What is Polydrug Addiction?


Polydrug addiction, probably better known as polysubstance addiction, is listed as mental disorder by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV).

It refers to when an individual abuses at least three different substances, ones that fall into different classes of drugs, for a period of twelve months, and the person may or may not meet the necessary criteria to be considered addicted to any one of the substances. Therefore polydrug addiction is its own diagnosis.

As an example, a person may abuse cocaine, ecstasy, and marijuana without showing a preference for any one of them, or put another way, that person has no specific drug of choice. In those instances, they are considered polydrug or polysubstance abusers.

Diagnosing polydrug addiction

Using the criteria of the DSM-IV, polydrug addiction is diagnosed by determining that a patient has been abusing at least three (more than three still qualities, less does not) different substances from differing classes of abused drugs for a period of 12 months.

The same criteria for substance dependence apply to polydrug addiction. The abuser must:

  • Experience withdrawal symptoms when ceasing use of the substance
  • Develop a tolerance
  • Be unable to stop abusing the substance
  • Abuse the substance to the extent that it interferes with their day to day functioning
  • Spend increasing amounts of time devoted to finding and using the substance
  • Continue using despite the obvious physical or mental harm they are doing to themselves

The Most Common Polydrug

Perhaps the most commonly abused drug in polydrug addiction is alcohol; it is most often the common denominator in this kind of diagnosis.


There is a noticeable dearth in the medical literature regarding treatment of polydrug addiction. While some patients will need detoxification, it may be more complex than for other drug abusers. No person who is abusing either one or three or more drugs should ever try to come off them without the help and supervision of a qualified health care professional.

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