Drugs are separated into two major categories. These two categories are stimulants and depressants. The difference between the types of drugs in these two categories is their effects. In other words, substances either slow down or energize those who use them. Individuals can develop an addiction to any of the stimulant or depressant drugs. It’s important to learn how they impact those who use them. It may help to focus on depressant drugs, their effects, and how addiction to depressant drugs can be treated.
Depressant drugs are drugs that slow down the central nervous system (CNS). As a result, they act as a sedative and can make people feel more calm, relaxed, and even drowsy. Since depressant drugs slow down the body’s central nervous system, many people refer to depressant substances as “downers”.
Depressant drugs can come in the form of prescription drugs or recreational drugs. People use the recreational depressant drug of alcohol to free themselves of inhibitions. They also use this substance to make themselves feel less nervous, socialize with others, and have fun.
The fact that many people drink alcohol to free themselves of inhibitions, calm themselves down, and make themselves feel less nervous is not surprising. This is because these are the primary effects of depressant drugs. That’s why doctors give depressant prescriptions to people who suffer from anxiety, seizures, insomnia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. To act as a sedative and calm them, their bodies, and their brains down.
People abuse depressant drugs in many different ways for many different reasons. Some of these ways may be intentional while others may be unintentional. Regardless, the negative effects of abusing depressant drugs can be life-altering.
People primarily abuse depressant drugs by using them as a way to cope with the stress of life. For example, many people will abuse alcohol when they’re stressed and want to forget about the struggles in their life. It’s possible to use depressant drugs to forget about things because of the way depressants numb high emotions and slow down to the point of feeling sleepy.
For instance, think about what happens when an individual has too many alcoholic drinks. In most cases, the individual will blackout and forget the night. While this is an effect of drinking that most healthy individuals try to avoid, those who are facing challenges may actually seek this effect of alcohol. This is particularly true if you’re dealing with a mental illness like depression. That’s why alcohol drug abuse and depression are so strongly correlated.
People also often try to abuse depressant prescriptions to help them cope with stress and mental illness. For example, some people will try to abuse sleeping pills to help them sleep an unhealthy amount when they’re depressed and don’t want to get out of bed.
While many people intentionally abuse depressant prescriptions for their numbing effects, others start to abuse them unintentionally by taking more than what their doctor prescribed them to hurry the effects. Others unintentionally abuse depressant prescriptions by taking them for too long.
People start to use more depressant drugs than what their doctor prescribed them when they’re struggling with a health issue. Therefore, they want the effects of the drugs to come sooner than they’ve been coming thus far. For example, people will start taking more anti-anxiety medications than what they’re prescribed to take because they’re still experiencing more anxiety attacks than they wish to and want to stop having anxiety attacks altogether. The same can be said for taking more anti-depression or pain, or sleeping medications than prescribed.
Others may start taking more anti-anxiety, anti-depression, pain, or sleeping medications because of the severity of their last anxiety attack, bout of depression, physical pain, or bout of insomnia. Taking a few more depressant prescription pills to manage your symptoms may seem like an alright idea at first. Unfortunately though, doing so can lead to a path of dependency and addiction.
Most depressant drugs are highly addictive on their own. Therefore, when people take depressant prescriptions for longer than advised, it can also easily cause them to become dependent on them or addicted to them. Unfortunately, many people make this mistake. These mistakes are mostly due to being careless or not trusting that they’re capable of managing their condition without the drugs yet.
There are five major types of depressant drugs. These include alcohol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, sleeping medications, and opioids.
Alcohol is the only depressant drug that’s primarily used for recreation. The main substance in alcohol that makes it act as a depressant drug is ethanol. Although alcohol is legal, it’s arguable the most abused drug on the planet. In fact, a 2014 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) survey found that nearly 61 million Americans over the age of 12 at that time binged drank alcohol.
Although many people use and abuse alcohol, most don’t realize that alcohol is a depressant. This is because initially, drinking alcohol can make you feel energized and “buzzed.”
How fast alcohol’s depressant effects will kick in for an individual depends on how much alcohol that person has consumed. Another factor is how fast that person has consumed it. This is because the liver, on average, only metabolizes about one drink of alcohol per hour. Other factors that can affect how long it will take for the depressant effects of alcohol to kick-in include a person’s weight, size, height, and gender.
People often refer to benzodiazepines as “benzos”. Individuals use benzodiazepines to treat panic and anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, seizures and convulsions, and other stress reactions. Benzodiazepines are also sedatives and central nervous system depressant prescriptions. Therefore, doctors prescribe benzodiazepines to necessary patients.
The sedative, muscle-relaxing, and sleep-inducing effects of benzodiazepines can make it effective in treating stress, seizures, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Common types of benzodiazepines include Valium, Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, and ProSom.
Barbiturates are sedative-hypnotic central nervous system prescription depressants and classic downers. Therefore they too give off sleep-inducing and relaxing effects, although they do suppress REM sleep.
These drugs also give off a sense of euphoria. This makes barbiturates even more addictive and prone to abuse. In fact, the abuse, addiction, and overdose rates of barbiturates became so high between the 1950s and 1970s that they pretty much stopped being prescribed to patients.
Instead, most doctors now prescribe patients benzodiazepines to treat their anxiety or sleep issues. This is because benzodiazepines are less addictive than barbiturates. Common types of barbiturates include Mebaral, Luminal, and Nembutal.
Sleeping medications, pills, or z-drugs, include any central nervous system sleep-aid that’s a non-benzodiazepine. Sleeping pills are depressant drugs specifically made to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders. Therefore they can’t also treat anxiety disorders.
Sleeping medications differ from benzodiazepines and barbiturates in the way that they stimulate GABA neurotransmitters. Although the side effects and risks of sleeping pills are less than benzodiazepines and barbiturates, people can still become dependent on them or addicted to them. Common types of sleeping medications include Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata.
People primarily use opioids to treat pain. Opioids come in legal and illegal forms. The illegal form of opioids is called heroin. Examples of legal prescription forms of opioids include codeine and hydrocodone.
Methadone is also a legal prescription form of opioids. The difference between methadone and codeine and hydrocodone though is that people use methadone to treat opioid addiction treatment while the others are used to just treat pain.
Codeine, methadone, and hydrocodone also differ from one another in that codeine is a natural opiate, hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid, and methadone is a fully synthetic opioid. One thing that all three of these and all other opioids have in common is their highly addictive properties. That’s why we’re in an opioid epidemic right now.
The sedative, hypnotic, and tranquilizing effects of prescription depressants immediately slows the function of the brain and body. This, in turn, also slows down one’s heart rate and breathing.
Because of how strong prescription depressants are, using sedatives and tranquilizers with other substances can slow down a person’s heart rate and breathe to the point of death. On the flip side, using high doses of a prescription depressant can impair your judgment, memory, concentration, and coordination. It can also cause a person to experience irritability, paranoia, suicidal thoughts, agitation, and aggression.
Other short-term effects of a prescription depressant include:
The long-term effects of a prescription depressant include depression, chronic fatigue, breathing difficulties, sexual problems, and sleep problems. If the person develops a dependency or addiction to depressants due to his or her long-term use, he or she will also experience increased cravings for the depressant drug, anxiety, and panic.
Withdrawal symptoms that you may experience after long-term use of depressant prescriptions include insomnia, weakness, and nausea. Agitation, high body temperature, delirium, hallucinations, and convulsions can also occur.
The risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and weight gain can also increase after long-term use of depressant drugs. Long-term depressant use combined with larger doses of depressant drugs can ultimately result in coma or death by overdose.
Stimulants are drugs that have the opposite effect of depressants in that they stimulate people’s central nervous system, thus making them more energized and alert. These drugs are “uppers”, meaning that they are performance-enhancing drugs.
So, are depressants less dangerous than stimulants? To get the answer to this question, you must compare their effects when misused. Abusing stimulants can make a person’s heart problems worse while abusing depressant drugs can make someone’s depression and mental health worse and cause a person to experience bad withdrawal symptoms like seizures. Ultimately though, the misuse and abuse of both stimulants and depressants can lead to crippling side effects, overdose, and death.
Even proper use of both stimulants and depressants without the guidance of a doctor can cause a person to make careless mistakes and poor judgment calls that lead to these things. Barbiturates are slightly more problematic when misused or abused than stimulants or other forms of depressants though. Hence, why doctors minimally prescribe barbiturates to patients today. Overall though, you should make sure that you properly use both prescription stimulants and depressants properly.
Depressant addiction occurs when people that have chronically abused depressant drugs now have changes made to the chemistry of their brains because of it. People who suffer from depressant addiction must also still be dependent on depressant drugs. This means that when they stop or minimize their use of depressant drugs, they experience withdrawal symptoms. When a person suffers from depressant addiction, he or she will do anything to get more of the substance, even if it means putting oneself in harm’s way.
Due to the severity of depressant withdrawal symptoms that a person can experience, it’s imperative that anyone with depressant addiction seek out professional addiction treatment at a treatment center. Due to how highly addictive most depressants are, it’s also imperative that anyone with depressant addiction attends professional detox and inpatient treatment to get clean and sober.
Here at Free by the Sea Drug and Alcohol Recovery Center, we provide countless resources and specialized detox, rehab, and evidence-based addiction treatment services that can help depressant addicts overcome their addictions. To learn more about Free by the Sea and the different detox and addiction treatment services that we provide, contact us today.
Dr. Richard Crabbe joined our team in 2019 as our psychiatrist and medical director. He attended the University of Ghana Medical School where he became a Medical Doctor in 1977. From 1978 through 1984, he was a medical officer in the Ghana Navy and provided a variety of services from general medicine to surgeries. He received his Certificate in General Psychology from the American Board of Psychology and Neurology in 2002.