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Speedballing is the new drug craze sweeping the nation.
January 30, 2017

What Is a Speedball? Cocaine & Heroin’s Deadly Combination

Speedballing is the new drug craze sweeping the nation.“Speedballing” refers to the process of mixing and imbibing both a stimulant (“upper”) and a depressant (“downer”). Examples of a speedball include Xanax and crystal meth or alcohol and cocaine. The most commonly known and frequently abused combination, however, is the injection of cocaine and heroin. This kind of speedball has gained notoriety from the deaths of celebrities such as artist Basquiat, comedian Chris Farley and actor River Phoenix. Speedballing is an unpredictable gamble on the body and the mind. The up-and-down, rollercoaster effect caused by the ingestion of a stimulant and depressant attracts users chasing the perfect high — but can also be a deadly combination leading to life-threatening, even fatal consequences.

Speedballing – A Deadly Combination

Stimulants such as cocaine work hard on the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates a person’s fight or flight response. Depressants such as heroin affect the parasympathetic system that is in charge of the body’s rest and digestive responses. The combination of the two is an attack on both systems by which the body gets mixed messages about what to do with itself. As a result, important organs controlling simple, vital and involuntary acts of the body, such as breathing, cannot do their job. In essence, when a person is speedballing, their body, mind and system are hacked in pursuit of an illusory “balanced” high. The negative effects are in fact disequilibrium, drug dependence, and, in some cases, death.

Cocaine Effects

The body’s “fight or flight” response is an important evolutionary tool for alerting the mind to real danger. Cocaine use interferes with this process. The result is undue stress on the body. As cocaine elevates the stress hormones in the body, it also elevates drug cravings and drug-seeking behavior, making a person under the influence of cocaine that much more sensitive to cocaine’s effects. Similarly, the recovering person trying to stay off of cocaine is more likely to relapse, because prolonged cocaine use lessens a person’s ability to adapt to stressful situations and have the self-awareness needed to choose an alternative method of relief. The following is a list of the most common side effects of cocaine:

  • Euphoria
  • Mental awareness and energy
  • Decreased need for food or sleep
  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure
  • Restlessness, irritability, anxiety, panic, and paranoia
  • Disturbances in heart rhythm and heart attacks
  • Neurological effects, including headaches, seizures, strokes, and coma
  • Gastrointestinal complications, including abdominal pain and nausea
  • Sudden death

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Heroin Effects

Heroin can be devastating to both body and mind. As a result of heroin’s targeted effects on dopamine levels, users experience an especially addictive and euphoric sensation — which many heroin users end up chasing through death’s door. As documented by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), heroin overdoses have risen at a rate of four times the amount from 2001 to 2013, and continues to grow steadily. Below are some heroin-related effects and complications:

  • Rush of pleasurable feeling
  • Depressed breathing
  • Pinned pupils
  • Foggy thinking
  • Pain relief
  • Abscesses and bacterial infection
  • Collapsed veins
  • Heart infection
  • Kidney and liver disease
  • Arthritis and bone pain
  • HIV
  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Overdose and death

Speedballing Effects

Intoxication and addiction to cocaine and heroin, especially when injected, compromises judgment and decision-making, and leads to risky behavior such as needle sharing and the exchange of sex for drugs, according to NIDA. Consequently, there is also a higher probability of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C. The effects of mixing cocaine and heroin, speedballing, range from pleasurable sensations to short and long-term, negative consequences that can culminate in death. The following is a summary of these consequences:

  • Intense, potent, highly addictive euphoria that can quickly trigger physical and psychological dependence
  • Deficits in brain functioning, especially in executive control functions (such as impairments to problem solving and planning abilities, memory, impulse control, emotional regulation, organization, and self-awareness)
  • Higher risk of HIV
  • Higher incidence of relapse
  • Higher incidence of overdose (due to the mix of uppers and downers, which impairs awareness regarding potentially lethal dosage levels)

Relapse Rates and Relapse Prevention for Cocaine & Heroin Substance Abuse

The urge to return to the intense euphoria and illusion of the perfect balance creates a greater incidence of relapse in speedball users than in other addicts. In fact, the rate of relapse is seventy-five percent in the first year alone, due to cravings and impaired stress coping mechanisms. The acquisition of stress management tools and peer support and other recovery resources is thus vital to recovery. The following is a list of resources and proven relapse prevention methods that correlate with better success rates for recovery from speedball abuse:

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