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Polysubstance Abuse: What it is and how it’s Treated

Written on September 30, 2021
Polysubstance Abuse: What it is and how it’s Treated

Polysubstance abuse is popping up not just in Colorado, but all over the country. A 2020 study found that polysubstance abuse causes the majority of drug overdose deaths. The authors point to studies dating back to the 1970s to prove their claim.

It is important that everyone is informed about polysubstance abuse. Yet there are many uncertainties about it.

What is the definition of polysubstance abuse? How can someone become addicted to multiple substances? When can someone get help, and what treatment options are available?

Answer these questions and you can help someone in the throes of multiple addictions. Here is your comprehensive guide.

What Is Polysubstance Abuse?

polysubstance abusePolysubstance abuse occurs when an individual develops and addiction to multiple substances, such as alcohol and opioids, or heroine and fentanyl at the same time. They can consume any combination of substances. They may take their drugs together, or they may space them out over time.

Someone may take pills and drink alcohol, but they may not be addicted to alcohol. Addiction takes place when an individual consumes a substance in spite of negative consequences. They may feel anxious when they are not consuming, or they may skip responsibilities in order to consume.

Someone may have a substance abuse disorder and another addictive disorder, like sex addiction. Polysubstance abuse refers to substance disorders, not behavioral ones.

Signs of Drug Abuse

An individual with a substance abuse disorder can show many different signs. Though most individuals share some signs in common, some people can conceal their addictions from their loved ones.

The signs of a substance abuse disorder overlap with those of other conditions, such as depression. People should not assume that their loved one is addicted off of the signs alone.

Emotional Signs

Someone may undergo a profound change in their personality. They may become more withdrawn or depressed, even when they should be happy.

They may have mood swings. Their demeanor may pick up once they have one drink or take one pill.

They also may not be satisfied with having just one drink or one pill. Someone may need to consume more or mix substances in order to feel the effects of their substances.

Behavioral Signs

Many people who have an addiction struggle with their personal responsibilities. Students may not complete schoolwork, and professionals may miss meetings or deadlines. People in relationships may not be able to provide for their partners.

A person may become more secretive. They can spend long periods of time outside the house and give poor explanations for what they are doing.

They may ask for money, both in large and small amounts. Some people may steal belongings so they can buy drugs, but this is not very common.

Physical Signs

A person may seem visibly intoxicated. The signs of intoxication include a lack of coordination, bloodshot eyes, and slurred speech.

But someone can show other physical attributes of addiction. They may lose weight for no apparent reason. They may become pale or develop bags under their eyes.

An individual who injects drugs may wear long clothes to conceal their needle marks. They may also wear baggy clothes so others don’t notice how much weight they lost.

The physical effects of drug abuse can be prominent. A person can suffer from an increased heart rate, which may make them sweat or breathe heavily. They may lose coordination and suffer a fall.

Causes of Polysubstance Abuse

There is no one cause for substance abuse. An individual may develop an addiction for one or more reasons.

A person’s genes may leave them more prone to substance abuse. Substances create dependency by polysubstance abusebinding to a person’s dopamine receptors, which make them feel happier. Genes may make someone’s receptors more active when the person consumes drugs.

Someone may begin using drugs to self-medicate themselves, especially when they have underlying trauma or mental health issues. They may find that drugs decrease their physical or psychological pain, especially in combination with each other. This causes them to return to drugs whenever they encounter stress.

A person may transition from using one drug to using multiple drugs for several reasons. They may find that they are becoming tolerant to one drug. They start using something else so they can feel something different.

They may experiment with different combinations. They then may find one they like and develop an addiction.

A dealer may mix substances together. Some dealers cut their cocaine or opioids with hidden ingredients like crystal meth or fentanyl because the additives are cheaper or more addictive. The user may like this combination and start to use it regularly.

Common Combinations

Some combinations are more popular than other combinations. Many people like to combine alcohol with other drugs. Alcohol helps them wash down pills or stir substances together.

Cocaine and alcohol is one popular combination. Alcohol can facilitate the effects of cocaine in a person’s system. This can create a more powerful high, but it can also lead to heart problems.

People looking to fall asleep may mix alcohol with prescription drugs like Vicodin. Both of these substances can slow down a person’s respiratory system, inducing respiratory arrest.

Some individuals mix cough syrup with illicit drugs. This combination can induce hallucinations, especially if a person consumes psychoactive substances like LSD.

A speedball combines cocaine with an opioid, namely heroin. Cocaine makes the body use up more oxygen, while the opioid slows a person’s breathing rates. Someone can suffer from respiratory failure and die minutes after consumption.

There are few combinations of drugs in which the substances cancel each other. Nearly all combinations cause the effects of one drug to become more prominent. This makes them especially risky.

How Addiction Treatment Can Start

Addiction treatment can start whenever an individual wants to seek help. They may have started consuming drugs recently, or they may have had addictive disorders for years. They may have personal problems, or things may be going well for them.

Family members can help someone seek help by having a conversation with them. An intervention is one way to have a conversation, but it is not the only way. An informal talk can be enough to inspire someone to get assistance.

Many people feel a sense of shame from their substance abuse. They avoid help because they feel they don’t deserve help or they don’t have someone to turn to.

A person can speak to someone confidentially. We offer ongoing consultation on our admissions line for anyone worried about the substance use of themselves or a loved one, and can be connected to treatment options, both at our facility and in the greater Colorado area and beyond.

Someone leaving for inpatient treatment should seek leave from work and personal responsibilities. But they do not have to say they are going for polysubstance addiction treatment. Drug and alcohol rehab is protected under FMLA; you have the legal right to take medical leave from work to go to rehab without the risk of losing your job.

Substance Abuse Treatment Options

polysubstance abuse treatmentMany people start their substance abuse treatment with a detox program. They take substances that remove the drugs in their system. A doctor monitors them for the signs of withdrawal and mitigates their pain. We coordinate detox with all of our clients who need it.

Once they have gone through detox, they may receive an evaluation from a mental health professional. The professional may diagnose them with two or more substance abuse disorders. They can also receive a diagnosis for a mental health condition like depression.

A person can then engage in treatment. The level of care will depend on the severity of their addiction, among other things. In treatment, clients participate in a mix of group therapy (including experiential therapies such as music therapy, equine therapy, and nature and adventure therapy as well as  individual therapy with a therapist. Conversations can be free-ranging or more pointed depending on need. They can talk about recovery aspirations, relationships, or traumatic events.

Family therapy allows the individual to strengthen ties with their family. Everyone in a house sits down with a therapist and talks. The family can learn about substance abuse while receiving help for difficult events.

Group therapy takes place amongst people with a history of substance abuse. As with individual therapy, the conversations can deal with any topic.

Experiential therapy provides wonderful tools and experiences in early recovery. People make art, explore the wilderness, write stories, or even garden, paddle board, rock climb, or fish! This gives them an opportunity to express themselves and find emotional release.

Mindfulness trains a person to develop self-respect and calmness. Someone can practice meditation, yoga, and deep breathing. They can train their mind to resist cravings and fight off triggers to use drugs.

Help Is on the Way

Polysubstance abuse occurs when a person is addicted to multiple substances. Their addictions may impact their behavior, mental health, and physical health. They may become addicted to deal with pain or fit in with others.

Combining drugs together can make the substances more powerful. That is why many people die with multiple drugs in their system.

Yet treatment can start right away. A doctor can remove drugs from a person’s system. They can then participate in talk and experiential therapy.

Help is here for you. Flatirons Recovery serves the Boulder, Colorado area. Contact us today.