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Teen Polysubstance Abuse

Depressed teen girl struggling with alcohol and prescription drug addiction  

During the teenage years, it is common for teens to experiment with drugs — most of which are easily accessible to them (i.e. alcohol, tobacco products, marijuana, prescription painkillers, etc.). Many teens often mix multiple drugs at the same time and are not aware of the potentially dangerous and lethal side effects. Having a basic understanding of teen polysubstance abuse and the different risks associated with mixing popular teen drugs is critical.

Common Drug Combinations Among Teens

Teen drug use is not necessarily a new phenomenon. What does change are the types of drugs available on the market throughout different generations. As new drugs enter the market and their use becomes mainstream, the likelihood of mixing drugs also increases. Since teens often experiment with drugs they are not prescribed, they may not be familiar with the side effects of each individual drug or what happens when they mix two different drug classes.

Some drugs work synergistically, meaning they enhance the effects of one another. Other drugs have completely separate mechanisms of action that are unrelated to one another. Importantly, mixing multiple drugs can increase the likelihood of overdosing on one or more of the drugs and should be avoided.

Alcohol and Pain Medications

One of the most dangerous drug combinations involves mixing alcohol and codeine. Codeine is a popular pain reliever and cough suppressant. As a member of the opioid drug class, codeine is a central nervous system depressant. Alcohol is also a central nervous system depressant but works differently than opioids.

When combined together, the side effects of these drugs can be magnified and many times more intense. Individuals may experience drowsiness, dizziness and are at a greater risk for overdosing on either drug. Recent statistics show that 15% of teens frequently mix non-prescription opioids with alcohol.

Another popular drug combination involves mixing cough syrup and alcohol. Similar to codeine, many cough syrups can be very dangerous upon mixing with alcohol. Side effects are similar to what happens if alcohol and codeine are mixed. Importantly, teen females react differently to alcohol than teen males. This is because the blood alcohol content in a female is generally higher than males even if both parties drink an equal amount of alcohol. Therefore, teenage females should be even more careful about mixing alcohol and pain medication.

Marijuana and Pain Medications

Marijuana has been a popular teen drug for many years. Recently, the popularity of mixing marijuana and opioids has grown. In surveys conducted between 2002 and 2006, roughly one in eight 12th graders reported using a prescription painkiller either incorrectly or one that was not prescribed to them.

Of those who reported using painkillers, the drug most frequently combined with painkillers is marijuana at 58.5% of respondents. While combining marijuana and pain medications may be less dangerous than combining these medications with alcohol, nevertheless, marijuana use may impact how well prescriptions work.

Alcohol and Stimulants

Whenever central nervous system depressants (e.g. alcohol) and central nervous system stimulants (e.g. cocaine) are mixed together, there is a potential for a lethal interaction. Besides cocaine and alcohol, some teens may not think twice about mixing energy drinks and alcohol or taking their ADHD medication while drinking alcohol.

Unfortunately, while mixing alcohol and some stimulants may seem harmless, there are very unpleasant and dangerous side effects associated with doing so. For example, stimulants may encourage individuals to consume greater quantities of alcohol than they normally would and can lead to drastic and sudden behavior changes.

Alcohol and Marijuana

What are the effects of mixing alcohol and marijuana? Mixing alcohol and marijuana can have several negative consequences, albeit these consequences are usually less dangerous than mixing alcohol with stimulants or prescription painkillers.

Often times, marijuana intensifies the effects of alcohol, for better or for worse. In individuals who drank alcohol while using marijuana, studies have found increased levels of THC in their blood, otherwise known as the component in marijuana that causes a “high.” It is impossible to predict whether smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol will produce a good experience or a bad one.

Alcohol and Benzodiazepines

What about alcohol and benzodiazepines? Benzodiazepines or benzos are drugs that are commonly prescribed to individuals struggling with insomnia or anxiety. Like alcohol, benzos slow down the activity of a person’s central nervous system. Thus, mixing benzos and alcohol in high quantities can be particularly dangerous.

Mixing Xanax and alcohol may even be life-threatening and can lead to memory loss, decreased heart rate and even respiratory depression, among severe symptoms. What about mixing alcohol with antidepressants? It is possible that mixing such drugs will lead to behavioral changes, worsened side effects and enhanced drowsiness.

How to Find Help for Teen Substance Abuse

What are the best ways to find help for teen substance abuse? First, there are many resources on the internet, including helplines to call or text, as well as general teen addiction guides. Helplines can refer teens and their loved ones to treatment facilities near their geographic location. If a teen decides they want to enter treatment, there are both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation facilities, support groups, therapists, counselors and medical professionals that specialize in addiction treatment and recovery.

Does your teen struggle with addiction to multiple substances? Call the Next Generation Village today to discuss treatment options for teen addiction as well as co-occurring mental health conditions. Representatives are available to discuss the programs offered and work out what might work best for your teen.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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