Polysubstance Abuse, Addiction, and Treatment
Polysubstance Abuse Meaning
Polysubstance abuse is the misuse of more than one substance at a time. It may be a combination involving illicit drugs, legal substances, or over the counter medication. Some definitions also include that it is the abuse of substances without preference for a particular substance.
The terms abuse, addiction, and dependence are often confused for one another. However, each word has a particular meaning in psychology. Abuse of a substance is the continued use despite negative consequences with family, friends, or work. It also includes using substances in places or ways that might be physically dangerous. The difference between abuse and dependence is the presence of physical and psychological withdrawal. When someone is dependent on a substance they will show symptoms when it is removed from their system.
Finally, addiction differs from both abuse and dependence. The main difference is that someone who is addicted to a substance is unable to stop using despite very negative consequences, they have symptoms of withdrawal, and using has become more pleasurable than most other activities. It is important to note that in this article we are specifically talking about polysubstance abuse, not addiction.
Who, What, and Why
Who is at Risk?
The risk factors for developing polysubstance abuse are similar to the risk factors for developing substance abuse in general. These include factors associated with both the individual and environment. Most likely, there is no one factor that determines if someone will have polysubstance abuse. However, people with the following circumstances are at higher risk:
- Aggressive behavior in childhood
- Lack of parental supervision
- Low socioeconomic status
- Drugs that are readily available
- Early substance use
- Genetic predisposition
Polysubstance use refers to any number of substance combinations. However, research indicates it is most common for people to use alcohol in combination with other drugs. A 2006 study found that when people used multiple substances they often used alcohol first and then took other drugs. Commonly, these other drugs include marijuana, psilocybin, ecstasy, cocaine, amphetamines, and prescription ADHD medication. This study also found that when people used stimulants like methamphetamine or cocaine with alcohol they drank more than when they were drinking without the use of other drugs.
Why People Abuse Multiple Substances
There may be many reasons why people abuse multiple substances. A study published by Oxford Academic, asked young polysubstance users why they used. The results indicated a few different reasons for this type of drug use. In their sample:
- 96.7% said they used in order to relax
- 96.4% said they used to become intoxicated
- 95.9% said they used to stay awake at night while socializing
- 88.5% said they used to make an activity better
- 86.8% said they used to alleviate depression
In addition to the reasons listed above there are other reasons that people might specifically use more than one drug at once:
- The synergistic effect- using a two substances that make the effect of each other stronger
- Antagonistic effect- using a substance to try to decrease the effects of another substance
- Using whatever drugs are available
- To relieve psychological symptoms
Symptoms and Dangers
The symptoms of polysubstance abuse are similar as the symptoms for single substance abuse. These symptoms are usually presented in clusters. The first cluster are those that inhibit people from fulfilling major life roles. Including not being able to perform what is expected at work, school, or home. The next cluster is about recurrent use even when it might be dangerous. This includes things like driving under the influence or using contaminated needles. The next symptoms of abuse have to do with recurrent use that may result in legal problems. The final cluster are symptoms that manifest as continued use despite personal and interpersonal problems. One example of this might be continuing to use even though it is causing your divorce. All of these symptoms significantly impair the person’s functioning.
Additionally, there are some dangers of polysubstance abuse that are far worse than the dangers of using a single substance. This is because when you combine two substances they can have dangerous drug interactions. Some dangerous drug interactions include:
- Alcohol and cocaine have a drug interaction that might weaken the wall of your heart increasing the risk of heart attack
- Alcohol and ecstasy together increase your risk of severe dehydration
- Alcohol and benzodiazepines when mixed together may cause dizziness, confusion, memory loss, or loss of consciousness
- Cocaine and opiates mixed put stress on the cardiovascular system increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke
Withdrawals from Polysubstance Use
Withdrawal from polysubstance use can be compounded by the fact the someone is going through withdrawal from multiple drugs. Different drugs have different withdrawal symptoms, so when you combine them it can be particularly uncomfortable. Additionally, depending on the substance someone has been abusing withdrawal can be dangerous and even deadly. If you are using multiple substances and want to stop you should seek treatment and not risk detoxing yourself.
Some symptoms of polysubstance withdrawal may include:
- Trembling or shaking
- Muscle pain
- anxiety and inability to sleep
- Abdominal cramping
Finding Polysubstance Abuse Treatment
Finding polysubstance abuse treatment is incredibly important because withdrawal can be incredibly dangerous. It is important to find a medical detox facility that is equipped to handle polysubstance abuse detox. The next step after finding a detox facility is to go to inpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment is a great way to stay safe during early recovery and get help with issues that might be underlying substance abuse. At Comfort Recovery we are equipped to treat people with polysubstance abuse and are here to help.