Can Multiple Addictions be Treated at the Same Time?

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Multiple Addictions

Many people wonder if treating multiple addictions at the same time is possible. The truth is a lot of people are grappling with substance use disorder. Among these individuals, some develop addictions to multiple substances or exhibit signs of behavioral addiction. This condition is commonly known as polysubstance dependence. It isn’t uncommon, considering the nature of the disease and how it alters the reward center in the brain. When a patient with addiction to three or more substances seeks treatment, it is most effective to address each addiction as a part of the whole. A comprehensive approach to addiction treatment, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and substance use counseling, is usually the best course of action. This can also be done in an outpatient setting in most cases.

Addiction as a Disease 

In the past, the general public has considered addiction to be a character flaw. People once believed it only affected individuals seen as weak-willed and undisciplined. Society has long regarded those with addiction as “thrill-seekers” who can’t be reasoned with and who selfishly prioritize their pleasures over others, disregarding consequences. This archaic view ignores the very nature of addiction and how it affects the brain’s reward pathway and opioid receptors. When someone reaches the phase of addiction, their behaviors are no longer a choice. Instead, it becomes a drive entrenched in their brain chemistry, molded by substances that warp and reshape opioid receptors.  

The reward pathway in the brain sends signals to the body that there’s a feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction. For those who have no addictions, it can be as simple as mind and body communication. This includes experiencing satiety after eating, quenching thirst when drinking a glass of water, or more complex emotions like love and indulgence. These feelings occur when dopamine and serotonin fluctuate and stimulate naturally occurring opioid receptors in the brain.

When someone begins to use a substance or engage in behavior that floods the brain with unnatural levels of stimulation, like opioids, they experience a euphoric high. This high is more powerful than can ever occur in nature. With repeated use, the brain creates pockets for more and more opioid receptors to engage, asking for more of the substance to feel normal. This is where cravings and withdrawal start to occur. Normal-day activities are no longer satisfying the need for dopamine and serotonin, thus creating the urge to continue using. This can quickly spiral out of control, morphing the brain into a powerful driving force. It drives them to continue seeking more when the substance runs out to satisfy their bodily needs.

Co-occurring and Cross Addictions

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Addiction doesn’t exist in isolation. Each patient has unique circumstances requiring a personalized treatment plan. However, experts have categorized these situations into two distinct categories to better understand how to treat multiple addictions: co-occurring and cross-addictions.

  • Co-occurring addiction: When someone engages in more than one addictive behavior simultaneously. This includes misusing substances and then obsessively participating in addictive activities such as gambling, sex, shopping, eating, or other behaviors.
  • Cross-addiction: When a person misuses substances or exhibits addictive behaviors separately and at different times. For instance, individuals struggling with substance use disorder and gambling often switch between these behaviors. They may occasionally substitute the “high” of one for the other.

Both categories of multiple addictions often have underlying psychological roots, increasing the risk of injury or overdose. It’s imperative that people facing more than one addiction seek the right kind of help to address every aspect involved.

Dangers of Multiple Addictions

It’s not uncommon for someone addicted to opioids to seek another substance to achieve a sense of “normalcy” after experiencing their desired high. Currently, there are many people addicted to fentanyl and methamphetamine. These two drugs have entirely contrasting effects; one slowing them down and the other speeding them back up again. The counteractions between these two substances can be deadly. Users may overlook opioid overdose symptoms due to the sped-up influence of amphetamines, such as recessed breathing and delayed reactions. Alternatively, some individuals casually mix opioid substances with alcohol. This combination can enhance sedative effects, potentially depressing their heart rate and breathing, which can lead to overdose. The dangers of mixing substances can lead to an untimely fatal ending for many individuals. Such experimentation with “counteracting” one drug’s effects with another can make it increasingly difficult to stop as they continue. 

Treating Multiple Addictions with Suboxone

People struggling with more than one addiction will need a treatment plan that differs from those with a substance use disorder to one drug. However, a medical provider that regularly prescribes Suboxone in an outpatient treatment center for opioid use disorder can assist patients. This includes those who also misuse amphetamines, alcohol, or other drugs. For behavioral addictions that are co-occurring, a referral to a specialist who deals with mental health and DSM-4 is a critical course of action. Thankfully, office-based outpatient treatment centers know how to approach addiction as a whole, considering the patient’s full needs.  

Relapse Prevention in Addiction Treatment

Because there is no real “cure” for the chronic disease of addiction, anyone struggling with the condition who attends treatment becomes aware that relapse is often part of the recovery journey. Logically, battling multiple addictions, particularly when behavioral addictions are present, increases the risk of relapse. Hence, substance use counseling for multiple addictions plays a crucial role, serving as a fundamental component of medication-assisted treatment.  Individual and group counseling focuses on relapse prevention while looking to remedy the root causes of each patient’s addiction and unresolved trauma. Each patient enrolled in MAT will undergo evaluation by a medical provider. This evaluation aims to determine the best course of treatment tailored to their specific situation, optimizing the success rate for recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance misuse or addictive behaviors, contact the knowledgeable and compassionate staff at Middlesex Recovery. Patients enrolled in our outpatient program have unlimited access to our medical staff, counselors, and referrals for specialists to attend to their treatment needs. To get started, check out our guide, or contact us today with any questions