Substance abuse refers to the use of a substance with the intent of achieving desired effects, such as euphoria, an altered reality, or deep relaxation. Therefore, polysubstance abuse involves the use of more than one substance to experience these effects.
Polysubstance abuse is a dangerous activity. It may be undertaken with the desire to achieve more intensified results, to have one substance offset the effects of the other or to enhance the effects of each. In fact, individuals that gravitate toward using multiple substances tend to also exhibit other high-risk behaviors.
Certain substances are commonly combined with others, such as mixing depressants like alcohol with benzodiazepines, mixing stimulants like ecstasy with cocaine, or mixing a stimulant with a depressant like cocaine and alcohol, to name a few examples. Individuals who engage in polysubstance abuse may develop dependency or addiction to one or both of the substances.
Dangers of polysubstance abuse
Although each combination of substances will have its own distinct risks, there are some general dangers attributed to polysubstance abuse. These include:
- Adverse interactions: The substances may interact with each other in a way that is damaging to organs, resulting in serious adverse health effects such as heart attack, stroke, seizures or hepatitis C.
- Addiction: Continued polysubstance abuse involving the same substances may increase the risk of developing tolerance and potentially addiction to one or both substances.
- Overdose: Polysubstance abuse increases the risk of toxicity, which could result in an overdose. This risk is even higher if one of the substances is an opioid.
Treatment for polysubstance abuse
Polysubstance addiction is treatable, although its treatment does require some additional considerations. The recovery process begins with detox and withdrawal management. Since there are multiple substances involved, this may present unpredictable withdrawal effects and risks. Those seeking treatment for polysubstance addiction should choose a facility that is trained to manage polysubstance withdrawal.
After the medically-monitored detox period is complete, the individual is ready to begin the treatment phase of recovery. The duration of the treatment phase is based on the severity of the polysubstance use disorder, but can last between 3-6 months. Treatment elements include:
- Individual psychotherapy: Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is the core treatment aspect in polysubstance use recovery programs. Evidence-based psychotherapies include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, contingency management, and rational emotive behavioral therapy.
- Medication: Medication supported recovery (MSR) can be helpful when certain substances are involved in the polysubstance use disorder, such as opioids or alcohol. MSR can help reduce the risk of relapse.
- Group sessions: While in treatment for substance use disorder, it can be helpful to meet with others who have similar struggles. These small group sessions allow peers in recovery to share personal stories or challenges.
- Family-focused therapy: Family members can play an instrumental role in helping and supporting their loved one in recovery. Family group sessions teach family members to set realistic boundaries and help them improve communication skills and conflict resolution techniques.
- 12 Step Programs: Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 Step Program is a cornerstone in substance use disorder treatment. The 12 Step Program provides a set of chronologically ordered benchmarks to help guide the individual in their recovery.
- Holistic: Holistic therapies can enhance the treatment experience through the practice of relaxation techniques and experiential activities. These activities include meditation, yoga, massage, acupuncture, mindfulness and art therapy.
With the support and guidance of a treatment program, it is possible to overcome a polysubstance use disorder. Take that first step toward restoring health and wellness today.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.