Polydrug use refers to when a person uses multiple drugs for recreational purposes. An individual who engages in polydrug use may use illegal drugs, legal drugs, or a mix of the two. For example, someone might have a cocaine misuse disorder while also drinking alcohol and misusing sleeping pills or antianxiety medication.
People use multiple drugs for many different reasons. In some cases, the goal is to amplify the effects of each drug. A person might also misuse multiple drugs to counteract one another, for example, by taking a stimulant, such as cocaine, and then using sleeping pills to calm down.
Alcohol is one of the most common drugs in polydrug use. A 2020 study reports that about 11% of people with a substance use disorder also misuse alcohol.
Polydrug use increases the risk of serious complications, including overdose. In 2019, almost half of drug overdose deaths involved more than one drug.
Keep reading to learn more about polydrug use, including the dangers of mixing drugs, common risk factors, and advice on seeking help for addiction.
Polydrug use means mixing two or more drugs for recreational purposes. Doctors may also use the term polysubstance misuse.
Polydrug use may mean using two drugs at the same time or very close to one another. Some examples of polydrug use include:
All drugs have side effects. The more of them a person uses, the more potential side effects they may experience. Some of the risks of mixing drugs include:
Some potential side effects include:
Anyone can develop an addiction to drugs. Drug addiction is a major risk factor for polydrug misuse since people who have one addiction may develop another. They may even try to manage the symptoms of their addiction with another drug. Therefore, misusing potentially addictive drugs is a key risk factor.
Some drug misuse risk factors include:
Some risk factors for polydrug use include:
A person can become addicted to any addictive substance, including multiple substances or combinations of them.
Addiction changes the brain’s motivational system and alters the way it responds to pleasure and reward. Over time, an individual becomes dependent on a substance to feel pleasure and eventually feel normal.
A person with multiple addictions may crave the two drugs together or each drug in different contexts. For example, they might crave cannabis only when coming down from cocaine.
Some common examples of polydrug use include:
Polydrug use can be deadly. People who experience potentially dangerous symptoms, such as breathing difficulties, intense confusion, chest pain, or loss of consciousness, should seek emergency care.
Addiction is a treatable disease, but people cannot will their way out of it. Individuals who think they may have an addiction should speak with a doctor or psychotherapist to explore their options.
It is important to note that addiction is not a personal failing. It is a sickness.
Some signs a person might need help include:
There are many options for treating addiction, and the right treatment depends on a person’s lifestyle, personality, addiction, budget, and preferences. Some potential treatment options include:
Addiction is a serious and life threatening medical condition.
Polydrug addiction intensifies the traditional side effects of addiction and drug use. People who die of overdoses often do so while misusing multiple drugs.
Individuals can avoid polydrug misuse by speaking with a doctor about all drugs they use before getting any new prescriptions. If a person experiences side effects from drug use, it is important to avoid self-medication and instead consult a health provider.
Substance misuse disorder is a treatable medical condition. Help and support are available, but a person must be willing to seek care.
Last medically reviewed on February 10, 2022