The Dangers of Polysubstance Use and Why Recovery Matters

Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on May 24, 2021.

Substance use can significantly impact a person's life and destroy their closest relationships. If you've known someone who has a problematic relationship with one or more substances, you may understand the toll it can take on them and why recovery is so essential.

When someone is misusing multiple substances, treatment professionals call it polysubstance use. Using various drugs simultaneously can cause severe health problems, and you should understand the dangers that may result.

Polysubstance use can involve taking several prescription or street drugs, including mixing alcohol with prescriptions or combining opioids and benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines, nicknamed benzos, are tranquilizers. Their effects are similar to those resulting from opioids. In 2019, 16% of deaths caused by an opioid overdose also involved benzodiazepines.

Other substances that people may combine include:

  • Cannabis
  • Amphetamines
  • Hallucinogens
  • Opiates
  • Inhalants

It's crucial to understand the risks of polysubstance overdose and addiction. Learn why polysubstance use happens and why it's essential to motivate a person who uses multiple substances to seek recovery.

Why Does Polysubstance Use Occur?

People might start abusing several drugs for a few reasons, but a common theme is the desire to experience combined effects. For example, someone who's already built up a tolerance for a specific drug might start experimenting with another to sustain or magnify the high.

Alcohol is a typical substance involved in polysubstance abuse. Often, this phenomenon occurs because people taking a prescription painkiller or tranquilizer might ignore the drug interaction warnings and drink alcohol anyway.

People may also abuse multiple drugs to offset unwanted side effects from one of the medications.

Who Is Most at Risk for Polysubstance Use?

Substance use's effects differ from person to person. Your susceptibility to polysubstance abuse depends on various environmental and genetic influences. Regardless of age, economic status, beliefs or gender identity, any person can succumb to polysubstance use. Some risk factors can include:

  • Family history of substance use
  • Childhood traumas or aggressive behavior
  • Absence of parental guidance
  • Poor social skills
  • Early access to drugs
  • Mental health disorders
  • Poor academic achievement
  • Stress
  • Peer pressure
  • Availability of drugs
  • Using highly addictive drugs

Many reasons and experiences can lead someone down the path to substance use. According to the CDC, most adults who experience polysubstance use disorder started using drugs and other substances while they were teens or young adults. One or several of these risk factors can impact your life and play a role in polysubstance use.

The Risks of Polysubstance Use

Excessive drug use can affect anybody and put them at risk for severe health issues. Someone who chooses to use multiple substances puts themselves in a dangerous situation and can experience more adverse effects.

Problems associated with polysubstance use vary based on specific drugs or substances a person mixes. Nonetheless, you should be aware of the common dangers of polydrug use.

  • Acute health issues: People may experience various health problems shortly after consuming different substances. These could include extreme drowsiness or confusion, dramatically slowed or elevated heart rate and nausea, among others. These issues can eventually lead to longer-term complications.
  • Intense side effects: Many drugs have unpleasant or adverse side effects. When people combine different substances, they are likely to experience an amplified reaction, including increased susceptibility to addiction.
  • Treatment complications: Polysubstance use treatment may require a more specialized approach, depending on the substances the person uses.
  • Overdose: The risk of overdose is possible with any substance. However, when multiple drugs are in the equation, the effects may mask each other and increase the risk of an overdose. An accidental overdose can be exponentially more complicated and dangerous when the victim simultaneously has benzodiazepines, alcohol or stimulants in their system.
  • Long-term health problems: Abusing alcohol or any drug can lead to various health problems. Mixing multiple drugs can cause severe, chronic health issues like heart disease, liver damage, kidney failure and lung cancer.
  • Risk of addiction: Polysubstance use doesn't always lead to addiction, but experimenting with several drugs may make you more vulnerable to becoming a polysubstance addict.
  • Tolerance development: Building a tolerance to polysubstance use may cause people to take higher doses of drugs. An increased tolerance may elevate the chances of overdose or becoming a polydrug addict.
  • Co-occurring mental disorders: People with untreated mental health problems like depression or anxiety might begin drinking or using drugs as a misguided coping mechanism. However, substance use can worsen a mental health disorder, leading to a pattern of polysubstance use.

Does Polydrug Addiction Require a Different Treatment Approach?

Facilities nationwide are now providing treatment specifically tailored to clients who are in recovery from a polysubstance disorder. Since polysubstance use and singular substance abuse cause similar symptoms, a treatment program must address all substances' side effects and withdrawal symptoms.

Dual-diagnosis treatment from the medical professionals at Diamond House Detox provides clients with a specialized approach to treating polysubstance use and co-occurring mental health disorders. This approach allows our medical professionals to assess each substance's withdrawal symptoms and focus on them with replacement therapies and nonmedical treatments. Our medical professionals also evaluate polysubstance use and mental health disorders separately and treat both issues with an individualized plan for the client.

Many clients who receive dual diagnosis treatment find relief in finally addressing an undiagnosed mental health disorder and a substance abuse problem simultaneously. An individualized treatment plan can include detoxification, residential stabilization, therapy and medication.

Learn More About Medically Assisted Detox

Our team at Diamond House Detox is ready to help motivate you and guide you through polysubstance use recovery. We are here to welcome new clients, and we accept many major insurances. Contact us today for more information regarding our detox services.


Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet
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