January 12, 2024

What Is Polysubstance Abuse?

woman looking out at sunset representing Polysubstance abuse

Polysubstance abuse refers to the use of multiple addictive substances concurrently or sequentially. This can happen both deliberately and inadvertently and includes a range of scenarios where two or more substances are ingested in combination.

When performed intentionally, a person may mix substances to amplify or mitigate the effects of each, seeking a specific experience from the interaction of the drugs.

Unintentional polysubstance use can occur if someone ingests a substance that is unknowingly combined with another – drugs laced with fentanyl, for instance – without the person’s knowledge.

Engaging in any form of polysubstance use is inherently risky. The interactions between combined substances can lead to more severe and less predictable consequences than the use of a single drug, substantially increasing the danger, including the risk of fatal outcomes. Read on to learn about the implications of polysubstance use and find out how to access evidence-based addiction treatment.

Polysubstance Abuse Disorder

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In diagnosing polysubstance abuse, mental health practitioners utilize the criteria outlined in DSM-5-TR, which offers a structured approach to identification and evaluation based on a set of specific benchmarks. The diagnostic process involves:

  • Substance use review: A thorough inquiry into a person’s history of substance use, examining the variety, frequency, and quantity of substances consumed, as well as any withdrawal symptoms experienced when use is discontinued.
  • Criteria for substance use disorders: DSM-5-TR incorporates a set of criteria that define substance use disorders, allowing clinicians to assess the severity of a disorder from mild to severe. This includes a range of indicators from control challenges and social interference to hazardous usage, and pharmacological signs like tolerance and withdrawal.
  • Criteria count: The diagnosis of polysubstance abuse is based on the number of these criteria met, considering the collective impact of multiple substances.
  • Assessment of severity and dysfunction: The degree of severity is gauged by the number of criteria met and the extent of disruption caused to the person’s everyday life, interpersonal relationships, and overall health. The DSM-5-TR classifies severity into mild (2 to 3 criteria), moderate (4 to 5 criteria), and severe (6 or more criteria) substance use disorders.

Adhering to DSM-5-TR’s guidelines enables mental health professionals to accurately diagnose polysubstance abuse, determine its severity, and tailor a treatment plan to the individual’s specific needs.

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Symptoms of Polysubstance Abuse

Symptoms of polysubstance abuse can vary widely due to the interactions between different substances. Some common signs that may indicate an individual is struggling with polysubstance abuse include:

  • Unexplained health problems, frequent sickness, or noticeable changes in energy levels and sleep patterns.
  • Increased symptoms of anxiety, depression, mood swings, or other mental health issues.
  • Difficulties with concentration, memory, decision-making, and performing routine tasks.
  • Shifts in behavior, such as withdrawal from social activities, neglect of responsibilities, or engaging in risky activities.
  • A need for higher doses to achieve the same effect and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using the substances.
  • Unexpected financial difficulties or legal issues related to substance use.
  • Strained relationships with friends, family, and colleagues.
  • A noticeable lack of concern for personal hygiene or appearance.

Recognizing these symptoms is the first step toward seeking help. If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of polysubstance abuse, reach out to a healthcare provider or a substance abuse professional to discuss treatment options.

Treatment for Polysubstance Abuse

A multifaceted treatment strategy helps in addressing polysubstance abuse, due to the intricate nature of dependence on multiple substances. Such an approach typically includes the following elements:

  • Detoxification: A medically supervised detox is often necessary for those withdrawing from multiple substances. This usually takes place in an inpatient setting, providing 24/7 medical care to safely manage withdrawal symptoms and handle any medical emergencies that might occur.
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment): This approach integrates FDA-approved medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone with counseling and behavioral therapies. It is especially beneficial for managing withdrawal and reducing cravings in opioid or alcohol dependencies.
  • Psychotherapy: A variety of psychotherapeutic methods tackle the psychological roots of substance abuse. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) assists in reshaping negative thought patterns and behaviors, while MI (motivational interviewing) and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) help in fostering motivation and developing skills to manage cravings and emotional regulation.
  • Individual counseling: Individual counseling provides a safe space for people to delve into their patterns of substance use, uncover triggers, and address emotional issues contributing to their addictions. 
  • Group therapy: This therapeutic space allows individuals to connect with others in similar situations, offering mutual support and the sharing of recovery experiences, which can be incredibly validating and supportive.
  • Family therapy: Given the impact of substance abuse on family relationships, family therapy includes loved ones in the treatment process to improve communication, provide education on addiction, and strategize collective support for recovery.
  • Holistic therapies: Practices such as mindfulness, yoga, art therapy, and physical exercise contribute to overall well-being, help reduce stress, and establish healthy lifestyle habits.
  • Aftercare planning: Ongoing support can help people to maintain sobriety, with options like ongoing therapy, support groups, 12-step programs, sober living environments, and community resources available.

Tailoring treatment to individual needs, with a blend of clinical and holistic approaches, enhances the likelihood of a lasting recovery and an overall improvement in quality of life.

FAQs

What is polysubstance abuse?

Polysubstance abuse refers to the simultaneous or sequential misuse of multiple substances, including drugs or alcohol, without a preference for one particular substance.

What does polysubstance abuse mean?

The term implies an indiscriminate or non-specific pattern of substance use, where the person regularly consumes multiple drugs or substances together or interchangeably.

Why did the polysubstance abuse definition change in DSM?

The definition of polysubstance abuse changed in DSM to reflect the complexities and realities of substance use behaviors more accurately, recognizing that many people do not limit their substance abuse to a single drug.

Call Addiction Hotline to Get Help for Drug Addiction

If you find yourself managing a polysubstance abuse issue, it might feel overwhelming to identify the right treatment options. As these challenges tend to escalate if left unaddressed, seek help promptly.

Addiction Helpline is available 24/7, enabling you to speak in confidence with a knowledgeable and compassionate expert who is committed to guiding you to the most effective treatment and support.

When you’re ready to begin your recovery journey, hotline staff can facilitate a range of recommendations tailored to your needs. From local support networks and medical detoxification facilities to residential treatment programs and outpatient services, we’re here to connect you with the best resources in California.

Dial 855-701-0479 today and start moving beyond polysubstance abuse tomorrow.

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Compassionate Care for Substance Abuse Treatment

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