What is Polysubstance Abuse and how does It relate to Opioid Use Disorder?

Have you ever heard the term “addictive personality”? 

You likely have, but what are the implications of that term? What exactly does it mean to have an addictive personality? If you or someone you know has struggled with substance use disorder, you may have noticed they may go from one substance to another. In addition to the term “addictive personality”, another commonly uttered phrase in these conversations is “drug of choice”, but sometimes it’s not a drug of choice, but a drug that alleviates symptoms of underlying mental disorders, trauma, or life challenges one is struggling to go through. This is what an addictive personality truly is. It is the tendency to use substances to deal with problems rather than facing them head on. But there is another way of describing this condition: polysubstance abuse (or polyaddiction). 

What is Polysubstance abuse?

In 2019, half of drug overdoses involved more than one substance. What is polysubstance abuse? Polysubstance abuse, or polyaddiction is simply being addicted to more than one substance (hence the prefix, poly). A lot of people struggling with substance abuse disorder have faced addictions of other kinds. It could be another illicit substance, prescription medication, alcohol, or even an activity. Polysubstance abuse is particularly dangerous as the mixing certain substances can have lethal consequences. For example, mixing depressants (such as opioids) and stimulants (such as cocaine or methamphetamine). 

How does Polysubstance Abuse relate to Mental Health?

When someone is struggling with mental illness or psychological conditions, they might use substances to achieve many different desired effects. For example, someone may be struggling with anxiety and depression (the two are often comorbid). They may use alcohol to lower their inhibition and make themselves less anxious and use cocaine to bring themselves out of depression and be more energetic. While they are dependent on two different substances, they are also one single person struggling underneath. 

The reason why an individual may be suffering from multiple addictions at once is because the addictions are all a coping mechanism for the mental hardships they are going through. In the case of addiction, many times it’s not merely an extreme desire for the substance itself, but a desire to free oneself from the struggles of mental illness. This can be done through one substance or a concoction of many.  

Luckily, opioid addiction treatments often rely on a whole person approach in their methods. Medication assisted treatment (MAT) allows the drug dependence and the underlying mental health aspects of addiction to be treated simultaneously. 

Why MAT for Polysubstance abuse?

Treating an addiction without considering the emotional and mental aspects underneath is more or less like putting a band aid on a wound without anything else to help it heal. You’re merely hiding it. Opioid addiction treatment methods, such as Suboxone treatment for opioid use, do offer short- and long-term benefits. They help prevent relapses and aid patients in their withdrawal symptoms. But often it is easy to focus heavily on those and not treat the human being underneath who is struggling. This is why Medication Assisted Treatment or MAT has shown to be so successful in treating substance abuse, particularly opioids.  

Are you or someone you know struggling with opioid use disorder? Contact us today. Help is only a call or click away.