People who struggle with drug abuse and addiction often spend time seeking the next high, hoping that it will be bigger and better than the one before. Sometimes, to get it, they combine multiple different drugs together. However, while abusing drugs creates numerous physical and psychological risks to begin with, combining different drugs together can be even worse. The result can be dangerous situations, such as overdose, or other extreme physical and mental symptoms or effects that can put the individual’s health, safety, and life at risk.
Speedballs are just one such combination – a potent mix that can lead to severe consequences for those who try it even once.
Elements of a Speedball
A speedball is the common name for a combination of two different drug types: a depressant and a stimulant. Most commonly, the combination involves heroin and cocaine, both potent, illicit drugs that are risky on their own, let alone together. Other combinations, which some claim can’t be referred to as speedballs but that are similar, can include:
- Methamphetamine or amphetamine as the stimulant
- Other opioid drugs in place of heroin
- Benzodiazepines in place of heroin
When administering a speedball, the heroin and cocaine are mixed together and injected in one shot, so their effects are felt quickly and intensely.
Overall, as described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the combination appears at first glance to be a way to avoid some of the worst consequences of both drugs while at the same time getting the unique euphoric, relaxing, and energizing response that would come from combining the drugs. The theory is that the energizing action of the stimulant can counteract the negative aspects of the depressant while the heroin can smooth the difficult physical symptoms of the stimulant. However, as with many drug risks, the reality doesn’t turn out to be quite that simple.
Effects of the Drug Combination
The full effects of heroin and cocaine on one another are not known. However, it is certain that the combination is not simply the equivalent of adding the actions of two individual drugs together. As an example described by some research from Psychopharmacology demonstrates, the speedball combination has a heavy effect on the dopamine system, which is part of what reinforces the desire to keep using speedballs. This could be because both cocaine and heroin act on the dopamine system, creating a cumulative effect rather than a reaction affected by one drug or the other.
This potent action on dopamine provides reinforcement for continued speedball use, which can be extremely risky due to the combination of the two drugs, how they appear to act on the body, and the potential physical and mental consequences of using the drugs together.
Risks of Use
One of the biggest risks of using speedballs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is based on the fact that cocaine wears off faster than heroin. Because the chief reason for using the two together is to minimize the effects of each, people who use speedballs believe they can use more of each drug than would necessarily be possible with just one drug. As a result, if the person takes much more heroin than their system can handle, the body can have an overdose response when the cocaine wears off, leading to severe physical and mental consequences. The person’s breathing can quickly slow or stop to a degree that can put the person’s life at risk.
The biggest potential long-term effect of speedball use is the risk of overdose or other complications from the mix of the drugs involved. An article from Emergency Medicine Reports demonstrates that these effects can create multiple dangers for the individual’s health. As a result, with long-term use, the person can experience:
- Overdose, resulting in fatal symptoms
- Damage to veins and circulation
- Limb damage or loss due to poor circulation
- High fever or infection
- Back pain or other pain
- Coma or death
These and other symptoms can result in life-changing circumstances along with brain damage and anhedonia, a condition in which the individual is unable to feel pleasure due to damage to the dopamine system.
Getting Help for Speedball Abuse or Addiction
According to an article from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a challenge in the treatment of speedball abuse is that treatments for heroin addiction are only moderately effective in helping those who use speedballs. There is no medicine that helps with cocaine addiction, and the medications for heroin addiction can be difficult to stop using as well as not helpful in achieving recovery from heroin or speedball abuse.
However, there are some psychological therapies and other treatments that do not involve medicine, which can help people learn to manage their addictions, including the desire to keep using speedballs. For example, research from Life Sciences has shown that getting involved in an exercise program can help a person have less of a desire to inject speedballs. As a result, a treatment program for people who struggle with speedball abuse would be more likely to help if it incorporates an exercise program.
Through this kind of understanding, as well as cognitive therapy and other supportive treatments, a person who is struggling to stop using speedballs can gain the confidence, skills, resources, and motivation needed to achieve long-term recovery.