • Altered sleeping patterns
  • Sleepiness or fatigue
  • Lack of motivation
  • Anxiety or panic
  • Depression
  • Weight gain or loss

Each individual drug causes a different set of symptoms in the user. When abusing stimulants, an individual may experience anxiety. When coming down from stimulants, the individual may experience sleepiness. The opposite is true for depressants like opioids, alcohol, and benzodiazepines. With polysubstance abuse, symptoms and side effects are generally worse than they are with the abuse of a single drug. Although the perosn may be abusing multiple drugs in an attempt to control withdrawal symptoms and negative side effects, the drugs eventually take a toll on the mind and body and can cause severe side effects.

The Dangers of Polysubstance Abuse

There are many dangers of abusing multiple drugs. Some substances may interact in a way that can greatly increase the risk of overdose. For example, abusing two depressants of the central nervous system like alcohol and benzodiazepines, benzodiazepines and opioids, or alcohol and opioids, there is a high risk of overdose. On the other hand, mixing stimulants and depressants may likewise cause overdose or other unpleasant symptoms as the individual is not aware of how much they are using. This is common with methamphetamine and opioids, opioids and cocaine, and alcohol and cocaine.

Furthermore, the withdrawal process from drugs can be unpleasant, painful, and even dangerous. Polysubstance dependence can cause some of the worst drug withdrawal symptoms, and even be quite dangerous. When an individual stops using multiple drugs, the combination of withdrawal symptoms can be deadly. Drugs like benzodiazepines and alcohol can cause fatal symptoms upon withdrawal, and many other drugs can create conditions that are severely unpleasant.

Polysubstance Abuse Treatment

Most residential treatment centers and outpatient rehabs work extensively with those who are struggling with polysubstance use. It’s important to find the right place for yourself. As we discussed in our post about the dangers of searching for treatment online, it can be hard to find the right place. Do some research, ask for testimonials, and figure out if their program is right for you!

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