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.

7 Don’ts for Discussing Someone’s Addiction With Them

How to not to Talk about Addiction with a loved one

All loved ones of addicts reach the point where they need to discuss the problem with the person directly. In doing so, you have a chance to convince them to get them the help they need. But you also run the risk of pushing them away and further isolating them in their addiction. Learning to talk to your loved one about their addiction in a way that feels safe is the best way to get them the help they need. 

Avoiding saying or doing these important “Don’ts” will help you create a safe space and help get the best possible result for your loved one. 



1. Don’t Berate, Belittle or Blame


Accusatory tactics like these will likely result in your loved one feeling defensive, angry, and even storming out. Addicts are in a fragile state and are quick to emotionally spiral, which typically drives them to use in order to soothe their pain. Avoid these three B’s to maintain a safe and constructive environment. 



2. Don’t Make It All About You


Your experience of their addiction is part of this, of course, but right now the goal is to get your loved one the help they need. Try to make sure you’re focusing on them. Have you noticed they seem unhappy? Do they look different than they used to? Is their health declining? Rather than focusing on how you’ve been treated, focus on them. Your relationship to their addiction can be discussed later, once they are safely in treatment.  



3. Don’t Attempt to Know What They are Feeling or Experiencing


It is best not to talk to your loved one as if you know what it is like to have an addiction (unless of course you actually do). Every addict’s struggle is unique. Instead of trying to assume what they are going through, ask them. Opening the dialogue creates a space for honesty, transparency, vulnerability and ultimately, change. 



4. Don’t Pass Judgement


In creating a safe and open space, you may learn things you didn’t expect. If they are telling you things that make you  feel inclined to judge their behavior. Don’t. Whatever you do, do not judge them. Support them, listen to them, offer to help. Know that addiction is a disease that takes people away from their true selves. Their addict behaviors are not indicative of them as a person. 



5. Don’t Raise Your Voice


This is a surefire way to create a heated argument, which is very unlikely to end in a positive outcome. Sometimes a person in active addiction will feel accused by any discussion of their substance abuse. Keep your voice level, even if your loved one does not. Do not engage with any outbursts, stay calm, and maintain the safe space. 



6. Don’t use this as an opportunity to air all your grievances 


You might be angry or hurt over things that have happened during their active addiction. It’s understandable and ok to feel these things, but now is not the time to raise them. For now, do not criticize, express anger, or bring up the past in a negative way. The only things you should be talking about are your concerns for their safety and wellbeing. Again: safe space. 



7. Don’t Lose Sight of Your Goal


Keep reminding yourself of the purpose of this conversation: To get your loved one into treatment. Before speaking ask yourself, will what I’m about to say bring us closer to this goal? If the answer is uncertain, don’t say it. 


We hope this helped you learn how not to talk to a loved one about their addiction. However, if you feel you need more help or would like guidance on how best to get your loved one in to treatment, our expert team at Harmony Recovery Group can help. Call us today. We’re here to support you.