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Polydrug Use & Addictions

Polydrug Use Explained

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Polydrug use is when someone is using or abusing more than one substances. Many may not even realise they’re participating in polydrug use when they mix alcohol with another substance such as, for example, cocaine or amphetamines. In Great Britain, a study showed that polydrug use is most often associated with hazardous alcohol use and with individuals who have mental health issues (particularly lifetime suicide attempts). (1)

According to a 2013-2014 UK study, 9% of respondents stated that the last time they used drugs, it was in combination with multiple drugs or substances. This was an increase from a reported 7% in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 surveys. The most common drugs to be used in a mixture with others were mephedrone (68%), ecstasy (57%), amphetamines (50%) and tranquilisers (35%). (2)

Even though it may be common, polydrug use is quite dangerous. Drug use is already hazardous to the body, and the risk is magnified when multiple drugs are taken and expected to be processed by the body simultaneously.

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What Is Polydrug Use?

Polydrug use is a term referring to the use of multiple drugs or substances at the same time. The prefix poly- is from a Greek word that means ‘many’.

People typically participate in polydrug use to enhance the effects of one particular drug. For example, a drug may be taken in combination with alcohol to intensify the drug’s impact.

The exact result of combining substances is difficult to determine and depends on a few factors. Along with considering how the two substances work together, the results may differ due to the purity of the drug, the amount of each substance used, the person’s tolerance, the person’s mood when taking the drug, the setting the person is in and who they are with when they take the drug.

Common Drug Combinations

One common polydrug use combination is mixing drug use with alcohol. People can forget that alcohol is considered a substance and will have an impact on them when mixed with drugs. Hospitals report that as many as half of the visits to the emergency room that are alcohol-related also involve the presence of illicit or prescription drugs. A typical polydrug combination is a marijuana and alcohol.
Even mixing alcohol with caffeinated drinks is considered polydrug use. Energy drinks and caffeinated drinks have warnings on the label not to mix the beverages with alcohol because the result is considered dangerous and can harm the body.

Typical combinations

  • Cocaine and MDMA/ecstasy
  • Speed and alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines and alcohol
  • Sleeping pills and alcohol

Many people combine heroin and cocaine as they are believed to counter each other’s negative side effects. Individuals who use heroin typically find themselves drowsy and unable to function, but pairing it with cocaine supposedly lets them remain alert.

Dangers of Polydrug Use

Polydrug use is incredibly dangerous. Combining two different substances can have detrimental effects on the body. It’s difficult to say what the exact dangers can be, as polydrug use will impact each individual differently and will depend on the drug combination.

Some common health dangers include psychosis, panic attacks, heart problems, respiratory infections, bronchitis, dehydration, overheating, kidney failure, serotonin syndrome, stomach bleeding, coma, fatal combinations that can result in death and nonfatal combinations that can result in permanent brain damage.

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Mixing drugs is likely to result in the brain being depleted of its calming chemicals, which can cause panic and behavioural issues. A person who is participating in polydrug use may be unable to think clearly and so engages in dangerous activities.


(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2693221/
(2) https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/462885/drug-misuse-1415.pdf

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