When we think of substance abuse, we typically imagine a person being addicted to one particular substance. However, polysubstance abuse is an addiction to getting high by any means necessary— instead of having one “drug of choice.” Suffering from polysubstance abuse presents its own set of unique challenges and dangers and requires a unique treatment approach. Let’s review signs of polysubstance abuse and when you should seek polysubstance addiction treatment.
What is Polysubstance Abuse?
People who suffer from polysubstance abuse are addicted to the feeling of being high, so they will seek out any type of substance to achieve that high. A polysubstance addiction usually includes at least three substances. Most commonly, people suffering from this disorder combine illicit drug use with prescription medications or alcohol abuse. Some users also have a particular drug they prefer, and intentionally also abuse other substances to intensify the high they achieve. This type of substance abuse is particularly dangerous and requires a unique treatment approach in order to overcome it.
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Why is Polysubstance Abuse Dangerous?
Polysubstance abuse is extremely dangerous because substances can react negatively when combined with other substances, which often increases the likelihood of overdose.  That’s because different drugs affect different parts of the body to achieve the desired effects, this can overwhelm the body and cause serious complications.
For example, drinking alcohol while under the influence of a prescription substance can cause differing effects. Some other dangerous combinations of substances include:
- Stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin can conceal alcohol’s effect, so the user may not realize how intoxicated they are.
- When combined with prescription opiates, alcohol can cause slowed breathing, low blood pressure, and even death.
- When mixed with cocaine, alcohol can cause serious heart problems leading to heart attack and death.
Polysubstance abuse is also common among people who are suffering from mental health disorders. Medications for managing mental health are often abused and combined with other substances to achieve a greater high.  Combining multiple types of drugs can cause serious and life-threatening complications including:
- Brain damage
- Organ damage
- Respiratory failure
For these reasons, mixing or combining substances is more dangerous than abusing a single substance.
What Are the Signs of Polysubstance Abuse?
Determining if a loved one has polysubstance abuse can be difficult. Below are warning signs and symptoms of polysubstance abuse. If you show any of the following signs you may need help from a polysubstance addiction treatment center.
1. Abusing a minimum of three substances, not including nicotine or caffeine. The substances can include:
- Prescription or illicit opiates
2. Lack of Control:
- The person may not be able to control how often or how much they use
- They may wish to quit, but not be able to.
3. Tolerance Buildup:
- The person begins requiring more and more of each substance to obtain similar previous effects.
4. Time Consuming:
- The person spends more time figuring out how to get the drug, and use it than they do on hobbies, work, or even sleep.
5. Harmful behaviors:
- The person continues to use even though it is damaging their physical and mental health, relationships, and jobs.
6. Withdrawal Symptoms :
- The person begins to exhibit symptoms of withdrawal, such as dizziness, nausea, or headaches. And they continuously seek more substances to avoid these symptoms.
If you suspect that a loved one is suffering from polysubstance abuse, encourage them to seek treatment immediately.
When Should I Seek Polysubstance Addiction Treatment?
Considering the dangers of polysubstance abuse, seeking treatment is vital. Addiction is not a condition that you can overcome alone. The best time to seek treatment is as soon as you realize there is a problem. It may feel scary or overwhelming to seek help, but a polysubstance addiction treatment center can help.
Attempting to quit on your own can be dangerous, and medical detox will be necessary. After undergoing a safe and comfortable medical detox, you will be ready to tackle your addiction. It is important to discover the cause of the addiction and work towards overcoming any underlying issues you may be experiencing. Through addiction treatment, you will kick your addiction once and for all.
If you are ready to overcome your polysubstance addiction, contact Ocean Hills Recovery today. Our experienced staff is here to help you through every step of the way.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.