Polysubstance Use In Young Adults

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Young Adults and Polysubstance Use

Young adults in the United States are reporting high rates of polysubstance use. Polysubstance use occurs when you use multiple drugs simultaneously or use two or more drugs to work against the side effects of another. Common substances involved in polysubstance use include alcohol, inhalants, stimulants, and depressants.

Polysubstance use can be a sign of a substance abuse disorder, and it also runs a higher risk of death by overdose. There has been a noticeable pattern between young people with polysubstance use and other substance use disorders appearing at 35 years of age. This is due to using most of these drugs between the ages of 27 and 28.

Can Prescription Medications Count as Polysubstance Abuse?

Many people associate polysubstance use with illicit drug use, but this is not always the case. Polysubstance use also includes prescription medications being used in nonmedical circumstances. In some instances, prescription medication is combined with other substances by accident.

This might be drinking a few glasses of wine without realizing that prescriptions often should not be combined with alcohol. Eventually, after realizing the euphoric effects, this may be intentionally done. Additionally, if you have different prescriptions from different doctors that combine for a new effect, this is considered polysubstance use, too. You should always confirm that your medications do not interact before beginning a new prescription.

Risk Factors for Polysubstance Use

It is not clear why polysubstance use occurs. Despite this, it is believed that it typically stems from the same reasons for substance abuse, such as:

  • Filling a void
  • Self-medicating mental or emotional disorder
  • Chasing a thrill once a substance wears off
  • History of drug tolerances, overdoses, and dependences creates a larger risk for polysubstance use

Dangers of Polysubstance Abuse

There are many short-term and long-term effects related to polysubstance use. Although these will be different based on the substances abused, there are common dangers associated with polysubstance use.

Increased Side Effects

All drugs come with the potential for side effects. Especially when two drugs are used together, the potential for side effects increases significantly. Different substances interact differently. These effects are often unique, which means that they will be more severe together than on their own.

General side effects might include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Body pain
  • Balance problems
  • Changes in body functions, such as heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure

Serious Health Problems

Drug interactions might reduce metabolism, which increases the blood concentrations of the drugs. Eventually, this boosts toxicity, making it harder to break down these substances and cause chronic diseases. For example, Hepatitis C is often seen in heavy drinkers who inject drugs, while tobacco smokers who use cocaine are more at risk for myocardial infarction.


Unfortunately, with any drug use, an overdose is always a possibility. The risk for overdose is higher when multiple drugs are abused because certain substances mask other substances’ effects. Therefore, with polysubstance use, you may end up taking higher doses than you would if you were not taking both substances. As a result of this, often overdose may occur. Death is common with overdose, which makes polysubstance use extremely dangerous.

More Difficult Treatment

When you overdose or attempt to get clean from multiple substances, it can be a lot more challenging to treat. Opioid overdoses can be reversed by using naloxone, but other substances are not so easy. Typically, a polysubstance addiction requires more intense drug rehab than those with an addiction to a single substance.

Mental Health Complications

Suppose you suffer from a dual diagnosis disorder, which means you suffer from both a substance use disorder and a mental illness. In that case, you are often more likely to participate in polysubstance use. Having an untreated mental health issue can also lead to more intense polysubstance use, amplifying the negative side-effects.

Common Polysubstance Combinations

Alcohol is often combined with prescription and illicit drugs, usually to find a better or more intense high or counteract some of the adverse effects of different substances. For example, you might use cocaine to counteract the depressant qualities of alcohol, which allows you to drink for a more extended period.

Cocaine and Alcohol

Cocaine and alcohol are often used together. When you drink alcohol and use cocaine simultaneously, the amount of cocaine that can be used increases by 30 percent. Cocaethylene is produced as well, and that stays in the blood for longer. You may also consume more alcohol because cocaine can reduce your perception of alcohol’s effects.

Opioids and Cocaine

Opioids and cocaine have opposing effects. The central nervous system is depressed by opioids but stimulated by cocaine, which is similar to cocaine and alcohol but is incredibly dangerous. You may attempt to counteract negative feelings about the drug with this combination. For example, you might be high and stimulated on cocaine but take opioids to calm yourself down to sleep. Overdose is common because these two substances counteract one another.

Opioids and Benzodiazepines

Opioids and benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants. Combining them can quickly result in respiratory depression, leading to a fatal overdose. Benzodiazepines are not metabolized as quickly by older drug users, which increases the risk of respiratory complications.

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How to Get Help

Are you or someone you love suffering from addiction? At Resurgence Behavioral Health, we understand how difficult it can be to give up an addiction. Our dedicated team will help you customize a treatment plan to help you heal from your addiction.

Our goal is for you to leave Resurgence Behavioral Health with mental fortitude and coping skills to maintain lifelong sobriety. Call Resurgence Behavioral Health at 855-458-0050 to schedule an appointment. We challenge you to make a fresh start with us today.

Addiction Treatment that
Just Works

Individualized treatment programs delivered in a comfortable, relaxed setting promote healing in your recovery journey.