Polysubstance Abuse | Signs, Causes & Treatment

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Polysubstance abuse is a serious problem that affects millions of people worldwide. An article published by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) states that the worsening polysubstance overdose crisis is driven by illicitly-manufactured fentanyl and the opioid epidemic. But what is polysubstance abuse?

It is a type of substance abuse that involves the use of multiple drugs or substances, either simultaneously or in succession. Polysubstance abuse can lead to numerous health problems and can increase the risk of developing addiction (or Substance Use Disorder), overdose, and other negative consequences. In this article, we will explore what polysubstance abuse is, its causes, signs, and the risks associated with it. We will also discuss a treatment plan or the treatment options available and the importance of seeking help for those struggling with polysubstance abuse.

What Is Polysubstance Abuse?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) considers polysubstance use as the use of more than one drug. This includes when two or more substances or drugs are taken together or within a short time period, either intentionally or unintentionally. The risks associated with polysubstance use and misuse also applies to prescription drugs. It is essential to disclose to your doctor which drugs you are taking to prevent any adverse reactions to newly prescribed medications. 

Intentional polysubstance use refers to the act of taking a single drug with the purpose of altering the effects of another drug or experiencing a combination of both.

Unintentional polysubstance use may take place when an individual unknowingly ingests drugs that have been mixed or adulterated with other substances, such as fentanyl.

In an article published by Am J Public Health in 2020, polysubstance use was defined in specific detail as the co-occurring, nonmedical use of any of the following types of drug classes:

  • Nicotine
  • Marijuana
  • Excessive alcohol use (more than 4 drinks in a single day)
  • Antidepressants
  • Prescription sleep medications, prescription stimulants
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Crystal meth, crack or cocaine, hallucinogens, and MDMA

Whether intentional or unintentional polysubstance abuse is a dangerous activity that needs to be addressed immediately with the help of a medical professional.

Some of the organs that can be impacted by heavy drinking include:

What Causes Polysubstance Dependence?

There are many factors that can contribute to the development of polysubstance dependence. Some of these factors include genetics, environment, and individual circumstances. Individuals who have a family history of addiction may be more prone to developing polysubstance dependence. Additionally, environmental factors such as stress, trauma, and peer pressure can increase the risk of developing polysubstance dependence.

Certain substances may also be combined more than others such as mixing alcohol with benzodiazepines (depressants), ecstasy with cocaine (stimulants), or alcohol and cocaine (depressant with a stimulant). Those who engage in polysubstance abuse in any capacity are at a higher risk of developing dependency or addiction to one or both of these substances.

Polysubstance Dependence vs. Abuse

Polysubstance dependence is a condition that occurs when a person becomes physically and psychologically dependent on multiple substances. Polysubstance abuse, on the other hand, is a pattern of substance use that is harmful and disruptive to an individual’s life but does not necessarily involve physical dependence. It is important to note that polysubstance abuse can lead to dependence over time.

It is also important to understand the clinical difference between dependence and abuse. Although these two terms are often interchanged, they do not carry the same meaning. Drug dependence is characterized by dependency on a certain substance that leads to withdrawal symptoms and cravings when the individual stops using that substance. Addiction, or substance use disorder (SUD) in contrast, refers to the compulsive use of a substance so much so that it causes negative consequences on one’s health or relationships.


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What Are The Signs of Polysubstance Abuse?

The signs of any of the above drug usage are often specific to the drug itself, however, one can use the list below to try to identify the signs of someone using one of the above in combination with another. The signs of polysubstance abuse can vary depending on the types of substances used and the individual’s overall health. Some common signs of polysubstance abuse include:

  • Changes in behavior, such as sudden mood swings, aggression, or withdrawal from friends and family
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Cutting back on social or recreational activities because of drug use
  • Financial problems, including borrowing money or selling possessions to buy drugs
  • Changes in physical appearance, including weight loss, poor hygiene, or disheveled appearance
  • Health problems, such as infections, cardiovascular issues, or gastrointestinal problems

Risks of Polysubstance Abuse

Polysubstance abuse can lead to numerous health problems and can increase the risk of developing addiction, overdose, and other negative consequences. Some of the risks associated with polysubstance abuse include:

  • Increased risk of overdose due to interactions between substances
  • Mental Health Disorders or worsening mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety
  • Physical health problems, such as liver damage, respiratory issues, or heart problems
  • Increased risk of accidents or injuries, including car accidents and falls

Treatment Options For Polysubstance Dependence & Abuse

Polysubstance abuse is a complex condition that requires a comprehensive approach to treatment. The causes of polysubstance abuse can vary widely, and treatment will depend on the individual’s unique circumstances. Some of the treatment options for polysubstance abuse include:

  • Detoxification: This involves the process of removing substances from the body under medical supervision.
  • Behavioral therapy: This type of therapy focuses on identifying triggers for substance use and developing strategies to avoid these triggers.
  • Medication-assisted treatment: This involves the use of medications to reduce cravings and manage withdrawal symptoms.
  • Support groups: Peer support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous can provide a supportive environment for individuals in recovery.

Get Help for Polysubstance Abuse Today

Polysubstance abuse is a serious problem that can lead to numerous negative consequences, including addiction, overdose, and other health problems.

If you or someone you love is struggling with polysubstance abuse, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. At Riverside Recovery of Tampa, we offer comprehensive treatment options for individuals struggling with polysubstance abuse. Our team of experienced professionals and evidence-based treatment programs can provide the support and guidance needed to achieve lasting recovery.

Don’t wait any longer to get the help you need. Contact a member of our team today to take the first step towards a healthier, happier future.

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  3. National Library of Medicine PubMed Central–Drug dependence is not addiction–and it matters
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