What is Polysubstance Abuse?

Polysubstance Abuse

At the end of 2019, Jarad Anthony Higgins, known around the globe as rapper Juice Wrld, passed away. A coroner’s report released the following January attributed Juice Wrld’s cause of death to oxycodone and codeine toxicity. Juice Wrld died on December 8, seven days after his twenty-first birthday. Gustav Elijah Åhr, who performed under the name LiL PEEP, died November 15, 2017 due to a combination of fentanyl and Xanax. Like Juice Wrld, Åhr was mere days into his twenty-first year. His birthday was November 1.

Polysubstance Abuse is Surprisingly Common

Juice Wrld and LiL PEEP were young, forward-thinking artists and entrepreneurs. They were only teens when they launched their careers. We won’t ever know what else they might have produced. But their deaths are just symptoms of a much greater problem. Mixing two or more substances together to amplify the effects is called “polysubstance abuse.”

Alcohol is easy to get. It’s also highly addictive. For those reasons, it’s common for people to use their drug of choice while drinking. Generally, alcohol enhances the effects of whatever drugs are in your system. Depressants, when taken with alcohol, can make you dizzy, impair your ability to walk, concentrate, or remember correctly. Stimulants in conjunction with alcohol, keep you from telling how much you’ve had to drink. Consequently, it becomes very easy to drink too much. Drinking while using opiates can slow down the breath, which can lead to loss of consciousness and permanent brain damage.

The Dangers of Polysubstance Abuse

Aside from alcohol, another common practice is to combine benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines, or “benzos,” include alprazolam/Xanax, clonazepam/Klonopin, lorazepam/Ativan. Examples of opioids are oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and fentanyl. Opioids are painkillers. And benzos are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. Both benzos and opioids are depressants for the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS controls speech, memory, mobility, perception, and judgment. But according to the FDA, the biggest risk factor in using opioids and benzos together is their effect on breathing. Opioids and benzos can sedate a person so much that their brain “forgets” to breathe.

In 2001, 9% of people prescribed an opioid were also prescribed benzos. That number rose to 17% in 2013, which represents an 80% increase. In 2019, 16% of all opioid overdose deaths also involved benzodiazepine. As a result, the CDC recommends that doctors not prescribe opioids and benzos together.

No Such Thing as ‘Safe Substance Abuse’

But what if you switch it up a bit? If drinking is a problem, surely using something else would be an improvement? Make no mistake: there’s no such thing as “safe” substance abuse. Avoiding your drug of choice by replacing it with another substance does you no good. Dependence is real. Depriving your body of a drug can cause withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawing from alcohol, benzos, and opioids often requires a medical detox, supervised by a doctor. Substituting one substance for another can complicate your withdrawal. Likewise, abusing a second substance can create dependence on that substance.

But there is hope. Like any addiction, polysubstance abuse can be treated. If you or someone you love is struggling with polysubstance abuse, or any other addiction, call Harmony Treatment & Wellness now at 772-247-6180.

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