What Is Polysubstance Abuse?

May 23, 2024

What Is Polysubstance Abuse?

What Is Polysubstance Abuse?

A person with addiction craves a substance because his or her body has become dependent on it. Some people use a single substance, such as a prescription painkiller or alcohol. Others use numerous drugs to get a specific result. This is called polysubstance abuse.

What Happens in Polysubstance Abuse?

Polysubstance abuse refers to the purposeful and excessive use of more than one substance. Most often, this is an illicit substance or a prescription drug that’s not used according to the doctor’s recommendations. It can also include the use of alcohol with other drugs.

People may use more than one substance because they want to discover and/or experience the effects of that particular drug combination. More often, people use a second drug to either combat the negative feelings or experiences of the first drug or to enhance the results. 

What Are the Dangers of Polysubstance Abuse?

The combination of certain drugs can create a very dangerous addiction. It can also lead to sudden death from overdose. 

Polysubstance use is dangerous because it is difficult to predict how the drugs will interact with each other in your body. To further complicate matters, many illicit drugs are already combinations of drugs. For example, heroin can be laced with fentanyl. When you don’t know exactly what you’re combining, the outcome is even more unpredictable. 

Still, there are some more predictable outcomes of polysubstance abuse that are worth discussing:

  • Worsened side effects

The side effects of all drugs involved can be enhanced. That means that vomiting, body pain, and changes to the heart rate and blood pressure will all be more likely, increasing the risk for complications.

  • Acute illness onset

Serious health problems are possible. In some cases, a drop in blood pressure could lead to loss of consciousness. Some people will experience an increase in blood concentrations of the drugs, leading to complicated and chronic conditions over time.

  • Overdose

The biggest risk to polysubstance abuse, aside from addiction, is overdose. This risk is present virtually every time the drugs are used together.

What Types of Drugs Do People Mix?

We’ve listed below two of the more common examples of the drug mixes people use in an effort to get high.

  • Alcohol and Cocaine

This is one of the most common mixes. Cocaine stimulates the brain. Alcohol calms the brain. The two used together can create a dangerous outcome. The cocaine’s effect is intensified because the alcohol makes it stay in the blood for a longer time. The alcohol also helps to control some of the intense anxiety that tends to come from cocaine use. When used together, the two drugs create a new element, cocaethylene, that can endanger the heart, liver, and other organs. Mixing cocaine and alcohol can also increase drug cravings, increase the risk of stroke or heart attack, and cause violent or impulsive behavior.

  • Benzos and Opioids

Both benzodiazepines, or benzos, and opioids are depressants. Combined, they can create an intense high. They also slow down the central nervous system, including heart and breathing rate. The decreased levels of oxygen getting to the brain creates a very high risk for overdose. Mixing these drugs can also cause permanent or long-lasting brain damage. 

What Happens in Treatment for Polysubstance Abuse?

Treatment for polysubstance abuse tends to be more complex; it requires more understanding of what drugs are being taken so doctors can find the right balance for treatment. The good news is that you can get help and heal from polysubstance abuse. The first step is to reach out for help. Your therapist will use a combination of physical, emotional, and mental-health treatments to improve your overall health and reduce the risk of complications.

Polysubstance abuse is dangerous. If your loved one is using drugs like this, reach out for immediate help. Our team can provide detox, counseling, and intervention services.