Polysubstance dependence involves using multiple classes of substances. Read on to learn more about its symptoms and treatment.
Poly substance dependence or polysubstance dependence occurs when someone uses several different substances instead of being reliant on just one substance of choice. In these cases, it is often not the sensation caused by a specific substance that creates a dependence, but instead the feeling of “getting high” that causes ongoing use. This pattern of use is called poly substance dependence.
Poly substance dependence is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a “type of substance use disorder that occurs when someone uses at least three different classes of substances and does not have a particular drug they are uniquely dependent on.”1
Although the terms poly substance dependence and polysubstance abuse are sometimes used interchangeably, it is crucial to note that there is a difference. Substance abuse occurs when someone misuses a substance, either once or multiple times.
The DSM lists several defined diagnostic criteria or signs of poly substance dependence. For medical or mental health providers to diagnose it, at least three of the below symptoms must occur during a 12-month period:3
Withdrawal symptoms occur when someone attempts to reduce or stop using substances. When someone experiences withdrawal symptoms, it is often a sign of tolerance or dependence. Someone with poly substance dependence may relapse in order to control withdrawal symptoms.
Another sign of poly substance dependence is the inability to stop using substances, despite wanting to or trying to. An individual may also have trouble controlling how much and how often they use it.
It is important to mention that poly substance dependence and polysubstance abuse are not always intentional. As noted above, polysubstance use can occur when someone is already under the influence and uses again. Unintentional polysubstance use can also occur when someone uses a drug that has been cut with another substance without their knowledge. Any kind of polysubstance dependence is dangerous and potentially fatal.4
Many substances affect the function and sometimes the structure of the brain. When using, new or worsening mental health effects can occur. Also, when attempting to stop using or while withdrawing, many people experience changes in their mental health.
As with mental health challenges, regular use of drugs and alcohol often causes health complications as well. In some instances, medical complications that evolve from substance use are irreversible. Using multiple substances can increase the possibility of various health complications and illnesses.
Relationships, including personal, social, and work interactions, often suffer due to substance abuse. Unfortunately, when someone lives with poly substance dependence, cravings and the “need” to get or use usually takes priority. This can quickly lead to complicated or lost relationships.
The treatment for poly substance dependence is similar to treatment for addiction to a single substance. The first and most critical step in recovery from polysubstance use is detox. It is crucial to remember that detox is not a substitute for treatment for poly substance dependence. For treatment to be effective, your program must include therapy to understand the root causes behind substance use.
The most effective treatment programs are individually designed based on your specific needs and goals as you enter treatment, as no two people experience addiction in the same way. While some people may use the same substances, the effects of those substances on their mind and body will vary. Treatment plans for poly substance dependence are usually a combination of therapy, medications, and comprehensive aftercare planning.5
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a key component in all substance abuse treatment programs. CBT focuses on helping you or a loved one understand the thoughts and behaviors that led to substance abuse. CBT also aims to change negative thoughts to help you achieve behavioral change.
12-step programs and peer support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous are another vital element of substance abuse treatment. Like group therapy, these support sessions offer an opportunity for participants at all stages of their recovery journey to support and hold one another accountable as they work towards lasting sobriety.
To learn more about our treatment programs for either you or a loved one, contact a member of our team at Ripple Ranch Recovery Center today.