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Poly Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder is a medical condition in which the use of one or more substances leads to a significant impairment or distress. The effects of substance use disorder manifest in mental, physical, and behavioral symptoms that cause serious, and often deadly problems in a one’s life. If an individual abuses multiple substances quite consistently, they may have a poly-substance use disorder.


Substance use disorder includes a variety of unhealthy behaviors including addiction, excessive substance usage, and dangerous or reckless substance induced behavior. Problems at home, work, or school are almost always a sign that substances have become a problem for someone.

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    Signs of substance use disorder can include:

    Substance use disorders affect physical and mental health, as well as an individual’s behavior(s).

    Physical Signs:

    • Sudden or rapid weight loss
    • Insomnia, laziness, inability to sleep
    • Loss of appetite or change in eating habits
    • Trembling/shaking hands
    • Strange body odor
    • Extreme hyperactivity
    • More talkative than usual
    • Slurred speech
    • Lack of coordination
    • Needle marks and/or abscesses
    • Excessive sweating
    • Vomiting
    • Runny nose and watery eyes
    • Excessive scratching
    • Poor hygiene
    • Lack of physical fitness

    Emotional Signs:

    • Irritability
    • Overly defensive
    • Poor stress management
    • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
    • Minimizing negative consequences
    • Blaming others
    • Confusion
    • Loss of reality
    • Excessive anger
    • Rapid shifts in mood
    • Emotionally fragile
    • Easily agitated
    • Closed-Off
    • Emotional reactions that don’t fit the situation

    Behavioral Signs:

    • Poor work/school performance
    • Sudden changes in attitude
    • Oversensitivity to normal events
    • Forgetfulness
    • Paranoia
    • Secretive or suspicious behavior
    • Changes in friends
    • Legal problems
    • Isolating
    • Financial problems
    • Changes in reliability
    • Avoids eye contact
    • Chooses to be absent from family functions
    • Avoids long events or trips
    • Attracted to different social scenes or circles

    If you recognize any of these signs in yourself or others, you may suffer from a substance use disorder or poly substance use disorder and require comprehensive treatment. It is important to recognize the development of your physical dependence on substances in order to safely recover.

    The DSM-VI guidelines for diagnosing substance use disorder require that an individual have significant impairment or distress from their drug use. They must also have experienced two of the symptoms below in a given year:

    As we know, there is a distinctive pattern of use for those addicted to most substances, however, there is different criteria for diagnosing specific substance use disorders (i.e. opioid use disorder, alcohol use disorder, methamphetamine use disorder, etc.). Substance use disorders can be at varying levels of severity, for different lengths of time; it is not likely for all substance users to score similarly against the criteria for a substance use disorder.

    Criteria for Identifying a Substance Use Disorder

    1. Using more of a substance than planned, or using a substance for a longer interval than desired
    2. Inability to cut down despite desire to do so
    3. Spending substantial amount of the day obtaining, using, or recovering from substance use
    4. Cravings or intense urges to use
    5. Repeated usage causes or contributes to an inability to meet important social, or professional obligations
    6. Persistent usage despite user’s knowledge that it is causing frequent problems at work, school, or home
    7.  Giving up or cutting back on important social, professional, or leisure activities because of use
    8. Using in physically hazardous situations, or usage causing physical or mental harm
    9. Persistent use despite the user’s awareness that the substance is causing or at least worsening a physical or mental problem
    10. Tolerance: needing to use increasing amounts of a substance to obtain its desired effects
    11. Withdrawal: characteristic group of physical effects or symptoms that emerge as amount of substance in the body decreases

    *If you have experienced two or more of the above symptoms, you may have a substance use disorder and should contact us immediately.

    Level of Substance Use Disorder Severity: the more symptoms that apply, the more severe the substance use disorder is.

    2 or more symptoms = mild substance use disorder
    5-7 symptoms = moderate substance use disorder
    8+ symptoms = severe substance use disorder

    Polysubstance Use Disorder Detox Program

    Problems at home, work, or school are almost always a sign that substance use disorder has become a problem for someone. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) substance use disorder is “evidence of impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria”. Due to differences in criteria for each substance use disorder, individuals who meet criteria for multiple substance use disorders will be categorized as polysubstance use disordered— this will require a treatment plan that is more individualized. A detox program that can be tailored to fit the needs and address the withdrawal symptoms associated with multiple substance use disorders will require a skilled and knowledgable medical and clinical team.

    Substance use disorders affect everyone across the board. There are documented cases of men, women, young, old, rich and poor–all being affected by substance use disorder. Genetics have been found to play a role in addiction, however, environmental factors play a large role as well. Despite the importance of family medical and addiction history, there is not one single factor that is the cause of addiction. Addiction is a combination of environmental and genetic influences.

    Polysubstance Use Disorder Levels of Severity




    Frequently Asked Questions about Polysubstance Use Disorder

    What are the most common polysubstance use disorders?

    There is not an official list of the most common polysubstance use disorders, however, we frequently see many polysubstance use disorders involving opiates and methamphetamines, benzodiazepines and alcohol, and benzodiazepines and opioids.

    What happens when you stop using one substance but continue using another?

    All substances, whether it be drugs or alcohol, have their own set of properties and symptoms of withdrawal. If you discontinue using one substance, but continue using another, you can experience withdrawal symptoms from the substance that you are no longer using. In some cases, discontinuing one substance while maintaining use of another can actually prevent your withdrawal symptoms from coming through as intensely as they would without any substance use or without a proper medical detoxification.

    Does doing drugs have permanent effects?

    Yes, doing drugs or drinking alcohol consistently can have permanent consequences. Some permanent effects of alcoholism or drug use can include cognitive damage, a disrupted internal reward system, delayed motor skills and impacts on appearance. The intensity and volume of permanent damage is influenced by an individual’s usage history and family medical history.

    If you have an alcohol and drug problem, what rehab should you go to?

    Any truly comprehensive rehabilitation programs for addiction should have specialized tracks that are targeted for individuals struggling with certain substance use disorders. These tracks are meant to be more specific in their relation to the individual receiving treatment, however, making an individualized treatment program a priority is a key for finding the proper treatment for polysubstance use disorders. An individualized program will allow you to design a treatment plan that is perfectly aligned with your rehabilitation needs and goals.

    How long does it take to develop a polysubstance use disorder?

    Polysubstance use by definition is more than one completed developed substance use disorder— making the timeline different for everyone. It may take one person ten years of using benzodiazepines before misusing them and one week of opioid abuse before that individual develops a polysubstance use disorder. It could take another individual one month to develop a polysubstance use disorder.


    We can help you get started right away. We work with most private insurance policies and we have affordable private pay rates if you do not have insurance. Give us a call and we will figure out the best treatment plan for you or your loved one.

    We know how stressful it can be to find help for yourself or a loved one who is struggling with an addiction. This is why we will always be here to offer 24/7 support over the phone. If you need advice, help getting admitted, or need any other resources for addiction rehabilitation— please give us a call.

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