Polysubstance Abuse

Addiction can take many forms. Treatment can become complicated as no two stories of addiction are the same. Someone may abuse drugs or alcohol for the thrill, to alleviate anxiety and depression, or to fit into the crowd. It is important to always listen carefully and genuinely to a loved one, to understand why they are suffering.

Another frequent and unfortunate complication in substance abuse is when someone mixes in their system multiple drugs and/or alcohol over the course of several months or in the same session. Generally, these types of addicts don’t have a drug preference, but mixing alcohol, cocaine, opiates, hallucinogens, and heroin tend to be the most commonly combined substances.

Physicians often find the effects of such combined drugs hard to identify, predict and thus treat properly. When first responders and detox specialists cannot identify the exact cause of an overdose, effectively treating the victim proves extremely difficult. For instance, some treatment methods may work against certain drugs in the body and actually strengthen the adverse effects of others, which exemplifies the nearly impossible task of treating polysubstance overdose victims. Often polysubstance users don’t even know what drugs they have consumed because they have forgotten, didn’t care to pay attention, or because the substances were mixed before consumption.
Many addicts don’t intentionally try to get hooked on multiple drugs. They may try to “self-medicate” the side effects of another drug with more substances. They may take a prescription based opioid, like Vicodin, feel too drowsy or weak, and then mix it with a stimulant like Adderall to counteract those effects. This practice is extremely dangerous. You should only take medication as directed by your doctor, and never mix drugs with any alcohol. Patients, who may already have complex cognitive issues, can also innocently forget they took their dosage and recreationally enjoy alcohol.
Chronic drug addicts usually mix drugs to heighten the thrill of the “high”. For instance, cocaine and heroin combined (known by its street name “speedball”) will give a stronger rush of adrenalin at the deadly risk of heart failure. Ecstasy and marijuana are also commonly mixed to create an enhanced trip experience.
Simultaneously abusing multiple drugs will escalate the danger of a lethal overdose due to heart attacks, respiratory collapse, internal bleeding, and inducing a coma. Certain combinations of drugs can take your life, even if it is your first time using them. Don’t wait! Seek help immediately for you or a loved one!

Polysubstance Dependence Classification

In the US, psychologists have listed polysubstance dependence in volume IV of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a substance use disorder or SUD (code 304.80). The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-9-CM) similarly recognizes different forms of polysubstance dependence. DSM-IV states that the person must have mixed 3 drugs in their system over a 12 month period and include at least 3 of the following symptoms:

  • Tolerance – Increasingly becoming tolerant of their drug effects and needing more to achieve the same “high” result
  • Withdraw – Experiencing debilitating withdrawal effects when they stop using the drugs and using other drugs to manage until they can find more.
  • Loss of Control – Having no willpower to resist the drugs and taking them for longer than intended.
  • Inability to Stop – Constantly trying and failing to quit the drugs
  • Time – Being overcome with time surrounding the drug, such as finding, working for, consuming, and managing effects of the drugs.
  • Giving Up Activities – Losing interest and motivation to pursue hobbies, job, education, and relationships
  • Self-Harm – Knowing the physical and psychological harm, the person still continues to use the drug

Signs of Polysubstance Dependence

Taking multiple drugs is so common that many medical professionals consider it the norm among substance abusers, particularly those who abuse opioids. Because of the pervasive nature of this trend, the best warning signs for loved ones to recognize may be similar to any drug addiction.

You may notice your loved one acting unusual by appearing disinterested in activities they once enjoyed, keeping secrets, mysteriously losing money and needing more, and developing noticeable physical changes. Several physiological issues may overlap with concurrent drug usage, but generally you may notice:

  • Phases of deep depression and anxiety
  • Constant feelings of nausea, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Drowsiness, insomnia, and other sleep problems
  • Short term memory problems
  • Bloodshot eyes and pupils larger or smaller than normal
  • Muscle weakness
  • Slurred and confused speech
  • Poor coordination and trouble walking

It’s important to not be judgmental or shame someone who may be abusing drugs. An honest discussion about their need to seek treatment will always be difficult, but assure them of your continued love and support.

Polysubstance Dependence Statistics

Abusing multiple drugs at the same time creates a dangerously unique problem for the user. Some alarming statistics with this trend, include:

In 2008, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 18.3% of people were admitted to drug rehab programs for both alcohol and other drug substances.
According to one study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 2.6 million Americans abuse drugs and alcohol together
In 2012 the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that 7 in 10 teens who recreationally abused opioid medication combined it with other drugs and alcohol.
Of teens that usually mix opioids with alcohol or other drugs are 4x more likely to get drunk and 8x more likely to abuse marijuana.

Polysubstance Dependence Treatments

When someone is abusing multiple drugs, an accurate diagnostic cannot be based off self-reporting, observations, and physical changes. To know what exact drugs are in their system, they will have to submit to a urine test. Although even then, it possible they may falsify the urine sample. The best possible chance for a full, healthy recovery is getting the person treated at a detox center. Treatment there may last 2 weeks to several months. To restore the individual’s nutrition and fluids back to normal levels, it is important to be monitored by medical professionals 24/7, as it can be a high-risk detox, depending on the individual and the substances used.

Afterward, their doctor will likely recommend them to an inpatient or residential rehabilitation center. These facilities provide around the clock medical attention with psychologists and therapists available for private counseling sessions. A vibrant and capable rehab center creates a community of loving support for both faculty and residents with activities and events (sports, art, music, religious, etc…) to help restore their lives and more. Many rehabs use recovery plans, like the 12 Step or SMART Recovery programs. While in any drug or alcohol recovery process it is critical to stay connected with loved ones and be mindful that relapse is possible. If there is no close monitoring and strong accountability the likelihood of failed recovery attempts increases. For many recovering addicts, lack of proper care has resulted in a vicious cycle; getting busted or overdosing, getting detoxed, going to rehab, then getting hooked on the substance again out of rehab.

It’s important to find a quality rehab to provide the right care for you. You can start your search today with the thousands of rehab reviews through Wherehab. We host only honest reviews from trusted sources to give you peace of mind in searching for and finding your path to recovery.

Wherehab gives you a better way to get better!

Sources Used:

drugabuse.govbuppractice.comtime.comdrugabuse.gov #2

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