Polysubstance or polydrug use occurs when a person uses two or more different drugs. This use may occur simultaneously, sequentially, or within a short period of time. Doing so exposes a person to an increased risk of chemical dependency, addiction, severe physical and mental harm, and overdose. If you’re suffering from multiple substance use disorders, the polysubstance addiction treatment program at Vertava Health is here to help. Call 844.451.0263 today to learn more today.
How Does Polydrug Use Occur?
Polydrug use can occur through any combination of drugs, though some combinations are more dangerous than others. Here are examples of drugs that may be used in patterns of polysubstance use:
- Opioids and opiates
- Prescription ADHD medications (Adderall, Ritalin)
- Cocaine, including crack
- Benzodiazepines (Ativan, Valium, Xanax)
Individuals mix drugs for various reasons. Some people combine substances to enhance or amplify the effects of one. In other instances, a person may do so to reduce one drug’s unwanted or unpleasant side effects. A person may also use a drug to alleviate negative feelings as they come off a high or decrease withdrawal symptoms.
Frequently Used Polydrug Combinations
Polysubstance use is prevalent in the club culture. However, individuals mix drugs in many different circumstances and environments. Various club drugs like ecstasy, ketamine, cocaine, crystal meth, and LSD are frequently mixed to elicit a more intense high.
Certain drugs are used together more frequently than others. These include:
- Alcohol and ADHD stimulant medications
- Alcohol and benzodiazepines
- Cocaine and alcohol
- Benzodiazepine and opioids
- Heroin and cocaine (including crack)
- Ecstasy and alcohol
- LSD and marijuana
The effects of polysubstance use can be unpredictable, uncontrollable, and dangerous. While particular combinations may only make a person experience discomfort, other combinations can cause serious medical complications or death.
Signs of Polysubstance Use
The exact signs of polysubstance use will vary per person and drug. However, there are general signs of drug use:
- Extreme bursts of energy or intense lethargy
- Mood swings
- Changes in appetite (eating very little or eating to excess)
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Impaired coordination
- Trouble speaking
- Strange odors on the body, breath, or clothing
If drug use is suspected, it’s important to seek help right away. The sooner use is addressed and treated, the better protection a person has against prolonged addiction and the dangers associated with drug use.
Dangers and Risks of Polysubstance Use
Polysubstance use is responsible for an increased likelihood of dependence, addiction, organ damage, mental health problems, social issues, and nonfatal and fatal overdose.
Using two drugs increases cognitive impairment, resulting in greater impaired judgment, impulsive tendencies, and poor decision-making abilities. These combined effects can increase risky behaviors, including driving while intoxicated, unsafe sexual practices, and crime.
Changes to a person’s thoughts and ability to reason can occur after using one substance, making it more likely for a person to try a drug they otherwise wouldn’t. This can also lead a person to take higher and more frequent doses of the second substance, increasing the risks associated with polysubstance use.
While polysubstance use may increase the pleasurable effects of one or both drugs, it can also increase the negative and damaging effects of each as well. The most dangerous complications of polysubstance use occur when stimulants or depressants are used.
Dangers of Combining Stimulants and Depressants
When a person uses a stimulant and depressant, their body and the central nervous system are being pulled in two directions at once. This causes immense strain on the cardiovascular system and heart.
Using an upper and a downer makes it challenging to gauge how intoxicated they are. The effects of each drug mask many of the side effects of the other. For instance, a person drinking and using cocaine may not feel inebriated, despite drinking substantial amounts.
Despite this reduction in specific side effects, each drug is still exerting significant effects. Because of this, a person will frequently continue to use more of either or both substances. At this point, a person can be close to overdose without realizing it, made more dangerous as drug use continues.
For example, a popular stimulant-depressant combination is cocaine and alcohol. As drugs are equated with sociability and partying, many individuals use these drugs together. What many people don’t realize is how dangerous this combination is.
Cocaine and alcohol combine to create a toxic byproduct called cocaethylene. Cocaethylene can cause liver damage, seizure, sudden death, and an increased risk of a heart attack.
Dangers of Combining Depressants
The interaction of two depressants can cause blood pressure, breathing, and heart rates to slow to levels that can’t support life.
The interaction between benzodiazepines and opioids is so severe that the FDA has issued its strongest warning on harmful drug interactions. This black box warning cautions that this combination can result in extreme sleepiness, respiratory depression, coma, and death, effects which can also result from other combinations of depressant drugs.
Dangers of Combining Stimulants
Specific individuals use two different stimulant drugs to create a more pronounced or longer high. An example is when a person combines cocaine with an amphetamine drug, such as Adderall or meth. While the longer half-life of the amphetamine extends the high, combining these or any other stimulants places a massive toll on the heart and vascular system.
Under this strain, the heart can quickly begin to malfunction, leading to serious or life-threatening cardiac complications, including cardiac arrest, cardiac dysrhythmias, and heart attack.
The profound stress on the vascular system can cause a brain aneurysm, stroke and intracerebral hemorrhage, or bleeding of the brain. Additional risks of using two stimulants together include seizures, hypertension (high blood pressure), and hyperthermia (dangerously high body temperature).
Detoxification Programs for Polysubstance Use
Withdrawing from more than one drug is more complex than withdrawing from a single substance. This typically complicates treatment, requiring more intensive therapies and professionally-administered medical treatments. Withdrawing from multiple substances can be unpredictable, creating intense and even painful symptoms. Because of these factors, an inpatient drug detoxification program is typically the best option.
An inpatient, medically-supervised detoxification program ensures that a person is continuously monitored, 24 hours a day, until their body stabilizes. Detoxification often requires the support of various medications to reduce or alleviate symptoms of withdrawal. Highly-trained clinicians will administer these treatments and provide support and encouragement throughout this trying time.
Seek Treatment at Vertava Health
The most effective drug addiction treatment programs blend research-based treatments with personalized addiction treatment services. An individualized treatment plan should address addiction’s mental and physical impacts to facilitate the highest degree of healing.
Drug use may be a method of self-medication. While some individuals strive to self-treat physical health problems, many individuals alleviate mental health conditions. Further, many forms of drug use cause mental and emotional imbalances, issues that could potentially be compounded by polysubstance use.
Any co-occurring disorders, such as depression and anxiety, need to be addressed within drug rehabilitation to promote comprehensive and long-lasting recovery. Through therapy and counseling, individuals will learn how to cope and employ healthy life skills which enhance sobriety.
Many individuals engaging in polysubstance use may have acquired illnesses or diseases from their drug use. Comprehensive treatment for these conditions should also be examined as a treatment plan is being determined.
Contact Vertava Health at 844.451.0263 to learn more about polysubstance use, addiction, and treatment options.