Monday, March 31, 2014

What's Polydrug Addiction

Mental health and addiction professionals are aware that one or more mental disorders often exist in individuals who abuse substances. According to a National Institution on Drug Abuse study published in 2008, genetic variants may be the cause for this relationship. Polydrug addiction occurs when an individual becomes addicted to any and all drugs available, rather than selecting a drug of choice. The study, completed on nicotine addicts, identified a gene variant that not only made it more likely the smoker would become a heavy smoker, but it was also associated with nicotine addiction and the likelihood that the individual would not quit smoking.


Mental health and addiction professionals witness the relationship between emotional and substance dependency in their clients. Mental illness increases the likelihood that an individual also will become drug dependent because drugs are often used to escape unpleasant emotions of depression, fear and general anxiety. Once a person with mental health issues begins using any drug, he is more likely to continue drug use in order to self medicate. This leads to addiction. Mentally ill individuals are also more likely to become polydrug addicts.

The Variant

According to the researchers of the above study, the variant that makes smokers more likely to become addicted to nicotine is closely linked to nicotine receptors in the brain. Alpha 3 and alpha 5, are located on the surface of cells in the brain that are also bound by nicotine. Studies have demonstrated that the same mechanisms present in nicotine addicted individuals are also in place for cocaine and methamphetamine addicts, as well as the opioid dependent.

Dopamine and Tolerance

All drugs of abuse, whether nicotine, cocaine, methamphetamine or prescription medications, tend to activate the production of the pleasure producing chemical, dopamine, in the brain. As the brain adjusts to the imbalance, tolerance develops. Tolerance is the conditioned need for more of the same substance than was initially required, in order to obtain the same level of euphoria, or effect that was previously possible using less of the substance. Tolerance is the condition that separates mere substance abuse from substance dependency and addiction. Since individuals may obtain the desired effects from all drugs, they can also become polydrug addicted, or addicted to any drug that will produce the desired result.

Brain Disease

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a brain disease because drug use produces pathways in the brain, not previously present, that create compulsive tendencies and behavior related to drug addiction. These drug induced pathways in the brain appear to be related to all drug use and abuse, rather than to any specific type or class of drug used. Individuals who are dependent personality types, or who suffer from mental illness before abusing drugs, are more likely to become poly-drug dependent, that is, to become addicted to any drug type they can obtain. Such individuals are just as addicted to one drug as to another. In short, the same brain disease common in all drug addiction, is responsible for polydrug dependence.


Polydrug abusers are predisposed to addiction by the presence of a gene variant within their brain chemistry, and within their physical makeup. They may also be predisposed to drug addiction through a chemical imbalance that causes them to also suffer from mental illness, and be more vulnerable to the need to escape from the pain of their negative emotions.

The gene pool of individuals does not cause them to use the drug in the first place; however, and if the individual never experiments with drugs at all, he or she will not become addicted to them. Prevention through education, counseling for the vulnerable and informed populations about the dangers of drug abuse and addiction is still the most effective solution to the addiction problem.

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