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What is Polysubstance Abuse?

Polysubstance use, or using more than one drug at a time, is widespread. When a person engages in polysubstance use they are ingesting more than one chemical substance in a short period, whether intentionally or unintentionally. If a person develops a physical and psychological dependence on more than one substance, they will require a more comprehensive program of clinical care. Polysubstance addiction is not easy to treat, but with the right services in place, people are likely to make a full recovery.

At Tennessee Valley Recovery we provide our clients with an integrated approach to polysubstance use disorder recovery. We offer several effective levels of care, catering to the unique clinical needs of each client. Contact us today to learn more about our program of polydrug abuse treatment in Tennessee. So what is polysubstance abuse?

Why Does Polysubstance Abuse Occur?

Polysubstance use and abuse occur both unintentionally and intentionally. However, it is important to note that whether the use of more than one substance at the same time is purposeful, the effects can be dire. 

Intentional Polysubstance Use 

Intentional polysubstance use occurs when a person uses a substance to increase or decrease the effects of a different substance. Alternatively, the person may want to experience the effects of the specific combination of drugs. For example, a person might use a prescription stimulant to offset the drowsiness caused by excessive alcohol consumption. 

Unintentional Polysubstance Use 

Unintentional polysubstance use occurs when a person takes substances that have been combined or cut with other substances without their knowledge. Unintentional polysubstance use has become increasingly common in recent years. Many chemical substances, like heroin and cocaine, are being combined with fentanyl (a synthetic opioid) to increase their potency and street value. 

What is Polysubstance Abuse?

Polysubstance use refers to using more than one chemical substance at a time. When a person engages in polysubstance use, they are more liable to become dependent on one or more drugs, which leads to the necessity of professional addiction treatment. However, polysubstance use is more difficult to treat than other drug addictions. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 50% of all drug overdose deaths in 2019 involved more than one chemical substance. Whether intentional or not. The practice of mixing more than one chemical substance is never safe. Combining drugs makes their effects stronger and more unpredictable. 

Common Drug Combinations 

Polysubstance abuse refers to the combination of more than one drug, regardless of which types of drugs are being used. While some combinations are more common than others, the phenomenon occurs in many contexts. 

  • Alcohol and Cocaine — Alcohol and cocaine are frequently combined because of their opposing effects. As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol works by slowing down cognitive functions like speech, movement, and reaction. Adversely, cocaine works by stimulating and speeding up central nervous system functions. This combination of substances increases the chance of serious side effects like seizures, liver damage, and alcohol poisoning.
  • Opioids and Benzodiazepines — Combining opioids and benzodiazepines increases the risk of overdose and fatality from an overdose. Both drugs are sedatives that suppress breathing and impair cognitive functions. The combination of these two drugs can cause life-threatening respiratory depression. 
  • Cocaine and Heroin — This combination is extremely dangerous, and results in a significant amount of overdose-related deaths. The danger lies in the stimulant drug (cocaine) masking the effects of the narcotic (heroin). The likelihood of heroin overdose increases when an opioid narcotic is being ingested simultaneously. 

It is more common for people to combine drugs that result in different effects, like stimulants and opioids or stimulants and depressants. Because the effects of one drug might mask the effects of the other, serious complications are more likely to develop. 

Signs and Symptoms of Polysubstance Abuse

Signs and symptoms of polysubstance abuse vary depending on which drugs are being combined. The following signs and symptoms are common among individuals who have developed a physical dependence on more than one chemical substance.

  • Noticeable changes in personality or behavioral patterns. 
  • Mood swings, which are often characterized by increased irritability and agitation. 
  • “Doctor shopping,” or visiting more than one prescribing physician at a time.
  • An increase in secrecy and a need for privacy. 
  • Personal consequences directly linked to substance use, like issues with work, school, personal obligations and responsibilities, and/or interpersonal relationships.
  • Loss of interest in normal hobbies, sports, or day-to-day routine.
  • Symptoms of intoxication include slurred speech, fast-talking, droopy eyelids, lack of coordination, dilated pupils, bloodshot eyes, and jaw clenching. 
  • Increased health issues or injuries as a result of substance use. 
  • Financial and legal issues, which can lead to behaviors like stealing, pawning, etc. 

Dangers of Polysubstance Abuse

The short and long-term effects of polysubstance abuse vary depending on the type of substances being used. However, individuals who combine substances are more likely to experience a life-threatening drug overdose. They are also more likely to suffer severe side effects, acute health problems, and complications due to co-occurring mental health concerns. 

Overdose that occurs after a person has ingested multiple substances is more difficult to treat. The side effects of one drug might exacerbate the side effects of another. Additionally, medications like naloxone (used to reverse the effects of opioid overdose) might be rendered ineffective when other substances are present in the system. 

Treatment Options for Polysubstance Abuse 

Finding the best treatment option for polysubstance abuse in Tennessee is a highly personalized process. The level of clinical care and addiction treatment services that prove effective for one client might not be equally as beneficial for another. Fortunately, at Tennessee Valley Recovery, we offer multiple treatment options for those struggling with polysubstance use disorders. We help our clients develop individualized treatment plans, adjusting these plans throughout the treatment process. 

Addiction treatment services we provide include:

  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
  • Individual and Group Therapy 
  • Family Counseling 
  • A range of proven therapeutic methods, including Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Holistic Therapies 
  • Experiential Therapies, including equine therapy 
  • Dual Diagnosis treatment options 

These services are available in several different levels of clinical care, including Partial Hospitalization (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP). Our clinical team helps clients determine which level of care is best suited for their specific needs. Contact us today to learn more. 

Treatment for Polysubstance Abuse in Tennessee

If you or someone you love has been struggling with polysubstance abuse, Tennessee Valley Recovery is available to help. We have developed an effective and individualized treatment program that takes a whole-person approach to polysubstance use disorder recovery.

To learn more about our multi-staged treatment program around Knoxville, Tennessee, or to begin your journey of healing, contact us today.