What You Should Know about Polysubstance Abuse

Polysubstance abuse is the regular use of three or more drugs without showing a particular preference to a single one. Those who suffer from polysubstance abuse are usually more addicted to the feeling of the high itself, instead of just one particular drug.

Common Drugs Abused

Some of the drugs that are more common to be abused include heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, prescription painkillers, and benzodiazepines. Any combination of three or more substances, except for caffeine and nicotine, is considered this type of abuse. Young adults and teenagers are more likely to poly drug abuse because it can be harder to get a regular supply of drugs, so they will experiment just to get the high. Many teenagers are also just experimenting with different drugs.

How Is It Treated?

One of the most effective treatments is inpatient residential treatment that will incorporate detox in the beginning and can help patients get through any withdrawal symptoms safely. Then the next step is an individual treatment approach that is based on the patient’s personality and struggles. A combination of therapy that includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is helpful. CBT helps people get to the bottom of their addictive behaviors. Triggers are identified with the help of a counselor, and over time patients learn to not only avoid the triggers but also conduct themselves in a more positive and less destructive way. This therapy helps individuals develop and maintain coping skills that can help prevent relapses.

When there are multiple substances used, it will increase the likelihood of relapse and can also increase the time it takes to detox. Convincing a loved one to get treatment can be hard since multiple addictions can increase the amount of discomfort when leaving that lifestyle behind. However, many patients find that once treatment is over, it is much more rewarding to let go of multiple substances.


To be diagnosed with this type of addiction, there needs to be at least three symptoms for three or more substances over a year-long period. These symptoms can include withdrawal symptoms, tolerance, loss of control, interference with activities, inability to stop, and harm to self.


Since an individual is addicted to multiple substances, treatment can be more difficult if the source of an overdose isn’t known. Some substances are more likely to be combined with others, but understanding the effects can help improve outcomes in the event of an overdose. Opiates, cocaine, and alcohol can often be used together. Another complication is adverse interactions with combined substances. Alcohol and barbiturates can be deadly in just one use. Withdrawal periods can also become intense, since detoxing from multiple substances can take a toll on the body.

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Reed Hamilton

Mason Reed Hamilton: Mason, a political analyst, provides insights on U.S. politics, election coverage, and policy analysis.