Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Popular Drug Combinations Among Teenagers

Being a teenager can be a confusing and testing time for young men. Many a budding future has come crashing down because of bad choices and poor judgment.

While the problems used to be girls, cartoons, or video games, teenage boys today face graver and far more serious threats. The danger goes even beyond simple drug use, as more and more teens are experimenting with combining drugs.

Teenage boys—perhaps fueled by adrenaline, hormones, peer pressure, or struggling to cope with grades, parents, and maturity—are especially susceptible to the temptation to take a hit, to feel good about themselves, to escape their problems, or to rebel against what they perceive as constrictive and unfair societal codes.

When presented with an opportunity to take this even further by taking another drug at the same time, it may be hard to say no.

While the challenges posed by use of a single narcotic are naturally exacerbated in the presence of another drug taken at the same time, there are still a number of treatment options that can help a young man out of his addiction and through the processes of recovery.

Why Would People Combine Drugs?

Given that the dangers of drug intake and addiction are so well publicized in the media and popular culture, it may come as a surprise that combining drugs is even an issue. Why run even greater risks of serious mental problems and even death? What could possibly be the attraction in making a lethal problem even worse?

Unfortunately, the people who take drugs tend to be so deep into their addictions that concern for well-being is low on their list of priorities. Instead, using drugs simultaneously or in combination to experience an even stronger hit—or, ironically, to try to control the effects of a more powerful drug—takes precedence over self-preservation.

Another reason behind combined drug use (also known as poly-drug use) is when the user’s drug of choice is unavailable, and the user is desperate enough for another hit that they replace that drug with another substance. This still carries extensive health risks, as the user’s body, currently suffering from the effects of one drug, is now forced to deal with the effects of a different narcotic.

The Gateway Drug?

Cannabis, more popularly known as marijuana, has often been referred to as a “gateway drug” – relatively harmless on its own, but enticing users to experiment with harder, more dangerous substances once the novelty of marijuana wears off (or once inhibitions are sufficiently reduced). As the most popular illicit drug in the world, 22.7 percent of 12th graders (approximately 17 or 18 years old) reported having used marijuana in 2013. For adolescents in their mid-teens, the number was 18 percent.

Teenagers are more likely to use cannabis first than any other controlled substance. A study done for the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that study participants using cannabis more than 50 times a year had experience with controlled substances up to 140 times more than non-users, concluding that smoking marijuana was “strongly related”—but non-causal—to the introduction of more illicit drugs.

The non-causal element may be due to other factors that can predict or influence the likelihood a teenager will make the transition to more lethal drugs:

  • Personal predisposition to risky behavior
  • Likelihood that a cannabis user can procure other drugs
  • Familial and societal situations (peer pressure)

For these reasons, there is disagreement in respective scientific communities as to whether cannabis should truly be considered a gateway drug; or, even if it does fit that criteria, whether it’s because cannabis being illegal forces teenagers to seek out sources of cannabis that also provide harder drugs. Statistics also point to more than 100 million Americans in this generation trying cannabis, but less than half that number (still a sizable 37 million Americans) moving on to heroin.

Popular Drug Combinations: Speedball

Speedball may be one of those words you saw in the news reports on the deaths of Philip Seymour Hoffman, River Phoenix, and John Belushi but never really understood. There’s a reason why speedball is so addictive and why it’s so deadly. It is the simultaneous use of cocaine and heroin or morphine – all incredibly potent and addictive drugs on their own.

They are taken in conjunction because cocaine is a stimulant, making the user feel alert, active, sharp, and focused beyond natural limits. Heroin and morphine are depressants. Morphine, in particular, is known for treating severe pain by dulling the nerve cells that report painful sensations back to the brain, and in turn causing slow breathing and lowered heart rate.

The theory behind taking speedballs is that the heroin/morphine will mitigate the more undesirable effects of cocaine – the anxiety, paranoia, hypertension and uncontrollable heart rate – while still allowing the user to feel the rush and euphoria that makes cocaine so addictive. This works in theory, but not in practice, because the user is often unable to tell where one drug ends and where the other drug begins. If the users feels the stimulant (cocaine) is too strong, he may take more of the morphine to counteract it; likewise, if the depressant (heroin or morphine) provides the stronger sensation, he may increase his cocaine intake. Unable to feel the proper balance, the user often seesaws between too much of one drug or another, leading to an overdose and death.

Benzodiazepine Abuse

Benzodiazepines isn’t an easily recognizable word, but most people know the drug under its better-known brand names, Valium and Xanax.

As powerful psychoactive drugs, benzodiazepines are used for their sedating, tranquilizing and relaxant effects, often prescribed to anxiety patients and insomniacs, to calm them and relax their bodies and minds to the point of sleep. However, the ubiquity of benzodiazepines, even as a prescription drug, makes it a favorite among addicts who believe that using benzodiazepines in combination with another relaxant will hasten, or increase, the powerful sedative effects, or that using it with a stimulant will help alleviate the comedown—the euphoric feelings of a drug hit wearing off and being replaced by strong, negative emotions and sensations. Cannabis is a popular combination drug for this same reason.

A common substance of choice with benzodiazepines is alcohol, often because benzos and alcohol share the effect of making a user feel calm and relaxed.

However, benzodiazepines are so strong in dulling natural brain and body activity that using them in combination with alcohol runs the risk of outright stopping vital organs like the kidneys and liver, and even the heart and brain. A majority of deaths caused by poly-drug use come from combining depressants (such as benzodiazepines) with alcohol.

Additionally, abusing benzodiazepines with other substances (opioids and heroin seem to be particularly popular) brings its own plethora of dangers, such as:

  • Intense headaches
  • Respiratory failure
  • Adverse cardiac effects (seizures)
  • Vomiting
  • Cardiac arrest or coma

Antidepressants and Alcohol

Not all drug combinations are the result of a futile chase of an elusive high. Some people combine legal substances with the idea that the positive effects of one drug will be helped along by the similar effects of another. For example, with how widespread depressive and anxiety disorders are in the United States, around 27 million Americans take a particular type of antidepressant, the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. While these drugs are always prescribed with stern warnings to not mix them with alcohol, some patients think that since both antidepressants and alcohol can lift the mood, taking them together might help the patients get over a particularly difficult depressive mood.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. Alcohol can actually counter the effects of the antidepressant, perpetuating the initial depression. The user, however, may not be aware of the negating effect of the alcohol and may drink even more in order to reach the desired, but ultimately impossible, state of mind. Motor and cognitive abilities may be impaired beyond expected levels, and side effects, such as drowsiness, may be made worse by the combination.

Treating Teenage Poly-Drug Use

Combining any form of illicit substance opens the door to a multitude of short-term and long-term risks. For all the extensive dangers posed by this kind of experimentation, there is still hope.

At Muir Wood, we offer unique and customized treatment programs to help wean young men off their addictions and onto the path of recovery and rehabilitation. In a natural, private and safe environment, our staff employ a variety of treatment methods—including individual, group and family therapy—to first address the physical dependence on drug combinations, and then to treat the mental and emotional reasons why young men turned to a lifestyle of addiction and self-destruction. Call Muir Wood today to find out how we can help.