Addiction Times Two: How Recovery Unplugged Heals Polysubstance Dependence

by Jill Gleeson

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday August 21, 2019

Addiction Times Two: How Recovery Unplugged Heals Polysubstance Dependence
  (Source:Recovery Unplugged)

It's infamously taken the lives of everyone from "Glee" actor Cory Monteith, who died from ingesting heroin and alcohol, to Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland, lost to cocaine, alcohol, and MDA. Back in 1982, a "speedball" (cocaine and heroin) killed "Saturday Night Live" comedian John Belushi, and before that, alcohol and barbiturates ended Jimi Hendrix's reign as the world's greatest guitarist. Polysubstance abuse is nothing new, and, according to Paul Pellinger, chief strategy officer for the drug treatment center Recovery Unplugged, it's all too common.

"There's a certain situation that happens with addicts, where they need to take other drugs to squash some of the side effects of their drug of choice," Pellinger says. "I'd compare it to what happens when a person is prescribed a pill for a chronic health condition — for example, high blood pressure. You take this medication and there are all these side effects, so now you have to take more medication to deal with those side effects. It's the same thing with drug addiction. Say that somebody is doing cocaine all the time, and they can't calm down. So they start taking Xanax. And then they get too low and they need to be brought back up. It's an endless, vicious cycle of just trying to stay normal."

A Lethal Mix

But many times those abusing drugs don't even realize that they're taking more than one substance. Heroin is now regularly cut with fentanyl, ecstasy with crystal meth, and these and other dangerous combinations are helping to send overdose rates skyrocketing, with "more overdoses and deaths in the past nine years than in the previous 19 combined," according to Pellinger. "As a matter of fact, drug overdoses just overtook car accidents as the leading cause of fatalities in America for kids 26 years old and younger. There are reported to be over 70,000 overdose deaths a year now, which is approximately 200 people a day."

This epidemic is hitting queer people hard, in part due to the LGBTQ community's much-documented fondness for party drugs like crystal meth, Special K, GHB and ecstasy, which are frequently combined for more intense or longer-lasting highs. Whether they're consumed together by design or accidentally, the results can be deadly.

"Back when ecstasy was on the rise, I was on a drug task force for the LGBTQ population," Pellinger says. "And we found out through toxicological reports on people who came into the E.R. that it was being cut with crystal meth. So they were doing ecstasy, and they were ending up in the hospital because it was laced with crystal meth."

(Source: Recovery Unplugged)

A Better Way
It's difficult to believe now, but a half-century or so ago nascent drug treatment facilities differentiated between substances. Upon their discharge, heroin addicts, for example, were frequently given permission to drink. Relapses were nearly inevitable as alcohol led people back to their drug of choice.

Today, those in the industry know that aside from differences in what it takes to safely detox from each substance, as Pellinger says, "there is no distinction between, say, wine and crystal meth. I don't care if it's Robitussin or Jack Daniels, it's really not about how much or how often or even what you use. At Recovery Unplugged, we focus on the more important questions, like how are you going to get through this and make recovery more of a payoff than getting high?"

To help clients find the answers, Recovery Unplugged employs a new modality Pellinger and his team have created, which is more effective than anything that has come before: treating addiction with the curative power of music. "The wonderful thing about music is that it becomes the catalyst to engage the therapeutic process," says Pellinger. "And that's first by establishing rapport, second by changing the person's mood and third, because music appeals to the same pleasure center of the brain that drugs and alcohol do, it helps make recovery more of a payoff than getting high."

"But even with all of that," Pellinger adds,"it won't mean anything unless our clients retain the information we're trying to teach them. And music helps with that, too. If you think about how we learn the alphabet, it was through that abc song. So, when clients leave we give them what we call musical prescriptions on an mp3 player and an app that we have. Help for any issue, skill set, perception or behavior is available simply by pushing a button to a specific song."

After a pause, Pellinger concludes, "Music is really the only form of communication that communicates to the soul. And in my opinion that's where long-lasting change happens."

Are you or a loved one struggling with addiction? Visit

Sponsored content.

Jill Gleeson is a travel and adventure journalist based in the Appalachians of Central Pennsylvania. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @gopinkboots.