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Stimulants and Depressants: What You Need to Know

Stimulants and Depressants

Stimulants and Depressants: What You Need to Know

Stimulants and depressants both affect the activity of the central nervous system (CNS), which is composed of the brain and spinal cord. The CNS is responsible for processing information from all the parts of the body and sending messages to all parts of the body to determine the body’s activity.


Stimulants increase brain activity, which in turn tells the body to increase its blood pressure and heart rate, to increase breathing rate, to constrict blood vessels and to increase blood glucose. According to the National Institutes of Health, stimulants also cause an increase of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which results in a feeling of euphoria when taken non-medically or illicitly.

According to a 2008 article in the British Journal of Pharmacology, stimulants (both prescription and illegal) affect the user’s mood, alertness, movements and appetite. They are used to treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and narcolepsy (a physical condition that causes sleep and sleepiness). Sometimes amphetamines are used to treat depression and obesity. These drugs cause a person to feel more awake and more focused, and they reduce appetite. Common prescription stimulants include the following:

  • Adderall (taken for ADHD and narcolepsy)
  • Dexedrine (taken for ADHD and narcolepsy)
  • Focalin (taken for ADHD)
  • Meridia (taken for obesity)
  • Methylphenidate – brand names include Concerta, and Metadate (taken for narcolepsy, depression and ADHD)
  • NUVIGIL (taken for sleep apnea and narcolepsy)
  • Ritalin (taken for ADHD)
  • Strattera (Taken for ADHD)
  • Vyvanse (taken for ADHD)
  • Tenuate (taken for obesity)

Illicit stimulants include the following:

  • Methamphetamines (meth, crank, speed, spoosh)
  • Cocaine (coke)
  • Crack (crack cocaine)
  • MDMA (ecstasy, happy pills)
  • Mephedrone (drone and MCAT)

Even when taken under the advisement of a physician, prescription stimulants carry side effects. Some side effects are moderate while others can be distressing and cause a person to discontinue usage.

According to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, common side effects of stimulant usage include the following:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Flushed skin
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache
  • Tremor
  • Chest pains with palpitations

Unfortunately many people who take stimulants become addicted to them. This occurs when the body becomes dependent on the drugs and experiences withdrawal symptoms if the person stops taking them. A person also becomes psychologically dependent on the drugs thinking that he cannot survive without them. Over time stimulant abuse will create many side effects.

Common signs and side effects of stimulant abuse include the following:

  • Anxiety and excited speech
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Worsening academic performance
  • Increased wakefulness and physical activity
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss
  • Anorexia, sometimes severe
  • Paranoia
  • Aggressive or even violent behavior
  • Psychosis
  • Tremors and convulsions

If you see these symptoms in you or someone you love, take action immediately. Call your physician or go to the emergency room. Don’t take any chances of trying to withdraw from these medications alone because the withdrawal symptoms can be severe.


Depressants also affect the CNS, but they function exactly opposite to stimulants. They decrease brain and body activity including heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. Depressants are also called downers, sedatives or tranquilizers.

According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, common prescription depressants include the following:

  • Sleep agents, which include Ambien, Sonata and Lunesta
  • Barbiturates, which include Amytal, Nembutal, Seconal and Pheonbarbital (barbs, reds, red birds, yellows, yellow jackets)
  • Benzodiazepines, which include Ativan, Clonazepam Halcion, Valium and Xanax (candy, downers, sleeping pills, tranks)
  • Opioids, which include morphine, heroine, codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone and methadone

Illicit depressants include the following:

  • GHB (hydroxbutyrate)
  • Rohypnol (roofies, date rape drug, roach)
  • Heroin
  • Marijuana (pot, reefer, hemp)

Just like stimulants even prescription depressants carry side effects. Some of these are hardly noticeable. Other, however, are quite severe. Side effects of depressants include the following:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of coordination
  • Forgetfulness or amnesia
  • Lowered blood pressure

Unfortunately many people become addicted to depressants. According to NIDA, in 2010 an estimated that 2.2 million people abused tranquilizers, the second-most abused prescription drug. Sedatives were the fourth-most abused drug, affecting almost a half a million people. Signs and side effects of depressant abuse include the following:

  • Lack of facial expression
  • Flat effect
  • Slurred speech
  • Redness and raw nostril from inhaling drugs
  • Scars or track marks from needle injections
  • Mood swings
  • Blackouts
  • Loss of interest in activities

One challenge facing those people addicted to CNS depressants is withdrawal. Because of the effect of these drugs on the brain, withdrawing from them can be painful and difficult. In 2012 Psychology Today reported that people addicted to tranquilizers felt as if the drugs were more addictive than heroin and that withdrawal took a long time. In 2008 ABC News reported that in some instances the negative effects of tranquilizer withdrawal last for years. This underscores the importance of seeking professional help when trying to get clean.

Stimulants and Depressants Together

Oftentimes people become addicted to either stimulants or depressants initially, but over time, they will also become addicted to both types of drugs. In this instance a person takes a stimulant, such as cocaine or amphetamines to heighten awareness and provide energy or just to get high. However, stimulants cause insomnia. To counter that problem, that people will start taking depressants such as marijuana, codeine or benzodiazepines (i.e., Valium, Ativan, Halcion), which induces relaxation and sleepiness. This co-occurring addiction requires the help of people who are trained at dealing with multiple addictions at once.

Getting Help for Your Addiction

If you are addicted to stimulants or downers like clonazepam , we can help. You can call our toll-free helpline, 24 hours a day. You can talk with one of our admission coordinators who can help you find the treatment options for your life situation. Our coordinators can even help you find a treatment facility that deals with co-occurring addictions. Addiction to drugs like stimulants and depressants can slowly destroy your life. Stop the cycle of addiction by calling us today.