It is understandable you may be wondering what is polysubstance abuse and what this type of addiction means. When you are misusing a primary substance, it is not uncommon to experiment to enhance the effects of that substance by using combinations of different drugs.
For example, you may mix alcohol with Adderall. If you like the effects of the combination, you may do it again or try other combinations with different substances. However, when you continue to misuse various combinations of substances, you could struggle with polysubstance abuse.
What Is Polysubstance Abuse?
Polysubstance abuse is a special diagnosis that describes someone who struggles with addiction and misuses multiple substances. Most of the time, they have a primary substance they misuse, such as opioids or alcohol.
Yet, they fuel their addiction by combining other substances with their primary substance to alter or enhance the effects of the primary substance. People with polysubstance abuse have no preference for the substances being misused and will misuse and combine a range of different substances.
Furthermore, they may not have a primary substance of choice. For instance, one night, they may binge drink alcohol and snort lines of cocaine at a party. The next night, they will be at a nightclub and take ecstasy tablets and inhale poppers.
Another distinguishing feature of polysubstance abuse is the person is not necessarily addicted to any primary or secondary substances. Instead, their addiction stems from the effects they experience when taking various combinations of drugs and alcohol to achieve the desired effects.
It is crucial to mention that polysubstance abuse is different from multiple substance abuse. Multiple substance abuse is when someone has at least two primary substances they will always misuse. They are not indiscriminate with the substances they misuse, like someone with a polysubstance addiction.
Common Polysubstance Combinations
Any combination of substances without any preference is the distinguishing characteristic of polysubstance abuse. However, there are some common substance combinations people will rotate through because of their effects.
Alcohol and Cocaine
Drinking alcohol while using cocaine is a common polysubstance combination. Cocaine counteracts the depressant effects of alcohol while alcohol enhances the effects of cocaine. As a result, people will have lowered inhibitions, make impulsive decisions, and can engage in risk-taking behaviors. Additionally, since the effects of alcohol are diminished, a person can consume larger amounts of alcohol for a longer period.
Although, the danger of misusing this combination in large quantities is a person can blackout where they do not remember what they did, even though they remain awake.
Opioids and Benzos
This combination of drugs is one of the most misused ones because benzos enhance the effects of opioids. Opioids stimulate the release of dopamine, one of the “pleasure” chemicals naturally released in the brain. Benzos further enhance dopamine release, creating a more intense euphoric feeling that can trigger hallucinations.
Since opioids and benzos are both sedative-type drugs, combining these substances is dangerous and can lead to accidental overdoses and death. As the central nervous system is suppressed, it slows breathing and heart rates. As a result, a person could stop breathing, or their heart stops beating if they overdose.
Cocaine and Heroin
Mixing cocaine and heroin is commonly referred to as “speedballing.” Heroin is an opioid drug and depressant, and cocaine is a stimulant. The effects of these two drugs can be similar to combining alcohol and cocaine and create a “push-pull” effect.
Mixing heroin with cocaine may help reduce the jitters and overexcitability caused by cocaine, while cocaine helps reduce the sedative effects of heroin to keep you awake. In addition, some people believe this drug combination provides a more intense rush.
Yet again, this combination can lead to accidental overdose and death because the effects of cocaine wear off much faster than heroin. As a result, people tend to take more of the combination, not realizing they are increasing the amount of heroin in the body to excessive levels that can cause respiratory and heart failure.
Signs and Symptoms of Polysubstance Abuse
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of polysubstance abuse can seem difficult. However, several common signs and symptoms that often indicate someone has a polysubstance use disorder, including:
- Mood swings
- Impulsive decision making
- Loss of interest in friends, family, hobbies, etc.
- Noticeable use of combining substances frequently
- Behavior changes
- Visible signs of drug or alcohol misuse
- Periods of insomnia/sleepiness
- Changes in appetite
- Ignoring other responsibilities
- Associating with others who misuse substances
- Financial issues
- Legal problems
Dangers of Polysubstance Abuse
We already mentioned the dangers of blackouts, accidental overdoses, and death from misusing different combinations of alcohol and drugs. Furthermore, the risks of experiencing severe and adverse side effects are increased because multiple substances are being misused.
Some of the other severe side effects of polysubstance misuse can include:
- Lowered immune system response
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Respiratory failure
- Increased risk of diseases and infections
Detoxing and Polysubstance Abuse Treatment in Atlanta, GA
Buckhead Behavioral Health in Atlanta, Georgia, is here to assist when you are ready to get help with your polysubstance use disorder. We offer medically supervised detox, MAT (medication-assisted treatment), PHP (partial hospitalization programs), and IOP (intensive outpatient programs). Our detox and treatment programs are tailored to your specific needs, whether you are a teen or an adult. Visit our admissions page today to start your detox and treatment plan or to learn more about what is polysubstance abuse.