Depressants vs. Stimulants

Drugs – be they legal or illegal – are grouped into classifications based on the active ingredients in the drug, or how the drug affects particular conditions. Some drugs fit into more than one classification.
Two of the most common drug classifications are depressants and stimulants. Both are available as pills, liquid and powder.

The drugs are on opposite ends of the spectrum; one is a downer and one is an upper. However, both are dangerous and highly addictive when abused or used improperly.
Depressants (downers) and stimulants (uppers) have many differences, but they also share several similarities:

  • Depressants slow normal brain function and create a calming, "sleepy" effect. They are often prescribed to treat sleep disorders, anxiety and seizure disorders.
  • Stimulants boost the activity of the central nervous system. They improve focus and attention and increase energy and alertness. They are commonly used to treat ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). In the past they were used to treat obesity by decreasing appetite. They were also used to alleviate symptoms of asthma.
  • With continued use of depressants or stimulants, the body builds up a tolerance for the drug. Gradually, larger and larger doses are required to achieve the same effect.
  • Combining depressants and stimulants is extremely risky. The results are highly unpredictable and can include accidental overdose, coma and death.
  • Withdrawal of depressants and stimulants is dangerous and detox must be medically supervised.

There are many types of depressants and stimulants. Most have brand names, generic names and street names:

  • Commonly prescribed depressants include drugs commonly known as Benzodiazepines or in short “Benzos” and Morphine. This class also includes inhalants like glue or paint thinner and illegal drugs such as heroin or GHB. Marijuana and alcohol are also depressants.
  • Commonly prescribed stimulants include Ritalin, Dexadrine, Adderall, Concerta and Biphetamine. This classification also includes illegal drugs such as methamphetamine, crack, cocaine and Ecstasy. Caffeine, nicotine and most energy drinks are also stimulants.

Depressants and stimulants are associated with potentially serious side effects:

  • Short-term effects that may result from use of depressants include fatigue, confusion, amnesia, depression, dizziness, low blood pressure, slowed pulse, slowed breathing and overall decreased brain function.
  • Long-term effects associated with depressants include chronic fatigue, depression, sleep problems, sexual difficulties, anxiety and panic.
  • Short-term effects that may result from use of stimulants include exhaustion, “post-use crashing”, irregular heartbeat, depression, and insomnia.
  • Long-term effects associated with stimulants include anxiety, paranoia and serious heart problems, irrational thoughts, delusions or hallucinations.
  • Both depressants and stimulants can be addictive.

Various signs and symptoms may be present when a person is abusing depressants or stimulants:

  • People who are abusing depressants may speak slowly and slur their speech. They may look sleepy and they may have trouble concentrating or remembering.
  • People who are abusing stimulants may be moody, irritable or anxious. They can also be more talkative and excitable, they fidget, cannot sit still and are often unable to concentrate. People often use depressants to get rid of the unpleasant “upping” effect of stimulants and once a calming effect is reached, they “crash” and need “uppers” to even get going again. This is called the vicious and dangerous cycle of “uppers and downers” and should be treated as soon as possible in order to avoid complete exhaustion, depletion and dependency / addiction on these drugs.

People addicted to stimulants and/or depressants, be it prescription medication, illegal drugs or alcohol, require careful and medically supervised detox and addiction treatment in order to be able to live a normal drug-free life again.

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