What is Polysubstance Abuse?

Answering the question, "what is polysubstance abuse?"

Polysubstance abuse is when a person abuses more than one drug at a time. The answer to what is polysubstance abuse can mean different things to different people. For example, the term can mean that a person abuses several different substances at one time, such as using heroin and drinking alcohol, or it can mean a person abuses different substances within a certain time period, such as abusing methamphetamine, prescription opioids, and alcohol within a weekend or week.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) previously classified polysubstance abuse as a part of the substance abuse disorder spectrum. However, the condition is no longer listed as a specific disorder. The previous polysubstance abuse meaning was:

  • Use of three or more substances (that aren't nicotine or caffeine), with no particular substance being used more than the others.
  • A person's primary motivation for using different substances is to stay continually high or intoxicated.
  • The person is dependent upon multiple substances to get through the day.

Some people may engage in polysubstance abuse to further the effects of the drugs abused or to offset each type of abuse. For example, some people drink alcohol and take benzodiazepines or opioids to further the intoxication level. Others may abuse methamphetamines and try to avoid the "comedown" by drinking alcohol and/or taking opiates. Sometimes polysubstance abusers will use different drugs because of availability. When one drug becomes harder to get, another may be used.

What Is Polysubstance Abuse Cluster?

Experts have identified three main "clusters" of drug abuse patterns for those engaging in polysubstance abuse. These clusters include:

  • Class 1: Limited range cluster of people who abuse alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis
  • Class 2: Moderate range cluster of those who abuse amphetamine derivatives
  • Class 3: Extended range cluster of those who abuse illicit drugs and non-medical prescription medications

Younger people are more likely to fall in the Class 1 cluster of abuse. However, being in this class of abusers puts a person at greater risk for expanding into other, more serious categories of abuse as a person ages. Those who engage in polysubstance abuse are more likely to have anxiety and major depressive disorders.

Polysubstance Abuse Signs and Symptoms

Polysubstance abuse signs and symptoms are often similar to those associated with a person who is abusing a single drug. Examples of these include:

  • Sudden, unexplained behavioral changes
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Sudden changes in appearance, including lack of care for a person's appearance
  • Unusual sleeping patterns, such as staying up all night and sleeping all day or not sleeping at all

If a friend or loved one starts to show these symptoms, it's important they seek immediate treatment to prevent the abuse from progressing.

Conclusions on What Is Polysubstance Abuse

Polysubstance abuse can be a dangerous and sometimes deadly pursuit. Using different combinations of drugs can lead to overdose. Abusing multiple substances also makes it more difficult for a person to withdraw from and stop taking the substances. Professional help is often required for a person to experience success in achieving sobriety.

Treatment centers offer treatment for those who suffer from polysubstance abuse. This includes detox services as well as cognitive-behavioral therapies and group therapies. Often, a person can also benefit from treatments to help manage their mental health. This includes medication management and mental health evaluation with a doctor. If a person has been abusing multiple substances as a means of self-medication, these measures can be extremely helpful. For more information on treatments and facilities, please call (877) 804-1531.



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