July 11, 2023

Polysubstance Abuse: Signs & Symptoms

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What is polysubstance abuse disorder? Polysubstance use involves the simultaneous or sequential consumption of multiple drugs. Polysubstance abuse disorder encompasses both intentional and unintentional instances where two or more substances are taken together or within a short timeframe.

  • Intentional polysubstance use involves purposefully combining drugs to amplify or diminish their effects, or to achieve a unique experience stemming from the interaction between substances.
  • Unintentional polysubstance use arises when someone unknowingly consumes drugs that have been adulterated or laced with other substances like fentanyl without their awareness.

Regardless of intent, mixing drugs poses significant risks as the combined effects can be stronger, more unpredictable, and even potentially lethal when compared to the effects of a single drug.

In this guide, you will learn:

  • What does polysubstance abuse mean?
  • What are the most common polysubstance abuse signs and symptoms?
  • How do you treat polysubstance abuse addiction?
  • How can you connect with addiction treatment in California?
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Criteria for Polysubstance

In earlier versions of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), polysubstance dependence was classified under diagnostic code 304.80. This polysubstance abuse diagnosis indicated that while the use of any individual substance did not meet the criteria for substance dependence, the combined use of multiple drugs did satisfy those criteria.

Addiction specialists and mental health professionals use DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) to diagnose drug addictions (clinically described as substance use disorders). DSM-5-TR is the most current text revision of the fifth edition of this diagnostic tool.

The scientific understanding and definition of polysubstance dependence have evolved over time. Recent research studies have aimed to explore the distinctions between polysubstance dependence and single-drug substance dependence. Unfortunately, the challenge lies in the variations in polysubstance abuse definition used across different studies, making direct comparisons difficult.

The concept of polysubstance dependence has undergone a shift within the diagnosis of substance use disorder. Rather than being dependent on specific substances, individuals with polysubstance dependence are dependent on a group of substances without favoring any particular drugs. This broader perspective acknowledges the complex nature of polysubstance abuse and addiction. 

With the introduction of DSM-5 and its revised threshold for substance use disorders, which lowered the criteria to two or more, the concept of polysubstance dependence became less relevant. The new criteria captured a broader range of substance use problems and rendered the polysubstance dependence category unnecessary.

Recommendations for revisions in DSM-5 included the elimination of polysubstance dependence as a separate diagnostic category. The rationale behind this recommendation was to streamline the diagnostic criteria and ensure consistency with the updated framework for substance use disorders. By removing the polysubstance dependence category, DSM-5 aimed to improve diagnostic clarity and reduce potential confusion among clinicians. Instead, the focus shifted towards assessing and diagnosing substance use disorders based on the number of criteria met across any substances used, regardless of their specific combination.

An effective treatment program recognizes the nuances of polysubstance dependence and offers a customized treatment plan that addresses the comprehensive range of dependencies. By taking into account the specific substances involved and the individual’s unique circumstances, an appropriate treatment program can provide targeted interventions and support to effectively address the complex needs associated with polysubstance dependence.

As our understanding of polysubstance abuse meaning continues to widen, it is vital for treatment providers to adapt their approaches to effectively address the evolving challenges and provide individuals with the comprehensive care they need to overcome this complex condition.

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Diagnosing Polysubstance Abuse

When diagnosing polysubstance abuse in 2023, mental health professionals rely on the guidelines outlined in DSM-5-TR. These guidelines provide a comprehensive framework for identifying and assessing polysubstance abuse based on specific criteria. Here’s an overview of the diagnostic process:

  • Assessment of substance use: The initial step involves gathering detailed information about the person’s substance use patterns, history, and associated consequences. This assessment includes the types of substances used, frequency and quantity of use, and the presence of withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation.
  • DSM substance use disorder criteria: Polysubstance abuse symptoms are now diagnosed within the context of substance use disorder. DSM-5-TR provides criteria to evaluate the severity of substance use disorders, ranging from mild to severe. These criteria encompass aspects from impaired control and social impairment to risky use, and pharmacological criteria like tolerance and withdrawal.
  • Number of criteria present: To diagnose polysubstance abuse, healthcare providers determine the number of criteria met across multiple substances. DSM-5-TR allows for the assessment of substance use disorder based on the overall pattern of substance abuse rather than focusing on individual substances.
  • Severity and impairment: The severity of polysubstance abuse is determined by evaluating the number of criteria present and the resulting impairment in the individual’s daily functioning, relationships, and overall well-being. Severity levels include mild (2 or 3 criteria), moderate (4 or 5 criteria), and severe (6 or more criteria).

By following the guidelines provided in DSM-5-TR, mental health professionals can accurately diagnose polysubstance abuse, assess its severity, and develop an individualized treatment approach. 

Polysubstance Abuse FAQs

What’s polysubstance abuse?

Polysubstance abuse refers to the misuse or consumption of multiple substances, either simultaneously or over a specific period of time, often resulting in substance use disorder (addiction).

Does polysubstance abuse include alcohol?

Yes, alcohol can be involved in polysubstance abuse when it is combined with other illicit substances or consumed alongside them.

What is unintentional polysubstance use?

Unintentional polysubstance use occurs when someone unknowingly or without deliberate intent consumes multiple substances together, potentially leading to unpredictable effects and risks.

What is the danger of mixing drugs?

Mixing drugs poses significant dangers as it can result in synergistic effects, unpredictable reactions, increased toxicity, and heightened risks of adverse health outcomes, including overdose and other harmful consequences.

Treatment for Polysubstance Abuse

Effective treatment for polysubstance abuse involves a comprehensive approach that addresses the complexities of multiple substance dependencies. This may include:

  • Detox: In order to address the complexities of withdrawal from multiple substances, inpatient medical detox is often recommended as an integral component of effective treatment for polysubstance abuse. During inpatient medical detox, 24-hour supervision from medical professionals ensures continuous monitoring of vital signs and immediate response to any medical emergencies that may arise. This level of care provides a safe environment for individuals throughout the detoxification process.
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment): MAT combines the use of medications with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders. FDA-approved medications like methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone may be utilized to help manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and promote recovery. MAT can be particularly beneficial for those with opioid or alcohol dependence.
  • Psychotherapy: Various forms of psychotherapy are employed to address the underlying causes and psychological aspects of polysubstance abuse. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is commonly used to help individuals identify and modify unhealthy thoughts and behaviors related to substance use. MI (motivational interviewing) focuses on enhancing motivation for change, while DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) helps individuals develop coping skills to manage cravings, emotions, and stressful situations.
  • Individual counseling: Individual counseling provides a supportive and confidential space for individuals to explore their substance use patterns, triggers, and underlying emotional issues. A counselor or therapist can work closely with the person to develop personalized strategies for recovery, build coping mechanisms, and set achievable goals.
  • Group therapy: Group therapy offers an opportunity for individuals to connect with peers facing similar challenges and share experiences in a supportive environment. Participating in group therapy sessions can foster a sense of belonging, reduce feelings of isolation, and provide valuable insights and perspectives from others in recovery.
  • Family therapy: Polysubstance abuse can have a significant impact on family dynamics and relationships. Family therapy involves the participation of family members to address communication breakdowns, educate on addiction, and develop strategies to support recovery as a cohesive unit. It aims to rebuild trust, improve family functioning, and enhance the overall support system for the individual in recovery.
  • Holistic interventions: Complementary and holistic therapies like mindfulness practices, yoga, art therapy, and exercise programs, can play a critical role in the treatment of polysubstance abuse. These therapies promote overall well-being, stress reduction, and the development of healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Aftercare planning: The journey to recovery does not end with the completion of an initial treatment program. Aftercare planning is essential to provide ongoing support and relapse prevention strategies. This may include continued therapy, support groups, 12-step programs, sober living arrangements, and access to community resources.

Effective polysubstance abuse treatment should be tailored to the individual’s unique needs and circumstances. A comprehensive treatment program that combines medication, therapy, counseling, and holistic approaches can offer the best chances of sustained recovery and improved quality of life.

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Get Treatment for Polysubstance Abuse at Gratitude Lodge

If you have been abusing more than one substance – alcohol and Vicodin, for instance – discover a path to recovery at Gratitude Lodge, in Southern California. With our compassionate approach and pet-friendly rehab centers in Newport Beach and Long Beach, CA, we are dedicated to holistic healing of the mind, body, and soul.

Begin your recovery journey from polysubstance abuse with our supervised medical detox program, designed to ensure your safety and provide a smooth transition into ongoing recovery. Once your system is cleansed of addictive substances, you can seamlessly progress into our comprehensive 30-day inpatient program.

Engage with a range of evidence-based interventions tailored to your needs, including MAT (medication-assisted treatment), psychotherapy, group therapy, individual counseling, family therapy, holistic therapies, and a robust aftercare component.

Trust in Gratitude Lodge to guide you from the depths of polysubstance abuse to a life of sustained recovery. Take the first step and contact our admissions team at 800-994-2184 for immediate assistance.

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Jenni Bussi

Jenni Busse MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox, facilitating the beginnings of a successful recovery at our rehab addiction centers in Orange County, CA.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse. Alcohol detox may not take as long or produce severe withdrawal symptoms, but it is still an essential beginning to your recovery.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse.
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Holistic Therapy

Our holistic therapy treatments offer a full-scope approach to recovery, addressing your mind, body, and emotions as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. This therapy is designed to help address underlying issues and integrate alternative therapies to promote overall health and well-being.
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An essential part of your treatment experience, we offer individual (CBT and DBT talk therapy) and group addiction treatment counseling to help you explore and address the emotional component of addiction, providing you with the tools, self-awareness, and empowerment you need to maintain recovery.
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Dual Diagnosis

Dual Diagnosis is a highly effective addiction treatment that addresses substance use and mental health disorders simultaneously. Often co-occurring, these disorders are best managed when treated together with specific and targeted therapy.
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Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-Assisted Treatment provides you with FDA-approved medications to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal while you’re in treatment. This makes the detox process easier and safer, as well as increasing the chances of a successful recovery.
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Sober Living

Sober living provides a supportive and substance-free living environment for your ongoing recovery. We partner with a number of upscale and carefully vetted sober living homes that are available to our clients after inpatient alcohol and drug addiction treatment.
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Outpatient Treatment

Once detox and inpatient are complete, we provide an easy transition to outpatient care through our hand-selected partners. This program offers a more flexible approach, allowing you to ease back in to daily life while still receiving frequent & effective care.
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Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment provides an intensive and comprehensive addiction treatment program in a structured environment. You will receive 24/7 expert care, therapy, and support as you build your foundation for long-term recovery.
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Drug & Alcohol Detox

A crucial first step in the recovery process, our detox program provides a comfortable, medically supervised environment that addresses the physical aspect of addiction and eliminates substances from your body.
Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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