What is Polysubstance Abuse?

Polysubstance abuse refers to the use of one or more illicit substances at the same time or over a defined period of time. In some cases, those who are on prescription medication may combine substances unintentionally. For instance, one may have a few drinks when on antibiotics. Other people, however, intentionally take various substances in an effort to experience a better high. Although combining substances may enhance the high and euphoric effects, polysubstance abuse also increases the possible negative consequences of each substance used. This blog will dive deeper into polysubstance abuse, what motivates polysubstance abuse, and who is at risk of developing it.

What is Polysubstance Abuse?

Polysubstance abuse is the consumption of more than one substance at once. The most common reason to engage in polysubstance abuse is to achieve a more intense high. In most cases, users have a preferred drug that they combine with other drugs in order to enhance the effects of the primary drug. Although abusing any substance is dangerous, polysubstance abuse can increase the negative effects of each drug consumed. Studies have shown that mixing drugs can cause unpredictable consequences that the user often cannot anticipate or comprehend.

More specifically, polysubstance abuse is used to describe an individual that uses 3 different substances at once. Any type of addictive substance, such as alcohol, opiates, and amphetamines, can be a part of polysubstance abuse.

Commonly Poly-Abused Drugs

Some drugs that are commonly involved in polysubstance abuse are:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamines
  • Heroin
  • Synthetic drugs, such as bath salts
  • Opioids or prescription drugs
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Amyl nitrate combinations, like “poppers”
  • Psychedelics, such as LSD or mushrooms

What Motivates Polysubstance Abuse?

The motivation behind polysubstance abuse varies from person to person, however, there are two common reasons why someone may engage in polysubstance abuse. The first common motivation for using various substances is to enhance the effect of the high. For instance, if someone consumes different drugs that act on the same receptors in the brain, the resulting effects will be more intense than if only one drug was used. 

The second reason why someone may engage in polysubstance abuse is to alleviate the effects of one drug with another. This may mean trying to soothe withdrawal effects from one substance by consuming a different substance.

Who Is at Risk for Polysubstance Abuse?

Those who are already addicted or dependent on drugs and/or alcohol have a high risk of developing a polysubstance abuse problem. As well, individuals who have prescriptions for illnesses such as anxiety, depression, or chronic pain, but who also drink, are unintentionally engaging in polysubstance abuse. In addition to these groups, those who frequent clubs, raves, or similar scenes are likely to consume multiple drugs at once or experiment with drugs while drinking. Ultimately, there is no set demographic or group that polysubstance abuse solely impacts.

Diagnosing Polysubstance Abuse

It can be hard to diagnose polysubstance abuse if the person only knows of one substance they are actively using. In order to be diagnosed, an individual must meet certain criteria. The first criterion that one must meet to be diagnosed with a polysubstance abuse problem is the use of at least 3 substances. This is not including nicotine or caffeine. Moreover, one must exhibit at least 3 of the following symptoms within 12 months to be diagnosed with a polysubstance abuse problem:

  • Inability to stop using
  • Losing control and using drugs more often than planned
  • Increased tolerance 
  • Experiencing withdrawal when the individual is not high
  • Disengaging with activities that used to be of interest
  • Most time spent using or buying substances
  • Continuing to use even after the individual recognizes that it is causing them harm

Treatment for Polysubstance Abuse

Detox is a crucial first step in recovering from polysubstance abuse. This must be done at an addiction treatment center that has medical professionals present. After detox, you will have to decide what kind of treatment you think will work best for you. Everyone’s addiction is different in both the motivation behind it and your experience during it. One prominent approach to polysubstance abuse treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This form of therapy helps to focus on the behavior and thought patterns that are involved in your substance use to help you alter your thoughts and change your behavior. CBT is a useful method in trying to break free from destructive behavior patterns that perpetuate the cycle of addiction.

Whether you choose to attend inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, or some other form of treatment, most addiction is motivated by underlying mental health factors. This means looking into a treatment approach that focuses on helping you understand and address these underlying issues can help you better achieve long-term sobriety.

Addressing Your Polysubstance Abuse at Design for Recovery

Coming to terms with your polysubstance abuse can be incredibly difficult, but at Design for Recovery, you can come to terms with your addiction in a supportive environment. Design for Recovery is a sober living home for men located in West Los Angeles. While living in Design for Recovery’s structured, safe environment, you can begin to reap the rewards sober life has to offer. Residents work hard daily to develop new skills, values, and coping mechanisms for approaching life in early recovery. At Design for Recovery, you will start to see the many reasons why you should live drug-free, such as developing close residents friendships with their peers and becoming connected with the Los Angeles recovery community. Allow Design for Recovery to help you begin to build a new life in which you are in control and no longer dependent on drugs.

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