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What Is Polysubstance Abuse?

Nearly 38% of Americans experienced a substance use disorder in 2017. It can be safely assumed that this number has grown exponentially. Especially considering the dramatic 30% increase in drug overdose deaths in 2020 alone. But what many people experience is not just an opioid use disorder or an alcohol use disorder, but instead a polysubstance use disorder. You might be asking yourself, “what is polysubstance abuse”?

Polysubstance abuse is defined as the simultaneous abuse of at least three addictive, mind-altering substances where the user shows no favoritism to any of the substances. This abuse can create dependence on all substances being abused, which can complicate all areas of one’s life.

Thankfully, like all other substance use disorders, polysubstance abuse is treatable. The most important thing to find out first, however, is if someone is grappling with polysubstance abuse.

Signs of Polysubstance Abuse

The answer to the question, “what is polysubstance abuse?” can also be defined by the signs and symptoms a person experiences when engaging in this type of substance abuse. Keep in mind that all signs and symptoms of polysubstance abuse can vary.

This is based on factors specific to the user. These factors include age, current mental health status, current physical health status, etc. Generally speaking, though, some of the most common signs of polysubstance abuse can include the following:

  • Unexplained changes in mood – The abuse of just one mind-altering substance can cause a person to experience changes in their mood. But abusing more than one substance leads to mood swings that can become more frequent, dramatic, and unexplainable. The severity of the changes in mood can also stand out. A person might go from being full of energy one minute and lethargic the next.
  • Possession of several types of paraphernalia – Instead of just possessing common items related to one specific drug, (such as needles, spoons, and tin foil for opioid addiction), a person with polysubstance abuse may have prescription pill bottles, empty glasses, rolling papers, razors, or other paraphernalia all in one place. It might be more confusing to understand what is truly going on rather than getting a dead giveaway of the full picture.
  • Needing substances to control effects of other substances – Many people who are polysubstance abusers began abusing more than one substance in an effort to control the effects of another substance they were taking. For instance, someone who abuses cocaine may not like the jittery effects that this drug can produce. Therefore, they may abuse alcohol in an effort to slow down their system. It is a red flag for polysubstance abuse when a person cannot acquire the substance they want to counteract the substance they’ve already abused. Especially when they begin panicking or feeling unable to cope with their surroundings.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms – Withdrawal symptoms are symptoms that develop when a person is not taking enough of a substance they are abusing. This occurs because with prolonged substance abuse comes dependence. Dependence on a substance required continual use and in the same amount to prevent these symptoms from developing. Those who are experiencing polysubstance abuse can develop withdrawal symptoms if they are not able to use some or all of the substances they regularly use.
  • Tolerance – Having a tolerance to a substance means that a person needs to regularly increase the amount that they are using in order to experience the desired effects. So, a common sign of polysubstance abuse is seeing an individual continually consume larger amounts of the substances they are abusing.
  • Continuing to use despite consequences – Substance abuse often comes with countless consequences, especially unwanted ones. Those who are abusing more than one substance and who are continuing to use despite their consequences likely have a problem. They may lose their jobs, their best friends, or even their homes. Yet, they still continue to engage in polysubstance abuse anyway. The use still continues despite the repercussions created by it.

Getting Help for Polysubstance Abuse

The most important thing to do when a polysubstance abuse problem is occurring is to reach out for help. It can be extremely difficult for those with substance use disorders to admit that they need help. However, without asking, the future holds likely fatality. While you might have a better understanding of your question of “what is polysubstance abuse?”, you might now be wondering what to do about it.

Polysubstance use disorders are not nearly as uncommon as you might think. And while that is certainly not good news for those struggling, it means that there is a great deal of focus placed on those who need help with it. Therefore, treatment for polysubstance abuse can include detox, therapy, and aftercare planning — just like other types of substance use disorders.


Detox is the process of clearing the body of all addictive substances. Usually, detox lasts a few days to a few weeks for people dependent on one type of substance. But, for those with polysubstance use disorder, it may take longer and the period of withdrawal may be more distressing.


Evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and group counseling, can help an individual identify the roots causes of their polysubstance abuse. CBT can help them develop skills to keep them from using in the future. Individuals can engage in therapeutic programs on a residential or outpatient level.


It’s best to make plans for those who are completing their time in treatment so that they know what to expect right out of recovery. This part of the time is not always the easiest and most tend to be vulnerable. But, an aftercare plan can help keep one focused on their short-term and long-term goals. This will help them continue to succeed in recovery.

Drug Rehab in Florida

If you or someone you love is experiencing polysubstance abuse, contact us right now. We understand how painful this type of situation is for everyone involved. Call us today to learn more about how we can help you.

(877) 789-6707