What is Polysubstance Abuse or Polydrug Abuse?

Polysubstance abuse is the term used when an individual is physically and/or psychologically addicted to multiple drugs. Polysubstance abuse is relatively common in the drug-dependent populace, and often occurs when multiple drugs are stacked together in an attempt to enhance their effects or mitigate withdrawal or tolerance to other molecules.

An example of a polysubstance abuse disorder would be someone who shoots speedballs and combines heroin (or other opioids) with cocaine (or other stimulants). Aside from illicit “street” drugs, combining alcohol with prescription medications is a problem that affects an estimated 19% of older Americans, with a full 25% of the aging population within the US being prescribed medications that have the potential for abuse and addiction.

A study published in 2000 with statistical data on 243,523 individuals who had been admitted to detox for opiate treatment and heroin use, an estimated 57.3% were polysubstance drug users. In addition to this, many — if not most — patients who suffer from polysubstance abuse disorders, are self-medicating co-occuring mental issues, which creates an extremely complex puzzle that can be difficult to untangle utilizing conventional treatment methods.

What Defines Polysubstance Abuse?

A person who receives a polysubstance abuse diagnosis is generally addicted to three or more substances. However, some experts define polysubstance as the use of two or more addictive substances at the same time.

Polysubstance abuse typically involves the use of alcohol and illegal drugs or prescription medications. Other substances that can be part of polysubstance abuse include:

  • Amphetamines
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Hallucinogens
  • Inhalants
  • Opiates
  • Marijuana

Causes of Polysubstance Use Disorder

Polysubstance dependence sometimes begins unintentionally. For instance, a person might take prescription antidepressants with a glass of wine without understanding the possible ramifications of doing so.

In other instances, polysubstance dependence is intentional. People may knowingly combine multiple substances to achieve a greater “high” than ever before. Or, they may do so in an effort to minimize chronic pain or reduce or eliminate sleep problems. People may even engage in polysubstance use due to peer pressure.

Who is Susceptible to Polysubstance Abuse?

Polysubstance abuse affects individuals across all age groups and ethnicities. This means all individuals are susceptible to polysubstance abuse.

People who are dealing with an alcohol addiction may be more prone than others to polysubstance abuse. Furthermore, people who take prescription medications for anxiety, depression, or pain sometimes engage in polysubstance abuse by taking their medications with alcoholic beverages.

Polysubstance abuse may occur at nightclubs and raves, too. For example, party-goers may be tempted to experiment with multiple drugs while drinking to enhance their experience.

People who are dealing with ADHD or similar disorders are more susceptible than others to impulsive behaviors. As such, these individuals are more likely than others to engage in polysubstance abuse.

The Risks and Dangers of Polysubstance Abuse and Polysubstance Addiction

Polysubstance abuse affects people who are addicted, along with the people around them. Research from the University of Michigan reveals that some of the greatest dangers that arise from mixing drugs are the unpredictable consequences that come from polysubstance abuse. No matter how long you’ve been using, there is simply no way to predict with any real reliability the range of effects you might experience from polysubstance abuse. Many substances have synergistic effects when taken together, meaning the total effect is much greater than the individual effects.

Of course, the specific short- and long-term consequences of polysubstance abuse vary based on which substances are being used, the person using, the dose, the timing, and of course even the particular strain of the substance in many cases. However, in general, there are several dangers that polysubstance abuse produce:

Side effects that are more intense and severe: Every drug, including prescription drugs and alcohol, carries the possibility of negative side effects with it. Abusing multiple substances simultaneously exponentially increases the potential seriousness of each one of these side effects. Furthermore, the severity of side effects works together.

You can’t just think, well, these three side effects from Drug A and these four side effects from Drug B will just be seven side effects when I used them together. Instead, the substances used together cause additive effects that are typically both more serious and often unique. As a basic matter, polysubstance abuse is likely to cause balance issues, body pain, nausea and/or vomiting, and sometimes drastic changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate.

Acute health issues: The way that substances interact can reduce metabolism so your body gets rid of them more slowly, and this both enhances toxicity and prompts the formation of new metabolites. For these reasons and others, many serious disorders and diseases are seen more frequently in those with polysubstance disorders.

Overdose and difficulty treating overdose: Naturally, overdose is possible from abuse of any kind of substance, but polysubstance abuse presents a greatly heightened risk. Some substances amplify each others’ effects, causing, for example, dramatically lower pulse or breathing rate. On the other hand, some substances hide the effects of others, prompting users to take them in much higher doses than usual since they don’t feel the full effect. Either way, it’s easy to overdose, and overdosing means risking long-term health problems—and death.

It’s far more difficult for medical personnel to treat overdose from multiple substances. For example, if a person has overdosed on heroin, first responders might be able to use naloxone to reverse the effects of the overdose. However, naloxone may not work if the overdose was caused by other substances.

Symptoms and Signs of Polysubstance Addiction

The actual symptoms and signs of polysubstance abuse that a person can exhibit vary considerably depending on the particular “cocktail” of drugs and alcohol they choose to take. However, in general, watch for signs of addiction, including these:

  • Changes to behavior and personality such as dramatic mood swings, crying jags, or previously unseen behaviors
  • Lost interest in things previously enjoyed, such as hobbies
  • Absence of motivation
  • Financial troubles and a lack of money that are unexplained
  • Decline in hygiene and personal grooming
  • Dangerous or risky behaviors such as driving while on drugs or alcohol or having unprotected sex
  • Hiding drug use or lying about it
  • Borrowing money or stealing to pay for drugs or alcohol
  • A new circle of friends who all use
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing on normal daily tasks
  • Sleeping either significantly more or less than normal

If someone is using even one substance, chances are excellent they will exhibit some of these symptoms. However, especially for polysubstance addictions, you can expect to see more signs that are even more notable. You should also watch for psychological and physical symptoms, such as:

  • Rapid shifts between moods or mental states, such as swinging from being stoned to being high
  • Bloody nose, bloodshot eyes, or unexplained loss or gain of weight
  • Inability to control how much drugs are being taken
  • Multiple attempts to quit using the substance(s)—which fail
  • Building a tolerance to the substance, and needing more of it to get the same results

Polysubstance drug abuse is extremely challenging for addiction recovery professionals, because each kind of substance has its own unique effect on the brain. This is where getting the right treatment for your situation is so important, and to be under the care of a medical team who knows what to do in your case. The polysubstance addiction specialists at Clear Sky will recognize and document the various symptoms and signs of polysubstance addiction you’ve recognized. They will also create their own comprehensive assessment of your case history before treatment, including the nature and severity of your polysubstance addiction.

It is this careful attention to detail along with decades of research and experience with ibogaine that allows the Clear Sky team to successfully treat polysubstance abuse.

Polysubstance Treatment Evaluation Factors

The length of polysubstance treatment varies based on a number of factors, including:

  • Duration of substance abuse
  • Form of substance dependence
  • Organ damage
  • Co-occurring mental illness
  • Willingness or desire to seek help and undergo treatment
  • Social support system
  • Ongoing care

The Clear Sky team includes clinicians, scientists, psychologists, nurses, and support personnel. We administer care in a nurturing, supportive, and safe environment and treat every patient with compassion and respect. Plus, we use custom treatment protocols to meet the specific needs of individual patients and their unique situation.

Is Someone You Know Polysubstance-Dependent?

A person who is polysubstance-dependent displays at least three of the following symptoms over a 12-month period:

  • Tolerance: Has increased tolerance to substance use side effects.
  • Withdrawal: Experiences withdrawal symptoms when a combination of substances cannot be used.
  • Loss of Control: Repeatedly uses substances more than originally anticipated.
  • Inability to Stop: Cannot stop abusing substances, even when there is a need or desire to do so.
  • Time: Allocates significant amounts of time to drug use.
  • Interrupts Regular Activities: Withdraws from everyday activities to commit additional time to substance use.
  • Self-Harm: Maintains substance use, despite the fact that it knowingly causes physical or psychological harm.

These symptoms are a strong indicator that a person may be polysubstance-dependent. If you or someone you know is dealing with any of the aforementioned symptoms, it is crucial to seek immediate treatment.

Ibogaine Treatment for Polysubstance Abuse Disorders

The initial phase of treatment for polysubstance abuse disorders is the detoxification process. It’s not possible to effectively diagnose and manage co-occuring disorders while a patient is using a wide spectrum of addictive substances simultaneously. The detox process can become extremely complex due to the huge number of variables introduced by multiple drugs of abuse and the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic interactions that occur.

Fortunately ibogaine is extremely effective for a wide spectrum of opioids and stimulants, and can provide an effective, extremely rapid, and painless detox from multiple substances simultaneously. Although ibogaine efficacy is very high, it is extremely important that you are honest with your clinicians with regards to what drugs you are taking. Withdrawal and abrupt cessation of use with some drugs such as benzodiazaphines and alcohol can be extremely dangerous and potentially life-threatening.

At Clear Sky Recovery we can reset addiction and tolerance to multiple substances simultaneously, bringing our guests back to a pre-addictive state and allowing the healing process to begin. However, aftercare and ongoing treatment and support are critical for attaining a positive long-term outcome. If you are used to taking a wide spectrum of drugs to self-medicate all your problems, even after you’re “clean” and no longer physically addicted, it is not possible for any short-term, one or two week long detox program to completely change years or decades of maladaptive patterns of behavior and underlying mental health issues.

Clear Sky utilizes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to empower patients to identify and transform negative and irrational thoughts and ideations into realistic, empowering and positive thoughts and patterns of behavior. Over a thousands published outcome studies exist on the successful application of CBT for substance abuse and psychiatric disorders.

Know What to Expect and Understand that Healing is an Individual Process

Despite the mantra of the 12-steps, that everybody who is addicted is the same; this is simply not true. Who and what you are, is not the summation of your symptoms and what molecules you happen to be addicted to. While this is a part of you, the question is: who do you want to become?

While many addicted individuals believe that drug dependence is at the core of their problems, the reality is that for most drug-dependent individuals, drug abuse is the solution to their problems; not the cause. After receiving ibogaine treatment, along with multiple booster doses, your physical dependence will be eradicated. The spiritual aspects of ibogaine treatment and the perspective shift that often occurs for patients allowing a different view into yourself and your everyday state of consciousness, are invaluable tools … but in and of themselves, this is not enough to maintain sobriety without building upon this foundation with personal effort and work.

Individual and group support post-ibogaine treatment is absolutely necessary for almost all individuals. What exactly these support-systems entail is dependent upon the individual needs of every patient. What works wonders for one person, may have little or no efficacy for someone else with a similar background and prior addiction to the same molecules. Whatever road you choose to follow on your journey through recovery, you’re going to need some help, and be able to talk with someone you trust when dealing with life without self-medicating away all your problems.

Much as it took some time to attain the state you were in prior to ibogaine treatment, it will take some time to form new, positive, and empowering patterns of behavior and better responses to situations that produce stress and anxiety. The world is a highly imperfect place and it’s not realistic to expect a perfect outcome without some kind of aftercare program in place post-ibogaine treatment.

Additionally, depending on what your co-occurring disorders happen to be, some guests will quite likely need more conventional medications to help deal with common underlying problems such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, OCD and a wide spectrum of other Axis I and II conditions that may be applicable.

Whatever path you follow post-ibogaine treatment, every single patient we have ever worked with during a period of time spanning two decades has responded favorably to improving their overall health, eating better food, and getting some form of daily exercise. Physical activity is extremely important and creates immediate and lasting changes in how you’re feeling about yourself and the world in general. Exercise releases endorphins so you feel good, reduces stress and anxiety, and can have a lasting impact on helping you maintain a drug-free existence moving forward.

If you or a loved one are suffering from polysubstance abuse disorders, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us and learn more about what ibogaine treatment can do for your unique situation.