People who struggle with drug addiction often spend excessive time chasing the next high, hoping that it will be better than those experienced previously. Unfortunately, sometimes they will go to great efforts and even combine multiple drugs in an attempt to achieve this.
While the abuse of any intoxicating substance comes with many health risks, mixing different classes of drugs is more likely to lead to overdose or other extreme effects such as permanent disabilities or chronic illnesses.
Speedballs are one such combination—a potent mixture that can result in severe consequences, up to and including death, even for those who experiment just once.
Ingredients of a Speedball
A speedball is a slang term for a cocktail of two drugs with competing effects—one is a depressant, and the other, a stimulant. The most well-known combination is heroin and cocaine, both powerful illicit drugs that are risky when taken independently. However, when used in conjunction, the overall result is far more unpredictable and dangerous.
Other combinations, which may also sometimes be referred to as a speedball, can include the following:
- Methamphetamine or amphetamine as the stimulant
- Other opioid or opiate drugs as the depressant
- Benzodiazepines (i.e. Xanax) as the depressant
When a speedball is used, the heroin and cocaine are usually mixed and administered as a single shot, so effects are felt rapidly and intensely.
Why Do People Abuse Speedballs?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the use of this combination appears to be a method of avoiding some of the worst side effects of either drug while simultaneously experiencing a unique euphoric and energizing response that comes from mixing the two. A popular theory is that the stimulant’s energizing effects will counteract the unwanted aspects of the depressant. At the same time, the depressant can mitigate some of the undesirable physical symptoms of the stimulant. The reality, unfortunately, isn’t quite that simple.
Many well-known celebrities have died of overdoses related to depressant-stimulant combinations, including actors John Belushi, Chris Farley, River Phoenix, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Effects of the Speedball Combo
The full potential effects of heroin and cocaine, when used together, are not known. However, we know that this drug cocktail’s overall impact is not merely equivalent to adding together the effects of two different substances. Moreover, the speedball combination significantly affects the dopamine system, resulting in an aggregate effect that strongly reinforces the desire to keep using these drugs in conjunction.
This powerful action on dopamine offers reinforcement for the continued abuse of speedballs, which can be very risky due to the different natures of these two drugs, how they work in the body, and the potential physical and emotional consequences of using them concurrently.
Risks of Speedball Drug Use
Using speedballs can also increase a person’s risk for mental health disorders, such as the following:
- Severe anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts
One of the most significant risks of using speedballs, according to NIDA, is related to the fact that the effects of cocaine wane much faster than those of heroin. Because the primary reason for using the two drugs together is to minimize each drug’s adverse effects, those who abuse speedballs may mistakenly believe they can use more of each drug than would typically be possible with just one or the other.
As a result, if the individual uses much more heroin than their system can handle, the body can invoke an overdose response when the cocaine effects abate, leading to severe physical and mental consequences. The person’s breathing can slow, become labored, or stop to the degree that can place the person’s life at imminent risk.j
The most significant potential long-term effect of speedball use is the increased risk of overdose or other complications from the combination of drugs involved. These outcomes are often associated with severe harm to a person’s health. As a result of long-term use, the person can experience the following:
- Overdose, resulting in death
- Damage to veins
- Tissue loss and damage
- Poor circulation
- High fever
- Back pain or other sources of pain
- Coma and/or death
These and other symptoms can lead to life-changing complications, such as irreversible brain damage and anhedonia, a condition in which the person cannot experience pleasure due to long-term chemical interferences in the brain’s dopamine reward system.
Treatment for Speedball Drug Abuse or Addiction
According to NIDA, one challenge when approaching speedball abuse is that treatments used for heroin addiction are only somewhat useful in helping those who use speedballs. There is no medication for the treatment of cocaine addiction, and drugs used for heroin addiction are not necessarily going to help achieve recovery from speedball abuse.
However, psychotherapies, counseling services, group support, dual diagnosis treatment, and other various treatments that do not involve medication can help people better manage their addictive behaviors. These can be quite beneficial, particularly when used in comprehensive, long-term addiction treatment programs such as those offered by Just Believe Recovery.