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What is Polysubstance Abuse?

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One type of substance misuse that has grown in popularity with young adults and teenagers is mixing multiple substances to enhance the effects of drug-induced “highs.” This practice is hazardous and increases the risk of overdose and death. To learn more about what polysubstance abuse is and whether you are doing it, we invite you to continue reading.

What is Polysubstance Abuse?

Polysubstance abuse is the habit of mixing multiple substances. It can consist of using drug cocktails, like snorting cocaine and taking MDMA. However, simply mixing drugs does not give an accurate definition of what is polysubstance abuse. 

A more accurate representation of this substance use disorder (SUD) is when drug misuse includes the following behaviors:

  • The mixing of substances can either be unintentional or intentional. For example, you take a drug thinking it is pure, but it has been mixed with another substance, like cutting cocaine with heroin. 
  • The individual does not discriminate between substances and freely mixes whatever is available. Instead, their addiction is more about being able to get “high,” not the substances of choice.
  • The individual will mix at least two substances but can also use more than two. For instance, they may take prescription painkillers with alcohol. Later, while under the effects of those substances, take MMDA. 
  • The mixing of substances is not limited to illegal drugs and can include mixing legal substances, for example, drinking cough syrup and using heroin. 
  • Most people with polysubstance use disorders exhibit binging behaviors, where their goal is to get “high” as quickly as possible.

Common Polysubstance Combinations

Even though people who mix substances do not usually have a preference over what substances they mix, certain common polysubstance combinations are used more often than others. 

Cocaine and Alcohol 

Cocaine is a stimulant that increases energy levels and causes an increase in the release of different “feel good” neurotransmitters. Alcohol, on the other hand, is a depressant, even though its initial effects feel more like a stimulant. Alcohol also increases the release of neurotransmitters that lower inhibitions and increase relaxation. 

Benzos and Opioids

Benzos and opioids are both depressant substances. Benzos bring about a euphoric state where you feel relaxed and upbeat. Taking opioids with benzos enhances these effects for a more intense “high.” 

Heroin and Cocaine

Heroin is a depressant that slows down and numbs pain receptors in the central nervous system while increasing the release of certain neurotransmitters that create a state of well-being and calmness. Since cocaine is a stimulant, it boosts energy levels, focus, and excitability.

Signs and Symptoms of Polysubstance Abuse

It can be challenging to recognize the signs and symptoms of polysubstance abuse since they often mimic those associated with misusing a single substance. Yet, the following signs and symptoms could be related to polysubstance abuse. 

  • Runny Nose
  • Bloody Nose
  • Watery/Blood Shot Eyes
  • Extreme Weight Changes (Loss or Gain)
  • Appetite Changes (Overeating or Not Eating)
  • Unexplained and Frequent Mood Swings
  • Reduced Inhibitions
  • Increased Risk Taking
  • Increased Excitability
  • Making Snap Decisions
  • Sleeping Too Much or Not Sleeping at All
  • Engaging in Drug-Seeking Behaviors
  • Inability to Function Without Using Substances 

Dangers of Polysubstance Abuse

The most significant danger of polysubstance abuse is how easy it is to overdose and die accidentally. In 2019, half of all reported drug overdose deaths were from using multiple substances, as reported by the CDC. The reason the number of deaths is so high is because of how the drugs interact in a person’s system.

For example, someone might drink alcohol and use cocaine to attempt to offset the depressant effects of alcohol. However, the effects of cocaine last much shorter than the effects of alcohol. So, taking higher doses of cocaine is easy when it feels like the drug is no longer working. Unfortunately, this often leads to overdose and death. 

Dangers of Misusing Multiple Depressants

Depressants slow down bodily functions, such as heart rates and breathing. Therefore, misusing multiple depressants could cause a person to pass out, go into a coma, or experience respiratory or heart failure. 

Dangers of Misusing Stimulants and Depressants

This type of combination occurs because people believe they can offset the stimulant’s and depressant’s effects to regulate their “high.” However, as we mentioned above about alcohol and cocaine, misusing stimulants and depressants in this manner is very dangerous. 

Dangers of Misusing Multiple Stimulants

Stimulants elevate and increase various bodily functions, like raising blood pressure and heart rates. As a result, people who overdose could experience seizures, tremors, heart attacks, respiratory failure, or stroke.

Detoxing From Polysubstance Abuse

Detoxing from polysubstance use disorders requires purging the body of all substances one misused. As these substances are purged, the individual will experience various withdrawal symptoms. 

These symptoms can range in intensity and severity based on how long multiple substances were misused, the volume of substances used, and the frequency of misuse. Quite often, the symptoms start mildly during the first day or two. 

However, they soon increase in intensity as the body has gone longer and longer without substances. Eventually, they peak at their most severe in about four to seven days. Then, the symptoms gradually start waning until they entirely disappear. 

When a person is attempting to detox on their own starts experiencing peak symptoms, they will relapse to make the symptoms stop. Therefore, for detox to be successful, it is essential to undergo medically supervised detox. 

Not only do you have 24/7 access to medical professionals, but you also have access to various treatment methods that can help alleviate the more intense and severe withdrawal symptoms. Furthermore, you will have access to counselors and therapists who are there to support you through the detox process.

You also have access to the detox center’s amenities, such as healthy, prepared meals, fitness equipment, group support sessions, group activities, medication and relaxation exercises, and more. 


Most importantly,  from the time you start detox until you complete it, you have access to substance use and addiction treatment specialists. They can help you take the steps to understand your addiction better and determine what the next steps for your recovery journey should entail.

Detox and Addiction Treatment for Polysubstance Abuse in Orange County, CA

Detox and addiction treatment for polysubstance abuse is available at Pacific Sands Recovery Center in Orange County, CA. We offer personalized detox and treatment plans to treat multiple substance use disorders in a supportive and caring environment. For further information or to start your treatment at our MS and JCAHO-accredited treatment center, contact us or visit our admissions page.

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