Why Do People Mix Stimulants and Sedatives?

The intensity of using cocaine alone can lead to jitters. The effect of heroin can lead to nodding off after shooting up. Some believe combining these drugs cancels the adverse side effects, leaving the person with a more significant and enjoyable high. Historically, a Speedball (mixture of stimulant and sedative) combined the abovementioned drugs. However, today methamphetamine has been used with other opioids, such as fentanyl (known as goofballs). As in the past, the Speedball is typically injected or snorted. Using more than one drug is known as polydrug use.

Research has found an overlap in the brain functions impacted by stimulants and depressants. Stimulants affect synaptic dopamine levels in the brain, while sedatives impact the mu-opioid receptors. But research showed that combining these drugs in rats provoked greater results concerning specific body movements than other movements. There was evidence of the lethality (or death) of the combination.

Between 1999-2021 drug deaths reached 53,495, the deaths due to overdose in 2021 from stimulants reached 106,699 alone, and 53,495 deaths from stimulants in combination with opioids other than methadone in the same year 2021.

Side Effects of Mixing Stimulants and Depressants

While many believe that mixing these classes of drugs provides a more pleasant high, the two types of drugs do not cancel each other out. Instead, the side effects can be deadly based on the amount of drug, the kind of ingestion, and the overall health of the drug user. In a study using stimulants for college students, side effects included:

  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Distraction
  • Nicotine use

Side Effects of Sedatives include:

  • Decreased anxiety
  • Decreased sensation as in pain or touch
  • Drowsiness
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Decreased muscle function
  • Interruption in memory

Additionally, the landscape of available illegal drugs has changed over the last few years. Many people have more difficulty obtaining opioids due to the crackdown on pain clinics and increased prescription regulations. To address this shortage of drugs on the street, dealers are pushing methamphetamine and fentanyl. Fentanyl is regularly being cut into other street drugs. These powerful drugs are at the bottom of the rise in overdose deaths.

According to the University of Washington’s Addictions, Drug & and Alcohol Institute, a common myth is that one way to counter opioid poisoning is to administer a stimulant such as cocaine or methamphetamine. Mixing these two different classes of drugs can lead to overdose deaths as the intensity of the high may diminish, encouraging the user to seek more drugs to increase the sensation.

The Impact Of Drugs On The Brain

Drugs reduce one’s ability to manage impulses and think clearly. As mentioned above, these drugs interfere with the neurotransmitters that send and receive messages. Stimulants and depressants impact various functions, leading to decreasing sensitivity and an increase in drug-seeking when the desired sensation begins to fade, followed by increasing cravings. Additionally, the prefrontal cortex empowers the ability to think, plan, solve problems, make decisions, and have self-control over impulses. Furthermore, opioids can disrupt heart rate, breathing, and sleeping. Disruptions to sleep can also bring on mental health disorders.

“It was once thought that surges of the neurotransmitter dopamine produced by drugs directly caused the euphoria, but scientists now think dopamine has more to do with getting us to repeat pleasurable activities (reinforcement) than with producing pleasure directly…[Additionally,] drug use and other mental illness often co-exist. In some cases, mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia may come before addiction. In other cases, drug use may trigger or worsen those mental health conditions, particularly in people with specific vulnerabilities.”

Treatment for Polysubstance Users of Speedball and Goofballs

For those individuals who have been using drugs for a long time, stopping can be challenging and time-consuming. Treatment for substance abuse under professionally guided medical staff and clinicians can help.

Medications can manage withdrawal symptoms, which can be life-threatening depending on the drugs. While a medically supervised detoxification is required for those suffering from multiple drug use, understanding the drug user’s mental, emotional, intellectual, physical, genetic, financial, and educational state is essential. Additionally, medical expertise is required as there can be drug interactions between the medications used to ease withdrawal and some of the substances that have been abused. A drug user can move through many emotional and physical states before the drugs are out of the system. Immediately following detox, which is not treatment and should never be confused with substance abuse treatment, it is imperative that the individual move directly into drug treatment.

Polydrug users can present multiple challenges to a treatment facility. Individualized treatment plans are a must. Polydrug users require careful attention and targeted treatment to address the numerous problems that can accompany polydrug use, such as Speedballs, etc. It is important to remember that drugs alter the brain’s functioning and, in some instances, the size of the white and grey matter and the quality of the brain matter. Researchers have found that polydrug use can be associated with “greater psychopathology, higher levels of risky health behaviors, decreased cognitive functioning, and [erratic treatment] commitments.”

It is recommended, if possible, that a person suffering from multiple drug use take time away from family, friends, co-workers, and associates in an inpatient facility or therapeutic community, followed by residential housing with staffing and aftercare for some time.

“Concurrent SUD is associated with higher rates of:

  • Lifetime suicide attempts, arrests, and incarceration
  • Financial and legal problems
  • Increased likelihood of overdose
  • More severe medical and psychiatric comorbidities (e.g., the prevalence of a mental disorder is higher among those dependent on multiple psychoactive substances, such as heroin, alcohol, or cocaine, than those who use one substance.”

A variety of clinicians who have training in different disciplines are required. These specialties include individual therapy, cognitive behavioral therapies, medication management, social behaviors (especially if the person has been involved in the criminal justice system), and contingency management (a behavioral intervention grounded in the therapy that external reinforcement schedules can shape individual behaviors, are required to address the multiple needs of polydrug users of Speedballs and Goofballs.

If you or a loved one is suffering from polysubstance use, call today to find out how we can assist you in getting clean, getting healthy, and rebuilding your life.