Support Groups for Polysubstance Dependence

Garrett Stanford
September 6, 2020

Alcohol and drug abuse is a serious problem in the United States. Not only do these substances harm people’s relationships, careers, academic standings, and overall health, but they often result in life-threatening circumstances. In fact, driving under the influence of alcohol and opioid overdoses are the most common causes of premature death in the United States. As of 2014, 20.2 million adults in the United States suffered from substance use disorders. However, substance abuse disorders are poorly understood by the general public, and individuals seeking help to recover from their addictions are often uncertain where to turn.


One of the most common forms of addiction is polysubstance dependence. Polysubstance dependence occurs when an individual becomes physically dependent on multiple substances. In contrast to the stereotypical image of the addicted person who fixates on one single drug, individuals who suffer from polysubstance dependence. Alcohol and drug abuse is dangerous, but when individuals combine substances the risks are both accentuated and far harder to predict. A recent study of drug users found that among people who regularly use drugs, 40% regularly use two substances and 4% regularly use three or more substances. Given the high rate of polysubstance abuse in the country, it is crucial that people who are trying to free themselves from addiction know where to turn.


Support Group Options

Despite the relatively high rates of polysubstance abuse in the United States, there are not many support groups that are directly focused on the condition. Instead, most support groups fall into two types: support groups designed to help with addiction more generally, and support groups that help people deal with addictions to specific substances. People who suffer from polysubstance dependence can benefit from both types of support group. Individuals who are addicted to multiple drugs can often utilize the tools and social support system offered by one support group to treat multiple addictions. However, it is also frequently helpful to make use of multiple support groups for different addictions. Ultimately, it is essential to treat every addiction a person suffers from, since neglecting even one can easily lead to a relapse.


Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous is a program designed for people who suffer from alcohol use disorder. Often shortened to AA, Alcoholics Anonymous is both the oldest addiction treatment program and the most ubiquitous around the world. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous revolves around the 12 steps. Completing the 12 steps can help individuals relieve their obsession to drink alcohol. Most do so under the direction of a “sponsor,” who is an unofficial mentor who can guide a person in their sober journey, offering emotional support and advice. The 12 steps are fundamentally about recognizing the reality of a person’s addiction to alcohol, letting go of efforts to control it with individual will power, and helping other people who suffer from alcohol addiction. At Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, members can share their experiences, strength, and hope with each other while building their sober social support networks.

The only requirement for membership in AA is a desire to stop drinking, and the program is entirely free. While AA only addresses alcohol abuse, many individuals in the program regularly engaged in drug abuse as well. The program and social support system of AA can be helpful for individuals who suffer from polysubstance dependence, because alcohol is generally a common factor in drug abuse. People who drink alcohol are more likely to engage in other dangerous behaviors, such as drug abuse, due to disinhibiting effects of alcohol. Many people report using drugs as a direct result of their drinking. By addressing a drinking problem, it can be far easier to deal with the associated drug use.


Narcotics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous is a 12-step program that is designed to help individuals stop engaging in the abuse of narcotics. “Narcotics” is an umbrella term that generally refers to opioids. Opioids can include so-called “street drugs” like heroin, but in more recent years prescription medications have emerged as the most life-threatening opioids. Commonly abused prescription opioids include fentanyl, oxycodone, and codeine. Narcotics Anonymous helps people deal with addictions to opioids by offering an extensive social support system as well as a time-tested program for long-term sobriety. It is based on the same principles as Alcoholics Anonymous and is the second largest recovery program in the world after AA.


Other Programs

A variety of other 12-step based programs exist. Some have smaller memberships and more specific focuses than others. It is often best for an individual to make a start in one. While pursuing a program of recovery, the necessity for treating other issues may emerge right away or after a number of years. Other 12-step programs include:


  • Cocaine Anonymous (CA)
  • Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA)
  • Marijuana Anonymous (MA)
  • Nicotine Anonymous (NicA)
  • Pills Anonymous (PA)
  • Heroin Anonymous (HA)


Getting Further Help

Some people make use of support groups as their sole means of recovery. However, the vast majority of people need the additional support of an outpatient treatment center. This is especially the case for individuals whose polysubstance dependence has reached dangerous degrees of severity. Withdrawing from addictive drugs under professional supervision is safer and more likely to be effective. Outpatient treatment centers also offer the support and resources necessary for addressing comorbid mental health conditions. Ultimately, polysubstance abuse can be a particularly complicated form of substance abuse that requires a great deal of care and expertise. However, the comprehensive individualized treatment plans offered by outpatient treatment centers allow even the most hopeless individuals to make a complete recovery. Long-term sobriety is possible for those who are willing to seek help.

Garrett Stanford
Garrett Stanford brings years of experience working with individuals and families struggling with substance abuse and behavioral health issues. He began working in the nonprofit treatment sector for 2 years before transitioning into the private sector. Garrett has been involved in treatment since 2010, with 10+ years of experience ranging from operations, administration, admissions and addiction research.
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