Addiction | 6 min read

What Is A Polysubstance Abuse Disorder? Signs, Symptoms, & Help For An Addiction To Multiple Drugs

Medically Reviewed

Medically Reviewed By

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

On May 10, 2022

Written By

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

On May 10, 2022

Withdrawal Process When Addicted to Being High on Drugs
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Drug abuse is a serious and sometimes fatal thing that can quickly destroy a person’s life. Many people who begin using addictive drugs may fall into a pattern of not only taking one addictive drug but taking many at the same time. As a result, many people addicted to drugs or other substances find themselves addicted and taking multiple drugs or substances.

This is called polysubstance abuse. Polysubstance use is when a person uses more than one drug together or in a short time. Polysubstance can be intentional or unintentional, but when it comes to people who are already using drugs, more often than not, polysubstance use is in touch.

Polysubstance abuse disorder is a serious mental disorder listed in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. It is a serious condition that can be treated with professional help and guidance.

People with polysubstance abuse disorder have a higher chance of overdosing or having medical issues related to their drug use because of the number of drugs being taken simultaneously. People taking multiple drugs are also at risk of developing a more intense addiction to multiple substances.

Please read on to learn more about the signs and symptoms of polysubstance abuse disorder and where to find help for an addiction to multiple substances.

What Is A Polysubstance Abuse Disorder?

Polysubstance is very common. The definition of a polysubstance is multiple drugs being consumed together or within a short period. The drugs are typically taken intentionally, but they can be unintentional.

Polysubstance abuse disorder is a mental disorder that was once in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders but has been removed in the most recent edition. However, polysubstance abuse disorder is still recognized as a substance use disorder.

Even though polysubstance abuse is not recognized by the psychological science community as a mental disorder, it is a substance use disorder. Polysubstance abuse disorder is a combination of different substance use disorders.

It is a combination because it is composed of several different drugs, so the user suffers from various substance use disorders. For example, if a person is addicted to and using heroin and cocaine simultaneously, the person would have an opioid use disorder and a stimulant use disorder. They would be diagnosed with a substance use disorder as a blanket term to classify what they are experiencing. However, this would be an example of polysubstance use.

Polysubstance abuse disorder is a difficult addiction to manage and results in many people losing their lives or losing control of their lives. When juggling multiple addictions to different substances and drugs, other parts of their life such as career, social relations, and education get dropped and replaced with getting and using substances.

What Is A Polysubstance Abuse Disorder?

Polysubstance use disorder is very common. Many people who begin using one drug will simultaneously use multiple drugs. Some people develop polysubstance use disorders without realizing it. This is because many drugs bought on the street are “cut” with other drugs, making them a mixture of substances.

If the buyer does not know that the drugs they are buying are cut with something else, they can develop an addiction to both drugs and a polysubstance use disorder.

Polysubstance use is very dangerous because it leads to a higher risk of mixing a lethal combination of drugs and because of its higher risk of addiction.

Signs & Symptoms That Someone Is Struggling With A Polysubstance Abuse Disorder

People suffering from polysubstance abuse disorder often feel shame related to their addiction. Many people who suffer from addictions feel guilty and try to hide them from friends and family. There is a social stigma about people who are addicted to drugs which can prevent them from reaching out and talking to their loved ones to seek help.

There are many signs that a person can be addicted to a substance, some are general, and some are more specific and related to a particular drug. Some of the more general signs of addiction are as follows:

  • Large shifts in personality
  • Decreased motivation
  • Moodiness or irritability
  • Inexplicable agitation or anger
  • Bloody noses
  • Bloodshot eyes from drug use or lack of sleep
  • Slurred speech
  • Tremors or shakiness
  • No concern for personal care or hygiene
  • Financial issues

There are also a variety of symptoms related to substance use that are a bit more specific to the drug.

Substance use disorders, such as polysubstance use disorders, are mental disorders, which can affect a person’s thought process, behavior, personality, and more. When a person is suffering from polysubstance use disorder, they have a lack of control to stop drug use. They may want to quit or try to quit, but they will struggle with their inability to control themselves.

People suffering from polysubstance use disorder will often know that the drugs they use are bad for them and damaging but will continue to use them anyway. This is the case with most substance use disorders.

Substance addiction symptoms include various symptoms and behaviors that others or the user can notice. The biggest sign of addiction is the feeling that you need to use drugs regularly and frequently. When you do not have the drugs, the addict will feel intense cravings and urges to get the drugs. Their cravings prevent other thoughts from occurring.

Signs & Symptoms That Someone Is Struggling With A Polysubstance Abuse Disorder

People suffering from polysubstance use disorder will develop a tolerance for the drugs and take more of the drugs to achieve the same effect. People with polysubstance abuse disorder will also try to maintain a supply of the drugs and spend money on the drugs even if they cannot afford them.

Taking drugs will also get in the way of work and life obligations. Continued use of the drugs even though the user is addicted or has had their life severely altered because of drug use is another sign. People suffering from polysubstance use disorder may have severe behavioral changes, like stealing when they never used to steal. They may also begin partaking in risky activities or dangerous behavior while under the influence of drugs.

Lastly, people suffering from polysubstance use disorder will spend a lot of time trying to get the drugs, using the drugs, and recovering from the drugs. If they try to quit, they may experience withdrawal symptoms or fail to quit.

How To Get Help With A Polysubstance Abuse Disorder: How To Detox Safely

Getting help for a polysubstance abuse disorder is possible. There are many registered Healthcare professionals, facilities, and centers where people suffering from substance abuse can go to receive help.

There is hope if you or a loved one suffers from polysubstance abuse disorder. Because the journey to quitting drug use is so tedious and difficult, one of the most important parts of your journey will be to rely on trusted friends and family. Talking to your friends and family about your polysubstance abuse disorder may be incredibly difficult and upsetting, but having people cheering for you in your corner can make the difference between getting clean and relapsing later.

If a loved one is suffering from polysubstance abuse disorder, it is important to talk to them about finding a facility, center, or program to help them recover and live a full and happy life. These conversations are never easy but necessary for people’s health.

Detoxing from polysubstance use is a difficult time for an addict. Detox and withdrawal is an emotionally, physically, chemically, and mentally difficult experience that can be dangerous. It is also a potential risk factor for people to relapse. Therefore, being safe while detoxing is very important.

When preparing to detox, it is important to go to a facility or center that understands how detoxing from polysubstance abuse works. Professionals will be able to guide the user through their withdrawal and detox, help provide comfort, and make sure that everything is going safely and properly.

Detox and withdrawal centers are the best way to detox safely because, in some cases, there are medical emergencies during the detox process. If a medical emergency does occur, it’s important to have medical professionals on hand to potentially save the person’s life.

If you or a loved one is suffering from polysubstance abuse disorder, please get in touch with a premier detox facility to get your life back on track and begin the journey to getting clean. Everyone deserves to live a life free from drugs, and you are no exception.

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Amanda Stevens


Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. Read more

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  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Commonly Used Drugs Charts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published August 20, 2020. Accessed August 27, 2022.