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Polysubstance Abuse: How Therapy Can Help 

What is polysubstance abuse?Polysubstance abuse refers to a misuse or dependence on more than one substance at a time. Most people who abuse prescription or illegal drugs have a substance of choice. Many people have a secondary or tertiary drug to which they will turn when they can’t get their substance of choice. Alcohol, marijuana, and methadone are all common secondary substances.

Some people who deal with polysubstance abuse find themselves addicted to being high rather than to a specific substance. Some polysubstance abusers utilize multiple substances to deal with the effects of withdrawal. An addict who says that they’ll use any substance they “can get their hands on” is typically a polysubstance abuser dealing with serious withdrawal symptoms (both physical and psychological) from their primary drug of choice. People with an addiction to more than one substance are sometimes hesitant to seek treatment. They may feel that they are beyond help, or that their personal case is too complicated for recovery.

While these feelings are understandable, nothing could be further from the truth. Even though many addicts may ask themselves, “What is polysubstance abuse?” the condition is quite common. Treatment for polysubstance abuse is the same as treatment for any other substance abuse. Cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, and medication-assisted therapy are effective for people who are dealing with polysubstance abuse.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) involves working with a therapist one on one to disrupt the thoughts and behaviors that lead to use. This often leads to a discussion of the trio that leads to use- people, places, and things. A CBT therapist works with an addict to find the triggers that lead the person to use. After identifying these triggers, the therapist helps the user to create a plan to avoid or deal with these triggers. This can be as simple as taking a different route home from work, or as complex as bringing in a triggering family member in for a joint therapy session. Group therapy is also helpful. People in the throes of addiction can feel like no one else could understand, but group therapy shows that no one is alone in their struggles. Medication-assisted therapy can help addicts to overcome chemical issues in the brain that lead to use.

While any one type of therapy can be helpful, a multi-faceted approach is often best for polysubstance abuse. Regardless of the number of substances used, research shows that therapy is effective and recovery is possible.

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