Polysubstance Abuse: A New Challenge in the Opioid Crisis

Learn the dangers of polysubstance abuse and how it compounds the impact of the opioid crisis.

Getting addicted to a certain substance is already a challenging concern. Having an addiction to more than one substance is another story. Polysubstance abuse refers to the use of several drugs. This issue of abusing multiple drugs compounds the impact of another phenomenon in the US: the opioid epidemic. With opioid-involved death rates surging by over 15% from 2020 to 2021, this crisis has never been more alarming. 

In this blog, we shed light on the dangers of polysubstance use — plus, the factors that contribute to it, possible treatment, and strategies on how to prevent it.

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The Rising Trend of Polysubstance Abuse

In the country, around 21 million Americans have at least one addiction. Over the past years, mixing drugs has been on the rise, adding complexity to the prevalence of substance use in the US. According to 2019 data, polysubstance abuse accounted for nearly half of drug overdose deaths. 

One of the most abused drugs is opioids. Opioids are depressants and a class of drugs that are used for pain relief. It includes heroin, fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. 

Opioids are not only commonly abused drugs; they are also frequently used in combination with other addictive substances such as alcohol and stimulants like cocaine. When opioids are mixed with other depressants, they can cause damage to body organs, including the brain, with death as the worst possible consequence.

When opioids are used with stimulants, they can also damage the brain or cause a stroke and heart attack. Additionally, when combined with alcohol, opioids can substantially slow down heart rate and breathing, further increasing the risk of coma or death.

Whether you intentionally or unintentionally combine drugs, the result is dangerous. The combined effects of mixing drugs can be more potent and unpredictable than the impact of a single drug, potentially leading to fatal consequences.

Factors Contributing to Polysubstance Abuse

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Several factors influence an individual's likelihood of engaging in drug use. These factors include the following.

Family history

If your family has a history of addiction, especially polysubstance abuse, you are more prone to doing the same. 

Poor family dynamics 

If you have a lack of bond with your parents or siblings — or if your family is in a generally difficult situation and there’s a lack of supervision — you are also more likely to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. These include abusing drugs and drinking alcohol.

Peer pressure

It's not only the home environment that can impact substance use patterns. Peer pressure, especially for young people, is a significant factor that can prompt substance use.

Mental health

If you have a mental health disorder, you may turn to multiple substances as a way to self-medicate or cope with emotional distress. Other psychological factors such as stress, trauma, or a history of adverse experiences can also contribute to multi-substance abuse.

Accessibility and availability 

If you have access to a variety of drugs, your likelihood of combining such substances will be higher.

The Health Risks of Polysubstance Abuse

Drug and alcohol addiction in itself is already harmful to your mental and physical health. If you’re using several substances simultaneously, then it becomes a more dangerous narrative. Some of the health consequences you may encounter include:

  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Respiratory diseases (e.g., cough, shortness of breath, chronic bronchitis)
  • Stroke
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Blood-borne diseases (like Hepatitis C) from the injection material used

Furthermore, research shows that polysubstance users have a higher risk of cognitive decline. They are also more likely to develop multiple mental health disorders. And while not directly health-related, it can increase the chance of meeting motor vehicle accidents since taking in several drugs can substantially alter one’s capacity to drive.

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Polysubstance Abuse and Treatment

As polysubstance use involves dependence on different substances, tracking the specific substances involved is tricky. Moreover, symptoms and consequences overlap. All of this makes its diagnosis more challenging than when only one substance is involved.

Moreover, the complexity of this disorder demands a multidimensional and tailored approach. A multiple drug abuse treatment plan often involves a combination of detoxification, behavioral therapies, support groups, and pharmacological interventions to address the condition.

Detoxification is an important first step that rids the body of toxins. Meanwhile, therapies are a vital aspect that helps individuals cope with cravings, prevent relapse, address various life issues, and enhance communication skills, while also tackling any coexisting mental health conditions. 

Participating in support groups can alleviate feelings of shame and isolation and grant people access to essential resources. 

On the other hand, prescribing medicine can aid in managing symptoms and even reducing the risk of relapse. In the case of opioid addiction, in particular, doctors often prescribe buprenorphine, methadone, naltrexone, or a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. 

In treating polysubstance use, there’s a particular emphasis on personalization because each patient has specific needs. People with this disorder demonstrate varied substance abuse patterns — and they have different social circumstances. 

Strategies for Preventing Polysubstance Abuse

Getting admitted to a polysubstance abuse rehab will help provide the necessary environment to foster sobriety. But as with many other diseases, prevention is key to mitigating the impact of polysubstance abuse. Here are some strategies.

  • Get educated. Learn the signs of drug abuse, its risks, and potential consequences. Having awareness about the dangers of drugs — especially when used in combination with each other — will empower you to make informed actions and decisions.
  • Have healthy coping mechanisms. To help you navigate stress and negativities better, develop coping mechanisms that won’t bring you harm. Learn stress management techniques, practice meditation, eat nutritiously, and exercise regularly to keep your body and mind healthy. 
  • Build a strong support system. If peer pressure can increase your likelihood of turning to substances for coping, then having a healthy support system can do otherwise. 

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In Conclusion

The US is facing an opioid epidemic — and the prevalence of polysubstance abuse makes it an even more intricate concern to address. When you use several drugs, the negative effects will be more potent.

Knowing the contributing factors, health risks, and effective treatment approaches is critical in combating such a challenge. At Pacific Crest Trail Detox, you can get that much-needed guidance and professional service to overcome addiction, whether it involves one substance or more. 

Take the first step on your trail to sobriety and get in touch with the leading addiction treatment center in Portland today.

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