Alcoholism And Polysubstance Abuse

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More than one hundred people die each day from drug overdose and many of those overdose deaths relate to the use of multiple substances including alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and prescription opioid drugs. And these numbers are on the rise. Alcohol is the most common drug involved in polysubstance abuse likely because of its accessibility and social acceptance.

Polysubstance abuse is indicated when three or more of the following occur within a 12-month period. An individual might develop a tolerance to more than one substance and suffer from withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop one of or more of the drugs. Someone who suffers from polysubstance abuse may feel compelled to use, despite harm to their health and finances. They might also grow distant from family and friends and spend free time planning for the next opportunity to drink or use.


Signs of Polysubstance Abuse

  • An individual develops a tolerance to more than one substance
  • They suffer withdrawal symptoms when they stop using
  • They feel compelled to use
  • They spend time preparing to get drunk or high
  • Strain in healthy relationships with others develops
  • Even with health deterioration and financial strain, the individual continues to use

Who Is Likely To Abuse Multiple Substances

While there is no exact or singular reason that someone might choose to abuse more than one substance, there are genetic factors that can certainly pave the way toward development of dependency. These genetic factors coupled with other factors like mental disorders and environmental factors can put someone at a higher risk for polysubstance abuse.

Someone who grows up in an environment where drug use is prevalent and who is also genetically more susceptible to dependency may not only be more inclined to try new drugs, but also more likely to become addicted.

Alcohol is a drug that is commonly available, accessible, and acceptable across many cultures. It is inexpensive and is a drug associated with social situations that can be used in public. These are some factors that contribute to alcohol’s prevalence as it relates to the incidence of polysubstance abuse in the United States.

Populations Most At Risk For Polysubstance Abuse

Teens and people suffering with co-occurring mental disorders are more likely to engage in polysubstance abuse. These populations may self-medicate and relieve side effects of one substance like alcohol–a depressant drug–with an “upper” or stimulant, like amphetamines. Because the side effects of these drugs can be masked by polysubstance abuse, those who use are less likely to be aware of the problem, making it possible to persist and harder to diagnose. They are often less likely to favor one drug over another, again making the problem challenging to detect.

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The Dangers Of Polysubstance Abuse

Combining a central nervous system depressant with another CNS depressant or with a stimulant can have life-threatening consequences. A CNS depressant like alcohol used in conjunction with another CNS depressant, like an opioid pain medication, enhances the effects of both drugs, reducing heart rate and breathing to life-threatening levels. Using a CNS depressant with a stimulant, like amphetamine, can mask the symptoms of the depressant drug, leading someone abusing the drug to unwittingly take more, again risking life-sustaining functions like breathing and heart rate.

This same masking effect makes polysubstance abuse harder to diagnose, especially in someone who is unwilling or unable to acknowledge the addiction. Someone who is secretly battling an addiction to alcohol, may use amphetamines, caffeine, or nicotine to combat the side effects, allowing them to lead the life of a functional alcohol-addicted person. Unfortunately, this masked use has a number of adverse health consequences.

Adverse Health Effects of Polysubstance Abuse

Polysubstance abuse can lead to a number of health consequences including:

  • Damage to the neural network in the brain
  • Mood changes
  • Mood disorders
  • Heart failure
  • Respiratory distress
  • Liver and kidney failure
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

With a huge increase in prescription related addiction (especially with opioid pain medications), there is a correlating increase in the rates of polysubstance abuse and related deaths since the mid-1990s. When the effects of alcohol are masked by use of other stimulant drugs, it can quickly result in a dangerous surge in blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) leading to seizures, coma, and death.

Common Polysubstance Combinations

The most dangerous and popular polysubstance combination goes by the street name “speedball” and combines heroin, a powerful depressant drug, with cocaine, an equally powerful stimulant. This combination puts enormous strain on the body and can quickly lead to coma and even death, especially for someone also abusing alcohol.

Other popular combinations include alcohol, a benzodiazepine, and other antianxiety or antidepressant drugs; alcohol and opioids combined with amphetamine; and alcohol, nicotine, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These combinations can quickly prove toxic for the heart and liver and can lead to severe respiratory distress, coma, and death.

Treatment Of Polysubstance Abuse

Treatment of polysubstance abuse for alcohol and other drugs involves a careful detoxification period, in which the body’s tolerances to various drugs becomes more apparent. This is a process that must be carefully monitored, especially if someone is not aware of their addiction to alcohol.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous if not medically monitored and treated. Following detox, a comprehensive treatment plan that includes cognitive behavioral therapy to address the addiction and provides a mechanism toward the development of positive coping skills is highly recommended.

Getting Help For Your Polysubstance Abuse

 Contact today and discover a better life in recovery.If you find yourself using one drug to offset the effects of another and find it difficult to navigate through your day without these drugs, you may be suffering from an addiction to more than one substance. It is critical to seek help, as stopping these drugs on your own could prove dangerous. can connect you with the online resources, professional support, and treatment options that can help you get help for your polysubstance abuse. Contact today and discover a better life in recovery.

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