Polysubstance Abuse: Addicted to the ‘High’ Rather Than the Drugs
Until there’s a social consensus, it bears repeating that addiction is a complex and complicated disease of the brain. People develop the condition for a variety of different reasons, which makes plotting out an effective treatment approach a challenge for patients, physicians, therapists and other addiction healthcare specialists.
That said, the treatment of addiction continues to make advances and be more effective for all kinds of patients, including those battling polysubstance abuse.
Though the diagnosis is often misunderstood and not made that often, polysubstance abuse, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), often referred to as the bible of psychiatry, occurs in people who use three or more drugs without showing a particular preference to any one of them.
The DSM-5 eliminates the diagnosis of polysubstance abuse dependence due to how little it was used and how much it was misunderstood. “With the new threshold for substance use disorders (two or more criteria), the category became irrelevant,” the manual states.
Still, polysubstance abuse is a unique form of dependency. This type of addiction is different from, for example, a person that’s both physically and psychologically dependent on the use of heroin to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
With polysubstance abuse (also known as Poly Drug Use or Poly-substance Dependence), an individual is more addicted to the mood and mind-altering consequences of substance abuse than, say, alcohol itself or other illicit drugs alone.
Poly-drug use is usually more of a psychological misuse of drugs instead of a physical one that results from taking the same drug over and over because the body becomes dependent on it.
What are Some of the Most Commonly Poly-Abused Drugs?
- Synthetic drug formulations, such as Spice/K2, bath salts, gravel
- Prescription painkillers including OxyContin, Oxycodone, Vicodin
- Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin
- Designer drugs like MDMA (Molly, Ecstasy)
- Amyl nitrate combinations like “poppers“
Any combination of three or more of the above substances, excluding nicotine and caffeine from the mix, is considered polysubstance abuse.
Teenagers and young adults are often more inclined to poly drug use because it can be difficult for them to get a regular supply of drugs and they tend to experiment as they discover new things to get high from. They also are under much stress during the teen years and use drugs as a way to escape reality.
How is Polysubstance Dependence Treated?
The most effective method of care for people battling poly-drug abuse is an inpatient, residential treatment facility that incorporates detox in the beginning to comfortably and safely get patients through any withdrawal symptoms.
The next is an individualized treatment approach based on each patient’s distinct personality and personal struggles to get to the root cause of the drug use.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) gives people the power to examine the underlying causes to their addictive behaviors. As each trigger is identified with the help of a counselor, patients learn over time to not just avoid these triggers, but to confront them in a more positive, less socially and personally destructive way.
CBT is a powerful tool in developing and maintaining coping skills that can help prevent or lessen the number and length of relapses. Like cancer or diabetes, addiction is a chronic disease that sometimes comes out of remission. Relapses are not failure. They are a symptom and sign that the condition needs further treatment.
As America continues to battle the onslaught of addiction to opioids and other substances, it’s critical that friends, family, colleagues, and anyone touched by someone else’s addiction, understand and speak out about the fact that this is a disease.
Driving those who are suffering with polysubstance abuse and dependence farther into the shadows only serves to worsen their symptoms and enforce the stigma surrounding drug and alcohol addiction.
For teens, it’s natural for them to experiment with many things as they mature into adulthood. Unfortunately, some experimentation can have dangerous consequences, especially when it involves trying a wide variety of drugs only to get high.
What starts out as simply partying with friends can turn into a full-blown dependence or addiction quicker than many realize. And with dangerous drugs like heroin laced with fentanyl widely available on the streets today, for too many people, there’s no way to rehab their way out.
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