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Polydrug Use

Many people combine drugs to boost their high, but doing this increases the risk of addiction, overdose and other dangerous side effects.

What Is Polydrug Use?

5957951081_a83e10ef6e_zUsing more than one drug at a time is known as polydrug use. This intensifies the effects of any individual drug and makes them more dangerous. For example, alcohol can intensify the effects of painkillers, but taking these drugs together makes it more likely that the user will stop breathing.

In 2011, over half of all alcohol-related emergency room visits involved illicit and prescription drugs.

People often don’t realize or understand the risks of combining substances. Even unintentional prescription drug combinations can be lethal. If you or a loved one has a problem with abusing multiple drugs, get in touch with someone who can help today.

The Dangers of Combining Drugs

The risks of polydrug use depend on the types and amounts of drugs mixed. Combining drugs amplifies pleasurable and negative effects. Mixing stimulants, such as ecstasy and cocaine, can increase the user’s high, but also their risk of heart attack.

The greatest risk of polydrug use is “combined drug intoxication.” Combined drug intoxication is a common cause of emergency room visits and has claimed the lives of countless individuals. The greatest risk of combined drug intoxication is death.

Some of the side effects of combining drugs include:

Brain damage

Coma

Heart problems

Seizures

Stomach bleeding

Liver damage and failure

Heatstroke

Suppressed breathing

Respiratory failure

Mixing drugs severely depletes the brain’s feelgood and calming chemicals. This can spark behavioral issues such as depression and anxiety.

If you have a polydrug problem and suffer from a mental disorder like depression, you need treatment that tackles both issues at once. Learn more about dual diagnosis now.

Teen Polydrug Abuse

Teens are the most likely group to mix drugs. One study found that 7 out of 10 teenage drug users combined prescription painkillers with drugs and alcohol. These teens were also more likely to abuse marijuana and get drunk. The teenage brain is also more susceptible to addiction because it is still developing. Teens who combine drugs put themselves at an even higher risk of addiction and overdose.

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Common Drug Combinations

In 2007, 3.2 million Americans mixed and abused drugs. The consequences of polydrug use varies with each combination.

Alcohol and Other Drugs

A report by the Drug Abuse Warning Network revealed that the majority of hospital admissions for prescription drugs involved alcohol. Drugs that are often combined with alcohol include:

  • Cocaine. Cocaine creates alertness for inebriated people while alcohol can curb feelings of anxiety in someone coming down from cocaine. This combination escalates heart rate considerably. Cocaine and alcohol also combine in the body to form cocaethylene, a substance that weakens muscles in the heart.
  • Heroin. Alcohol and heroin are both central nervous system depressants. Taking these drugs together raises the chances of respiratory failure. An overdose on heroin and alcohol can also cause a dangerous loss of oxygen and blood to the brain. This can lead to permanent brain damage.
  • Prescription stimulants. Adderall, Ritalin and other prescription stimulants produce effects similar to cocaine when mixed with alcohol. A user’s heart rate can spike when mixing alcohol and stimulants. This can lead to immediate and long-term heart complications.
  • Anxiety medications. Anxiety medications, such as Xanax, have effects similar to alcohol. Both substances act on the same neurotransmitters in the brain, creating the combined effect that increases intoxication. Mixing alcohol and anxiety medications increases the risk of coma and death.
  • Sleeping pills. Alcohol enhances the sedative effects of sleeping pills. Knowing this, some people intentionally mix alcohol and sleeping pills to make their medication more “effective.” Sleepwalking injuries, coma and death are more likely when mixing alcohol and sleeping pills.
  • Painkillers. Both alcohol and painkillers, such as Vicodin, depress the respiratory system and lower blood pressure. The risks of mixing these drugs are comparable to heroin and alcohol. Painkillers also contain acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Mixing alcohol with these substances can lead to stomach bleeding and liver damage.

Heroin and Cocaine (Speedball)

Combining heroin and cocaine is often called a “speedball” or “speedballing.” People combine heroin (a depressant) and cocaine (a stimulant) hoping that each drug will cancel out each other’s negative effects. While this may be effective, it often leads speedball users to believe they are less intoxicated than they are. This false sense of sobriety has caused many people to overdose. The effects of heroin are longer lasting than cocaine. Large doses of heroin can cause respiratory failure when the cocaine wears off.

Cocaine and Ecstasy

Cocaine and ecstasy are both stimulants. Taken together, cocaine and ecstasy increase the user’s rush. Cocaine and ecstasy also increase the user’s heart rate and risk of heart attack or stroke. Mixing any type of stimulant, from prescription Adderall to meth, can have these effects.

Prescription Polydrug Use

Polydrug use is common in people attempting to self-medicate. People may even mix prescription drugs obtained from their doctor. Mixing prescription drugs can have serious side effects including fatal overdose. Adding alcohol or illicit drugs to the mix escalates the dangers of mixing prescriptions.

Addiction to More Than One Drug

According to one study, 57 percent of people in rehab have used more than one drug.

Polydrug use multiplies the rewarding effects of drugs, increasing the chances of becoming addicted.

Continued use of one drug reinforces the effect on the brain reward system. Introducing another drug into the mix boosts the effect on the reward system. This can spark an addiction or make an existing addiction stronger.

If you or someone you love has an addiction to multiple substances, you should consider treatment as soon as possible. Call us now to learn about your treatment options.

Sources & Author Last Edited: January 21, 2016

  1. Ruiz, P., & Strain, E. (2011) Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook, Fifth Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  2. Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2011: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits. Retrieved on June 9, 2015 from: http://archive.samhsa.gov/data/2k13/DAWN2k11ED/DAWN2k11ED.htm.
  3. The DAWN Report. (2012). Outcomes of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits Associated with Polydrug Use. Retrieved on June 9, 2015 from: http://archive.samhsa.gov/data/2k12/DAWN032/SR032Polydrug2012.htm
  4. US National Library of Medicine. (2002). Effects of concurrent use of alcohol and cocaine. Retrieved on June 9, 2015 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12133112
  5. US National Library of Medicine. (2006). The confounding problem of polydrug use in recreational ecstasy/MDMA users: a brief overview. Retrieved on June 9, 2015 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16510477
  6. US National Library of Medicine. (2007). Simultaneous and Concurrent Polydrug Use of Alcohol and Prescription Drugs: Prevalence, Correlates, and Consequences. Retrieved on June 9, 2015 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1761923/
  7. US National Library of Medicine. (2008). Abuse of Amphetamines and Structural Abnormalities in Brain. Retrieved on June 9, 2015 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2769923/
  8. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2005). Other Substance Abuse. Retrieved on June 9, 2015 from: http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/other-substance-abuse
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