Happy family


What You Should Know About Combined Drug Intoxication

combined drug intoxication and overdose

What is Combined Drug Intoxication?

Combined drug intoxication (CDI) happens when a person ingests multiple drugs at one time. Drug users may consume multiple substances on accident—for example, in the case of laced drugs—or intentionally, to heighten their effects. The latter case is especially true for those struggling with addiction. After developing a tolerance to their drug of choice, users may attempt to enhance the “high” by combining it with other substances. Common drug combinations include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Heroin and cocaine
  • Painkillers and cocaine
  • Alcohol and prescription drugs
  • Alcohol and cocaine
  • Xylazine and illicit drugs
  • Fentanyl and illicit drugs

In hospitals and toxicology reports, CDI specifically refers to the cause of death of a person who used multiple substances—when combined, the drugs used caused fatal, physical side effects (such as respiratory failure, low blood oxygen levels, and stroke). Combined drug intoxication, in this usage, may also be referred to as Multiple Drug Intake (MDI) or, more simply, polydrug abuse/overdose.

Combined drug intoxication is causing a surge in emergency room visits and overdose deaths across the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one in five emergency department visits related to prescription drug abuse also involve alcohol. Further, almost three-quarters of cocaine overdose deaths also involve an opioid drug. And, in a separate study across 10 states, experts found that a notable 57 percent of overdose deaths involved a combination of fentanyl and other drugs like cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine.

These statistics just begin to underline the polydrug overdose epidemic happening in the U.S. As drug users and manufacturers discover more intense substances like fentanyl and xylazine, the number of emergencies involving combined drug intoxication will continue to increase. 

That’s why it’s so important to be educated about the dangers of combined drug intoxication, or polydrug abuse.

What are the Dangers of Combining Drugs of Abuse?

As stated by the CDC, “Mixing drugs is never safe because the effects from combining drugs may be stronger and more unpredictable than one drug alone, and even deadly.”

The dangers of combined drug intoxication vary depending on the types of substances consumed. For example, mixing stimulants (ecstasy, cocaine, methamphetamines, etc.) with other drugs, including other stimulants, can lead to physical risks like increased blood pressure, elevated heart rate, heart attack, stroke, seizures, and brain injury, to name a few. Combining depressants (such as heroin, OxyContin, and benzodiazepines) with any other depressant or drug can lead to dangerous side effects like respiratory depression, unconsciousness, brain damage, slowed pulse, and more. Almost any illicit drug combination can lead to overdose and be fatal.

In general, the reason that combined drug intoxication is so dangerous is that the effects of multiple drugs, when used together or in a close time period, are very unpredictable. Drugs can interact in erratic ways within the body, and there is no predicting how your own body will react to their effects—especially when combined. Some drugs exacerbate the effects of other drugs, which can lead to a series of adverse and synergistic effects like heightened sedation or impaired coordination. Think about it this way: Two drugs working together are much more harmful than one drug working on its own.

It’s also common, in the case of CDI, for drugs to mask the side effects of other substances and hide the symptoms of overdose. When this happens, it can be very difficult to detect when there is an emergency, or when it is time to stop using, because it may seem like the drugs are not affecting you. A great example of this is mixing heroin and cocaine (i.e. speedball) – heroin slows the body’s systems down, while cocaine speeds them up. If a user overdoses on heroin and goes into respiratory depression, the heightened effects of cocaine can mask those symptoms.

Not only are the side effects of CDI unpredictable, but they are also compounded when using multiple drugs. As implied above, mixing drugs can intensify the effects of one another and lead to immediate disarray, confusion, impairment, and more. Additionally, because of the way they work in the body, certain drug combinations can put excessive strain on the organs, leading to acute or chronic organ damage over time. Even mixing alcohol and drug use together can lead to ill effects, as the CDC confirms that alcohol and substance use increases the risk of overdose and organ damage.

Another long-term risk associated with combined drug intoxication is a polydrug addiction. Mixing drugs can lead to the rapid development of tolerance and dependency on multiple substances. Long-term, substance use disorders can severely hinder one’s physical and mental health.

Finally, it’s also worth noting the dangers of drugs laced with other substances. While use of these combined drug mixtures is not usually intentional, they can have severe effects on the body. Too often, drugs are being cut or mixed with life-threatening amounts of fentanyl, xylazine, and other synthetic substances. People are taking these drugs thinking they are pure forms, and overdosing due to the mixture involved. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are the leading cause of drug overdose deaths in the United States today.

The Grave Risk of Overdose When Mixing Drugs

Of all the dangers of combined drug intoxication, drug overdose is the most critical. Overdose occurs when a person has ingested too much of a substance and their bodies become overwhelmed. Bodily systems and functions, such as the cardiovascular or respiratory systems, may shut down in the event of an overdose.

It’s important to note that overdose is different than combined drug intoxication, though the two phrases often get confused. Combined drug intoxication refers to the actual use of multiple substances. Overdose is often a direct effect of combining drugs, however, it does not happen to everyone. CDI can lead to troubling side effects or intense feelings of intoxication, without putting the body into overdrive. However, as noted above, CDI is unpredictable and it cannot be said who will – or won’t – overdose. The symptoms of combined drug intoxication can quickly escalate to more alarming symptoms, such as:

  • Slowed or erratic heartbeat
  • Slowed or shallowed breathing
  • Chest pains
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Hallucinations
  • Blue/grey lips or fingernails
  • Choking
  • Gurgling or snoring sounds
  • Gasping for air
  • Vomiting
  • Limp body

These symptoms can indicate a drug overdose, and require immediate emergency medical care. If you are concerned about a person who has used multiple drugs, and you notice any warning signs of overdose, do not hesitate to call 911. When caught in time, drug overdose can sometimes be reversed. If you have used multiple drugs and have feelings of excessive drowsiness, dizziness, sudden temperature changes, slurred speech, reduced coordination, or brain fog, know that these symptoms also warrant medical attention. 

If you recognize the signs above and think someone is overdosing, act immediately. Do not hesitate to call medical help. If you have naloxone on hand, administer it in efforts to reverse a possible opioid overdose. Stay with the person who is overdosing, and do your best to keep them awake until medical care arrives. Learn what else to do in the face of an overdose here.

Getting Help for Combined Drug Intoxication

Combined drug intoxication is a serious risk for anyone who uses drugs. On one hand, a person who purchases drugs illegally and on the streets is at risk of buying altered, laced drugs that have been cut with dangerous substances. On the other hand, those who are facing a substance use disorder may be more prone to trying multiple substances at once, in efforts to heighten the effects of feeling high.

With that said, if you or someone you love is using drugs, combined drug intoxication is a concern. It is never too early to intervene and get them professional support. However, because of the high risk of overdose, it can be too late. Even those who seem like they are in control of their substance abuse, and their lives, can still be vulnerable to the dangerous interactions and consequences of CDI.

There is professional help available to you. A drug rehab or treatment center can create a customized plan for you or your loved one, and carve out the path to recovery. Addiction treatment programs integrate evidence-based therapies, medications, and support groups to help those battling a drug problem. At Turnbridge, we recognize that many people who come to us have tried multiple substances, and we have clinicians who are trained in the different types of substance use disorders. Our treatment programs focus on helping clients build a purposeful life, while also building their support network and coping skills to live a happy, meaningful life outside of treatment. Learn more by visiting us online.

Or, call us at 877-581-1793 to speak directly with a treatment professional.