When people are using more than drug at a time, it is referred to as polysubstance use. According to the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over half of all alcohol-related emergency room visits in 2011 involved illicit and prescription drugs.

People combine different substances for different reasons, but the most common reason is that they want to amplify the effects of individual drugs. Some people may unintentionally combine drugs like prescription drugs and alcohol or marijuana. The risk of potentially dangerous side effects of polysubstance use depends on the amount and type of drugs being mixed. The most significant risk associated with polysubstance use is “combined drug intoxication.”

Some common risks associated with polysubstance use include:

  • Brain damage
  • Coma
  • Heart problems
  • Seizures
  • Stomach bleeding
  • Liver damage
  • Liver failure
  • Suppressed breathing
  • Respiratory failure

One study found that teenagers are most likely to mix substances. The study found that seven out of ten teenagers mixed opioids with other substances. The most commonly combined substances among teens are non-prescription opioids and marijuana, followed by 52% of teens mixing opioids and alcohol.

Polysubstance use is more likely to result in overdose and death, so if you or someone you know struggles with an addiction to one or more substance, help is available. Getting treatment for substance use and co-occurring disorders is the most effective approach to address drug addiction and avoid overdosing.

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