Cooks are masters of mixing. By adding in a dash of spice, tempered by a tablespoon of sugar and a few other key ingredients, they can create confections that dance on the tongue and keep consumers coming back for more. Some drug users also mix and match, but instead of hoping to deliver new flavor combinations with their work, they hope to create new and exciting intoxication experiences. Sometimes, however, the mixes they create can bring about new and unexpected consequences.
Why Mix and Match?
People who take in multiple drugs can, at times, do so unintentionally, according to an article in the Journal of Drug Issues. These users might buy a drug they think is pure, but when they take in the drug, they might find that it’s tainted with another substance. Anytime someone buys a drug on the street, the risk of contamination is there. It’s just not something that can be avoided. As a result, anyone who takes in street drugs has very likely dealt with poly-drug abuse at some point.
There are some drug users that actually seek out a customized drug experience, made through combinations of different types of drugs taken altogether. These drug users aren’t duped into taking substances they just didn’t expect. Instead, they’re systematically choosing specific classes of drugs and taking them in a carefully orchestrated manner, hoping to bring a certain type of interaction to life.
Drug users might combine different substances in order to:
- Intensify a specific sensation, like euphoria or relaxation
- Temper withdrawal from one type of drug
- Smooth out negative consequences of one type of drug high
- Combine unusual reactions, creating a custom high
Users might take heroin and alcohol together in order to create a deep sensation of relaxation, smoothed and softened by multiple drugs. They might add hallucinogens with amphetamines, boosting the power of sensory distortion by increasing a sensation of energy. Or they might mix an upper like cocaine with a downer like alcohol, trying to create a sensation no one has really experienced before.
People who mix and match might feel as though they’re very much in control of the sensations they can deliver. And they might use the Internet to help increase their sense of comfort.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science suggests that search engines like Google can help consumers to spot drug/drug interactions. In one study of the issue that focused on interactions between prescribed medications, a data-mining procedure using figures from Google spotted an interaction more than 80 percent of the time. Research like this seems to suggest that online searches really can be effective tools for poly-drug users.
Other tools like the Medscape drug interaction page are designed to help consumers run searches on drug combinations, so they can avoid interactions and stay safe. This tool is made for consumer safety, of course, but a drug user might feel comfortable using this tool to investigate how specific drug combinations might produce a sensation that user really wants.
These sorts of tools are indicative of the popularity of drug mixing and matching. People just feel like it’s a good idea, and they’re lulled into a sense of safety and security, because they can easily access data on how the process works and how they should handle potential problems. The answers seem as though they’re just a few searches away.
Those drug users who really dive into the data on the safety of mixing drugs might find that the practice really isn’t smart. In fact, by looking closely at the research, drug users may find that their combinations could put their health, and even their lives, at risk.
Very Real Dangers
While people who mix drugs may believe that they’re doing so simply to boost a specific set of feelings, and that their decisions carry no real risks, the fact remains that some drug combinations can be really dangerous. Experts might say that any type of drug interaction holds real risks for users.
For example, a researcher writing for the journal BMJ reports that fatal overdoses are “particularly common” among users who take in amphetamines (like meth) or cocaine in combination with ingested heroin. A “speedball,” as this is known, can simply overwhelm the body with sensation, and major systems can shut down in response. When that happens, death can follow. A similar process can happen in those who mix amphetamines/cocaine with a great deal of alcohol, the researcher says, as this mixture produces a fatal substance in the body (cocaethylene) that can destroy vital tissues.
These users may think that they’re doing something smart and novel, crafting a new drug experience, but as this research makes clear, their habits could have very real consequences that they simply never intended to face. And they’re not limited to amphetamines.
Amphetamines can speed up a person’s feelings, and they can produce a sensation of power and invincibility. Opioids like Vicodin have an opposite effect, as they tend to cause a sensation of relaxation and peace. These medications can be deadly when they’re mixed with alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, causing:
- Difficulty breathing
- Memory problems
Users who combine these drugs with alcohol might feel simply relaxed, but they could overdose in time.
Those who mix painkillers with amphetamine-like drugs aren’t much safer. For example, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, mixing the pain medication fentanyl with heroin or cocaine can produce severe drowsiness, which can deepen until the person struggles to breathe. Again, the person might feel just drowsy, but the problem can grow until it becomes life-threatening.
It’s true that people who take too much of just one substance can overdose and/or experience very real health complications. Substance abuse just isn’t designed to make people healthier, but mixing substances just seems to amplify the risks that people face.
In a study of the issue in the journal Addiction
, researchers found that the risk of single-drug overdose rose by 196 percent between 1990 and 2005. That’s a huge jump, researchers acknowledge, and it was driven by people who used prescription painkillers alone or heroin alone. These drugs are dangerous, and using them can lead to serious consequences. But, during that same time period, multi-drug abuse caused an overdose jump of 148 percent, driven by heroin and alcohol, or heroin and cocaine. These combinations amplify the risks that heroin users already face, making their habits so much more dangerous.
The real problem may be that combinations can be simply difficult to predict and control. Different batches of drugs can come with different strengths and different purity levels. Dosing of different drugs can be hard to control. Internal factors, such as dehydration levels and nutrition levels, can make people more vulnerable to negative side effects on one day, where they may have been safe on another. When two drugs are in play, things are just riskier. Controlling for that risk is just harder.
Since combining drugs is so very dangerous, it’s best for those who mix and match to seek immediate professional help. The process begins with detoxification.Typically, in a detox program, clinicians determine what types of drugs a person has taken, and they provide a customized approach to help a person move from intoxication to sobriety. If the person is only using one type of drug, that process is relatively easy to complete. For example, someone addicted to alcohol only might benefit from therapies that can soothe electrical activity in the brain. Alcohol’s long-term sedating effects can morph into seizures in those with addictions. By providing therapy, clinicians hope to keep those firestorms from happening.
But what happens when there are multiple mixtures in play? Often, clinicians watch closely to make sure that their clients have the right mix of therapy. They might need different types of medications at different levels, when compared to people who have only one type of drug addiction, and they might need a longer period of time in which to heal. By providing a customized approach, clinicians can ensure that people get the help they need at the right time.
Medications alone can’t really keep people from abusing drugs. For example, in a study in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, researchers found that 39 percent of heroin abusers switched between abstinence and abuse when given methadone maintenance treatment for addiction. A full 34 percent continued to use heroin, even while on methadone.
For people like this, medications can help to soothe physical distress, but the medications don’t help them to build better habits. They may not know how to handle the stresses of life without using drugs, and they may not know what to do when a craving for drugs strikes them. They may desperately want to stop using, but they may not have the skills to do so.
Therapy can be remarkably helpful. It’s in therapy sessions that people really dive deep into the causes of addiction, learning about why the problem started and what they’ll need to do to get better. Even one therapy session can be deeply helpful. In a study of the issue in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers found that 17.4 percent of people taking cocaine and heroin were abstinent after just one session of therapy. Imagine how well these people would do if they got multiple sessions, stretched out over a period of months.
That’s what a rehab program hopes to provide. Typically, these programs last for weeks, and each day, the person who enrolls is required to spend time working on the addiction issue. For those who think they can control an addiction by adding in other drugs, this type of program can provide the sort of help and tools they’ve just never considered before.
These programs can be fun, too. Often, therapy sessions are followed with complementary therapies involving art, writing, exercise, cooking, and more. People who enroll develop new hobbies, new passions, and new skills. Those are things they can lean on when the cravings hit. They can make the whole experience of life just more pleasant, so there’s a smaller risk of relapse in the first place.
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