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The Dangers of Polysubstance Abuse

Polysubstance dependence occurs when a person become addicted to being intoxicated without preference for any one specific substance. They may develop a variety of addictions to various substances, increasing their chance of dangerous effects from drug mixing.

When substances are mixed together, effects can be unpredictable. Some have the potential to increase the effects of another drug, such as opioids and benzodiazepines. Nearly 30% of opioid overdoses also involve benzodiazepines and, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Combining opioids and benzodiazepines can be unsafe because both types of drug sedate users and suppress breathing—the cause of overdose fatality—in addition to impairing cognitive functions.” The risk of overdose from opioids increases with any other type of depressant, such as alcohol or sleep medications, because both drugs impair breathing and cause sedation. Stimulants, such as amphetamine and cocaine, can also create lethal consequences when take in conjunction with a sedative or and other “downer” drug. Stimulants often mask the effects produced by depressants, leading a user to take much more than they normally would. This can easily lead to overdose or blood pressure problems that may be lethal.

The combination of heroin and cocaine or methamphetamine, known as a “speedball”, is a popular among polydrug users. According to the National Institutes of Health, to 92 percent of heroin users reporting that the have also used cocaine or methamphetamine concurrently, while” over 40% of injection methamphetamine users have reported an opiate as their second drug of choice upon admission to treatment.” Combining multiple drugs can create major physical and psychological health problems later in life. A 2013 report in Biological Research on Addiction found that substance users “demonstrated reduced executive functioning, language skills, sustained attention, and visuospatial skills than nonusers. Young adults who were using four or more different drugs (i.e. “polydrug users”) had the greatest neuropsychological deficits, particularly when using prescription drugs in addition to heavy alcohol use.” Just as the immediate effects of the drugs are enhanced, the potential for the development of serious health complications is increased.

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