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What are the Differences Between Stimulants and Depressants?

Man Passed Out After Drinking Too Much

Before discussing the differences between stimulants and depressants, let’s first discuss what they actually are and what form they can come in.  

What are Stimulants?

Stimulants are often called “uppers” since they speed up the central nervous system. Now, this could encompass a lot of different things. Coffee, for instance, would be considered a stimulant. We know that most of society has difficulty getting going in the morning without their “cup of Joe .” Fun fact this phrase comes from a navy captain in WW1 who banned coffee on the ships, so the most potent drink they could get was coffee, which came to be known as a “cup of joe.” Coffee would be considered a stimulant primarily because of its caffeine content, and you can get coffee just about anywhere. That said, it is understandable why so many people are addicted to it!

Another form of a stimulant would be in the pharmaceutical form. These can come in the form of amphetamines. An often-prescribed pharmaceutical drug called “Adderall” would be considered a stimulant. Adderall is often prescribed to those with an ADHD diagnosis because it can help them concentrate better on tasks. This is why you see many college students going down the path of taking Adderall. It allows them to party all night and study all day due to its stimulating effects on the body. It is well known that Adderall can be rather addictive. Due to its addictive nature, it is recommended that people take Adderall with caution and only use this drug under a doctor’s supervision. 

“Though it helps many people, this medication may sometimes cause addiction. This risk may be higher if you have a substance use disorder (such as overuse of or addiction to drugs/alcohol). Do not increase your dose. Take it more often, or use it for a longer time than prescribed. Properly stop the medication when so directed.” – WebMD 

Many street drugs would also fall under the category of “stimulants,” given the effect they produce. 

Drugs such as: 

  • Cocaine
  • Crack Cocaine
  • Crystal Meth
  • LSD
  • Ketamine
  • PCP
  • Mushrooms

What are Depressants? 

Depressants frequently have the complete opposite effect as a stimulant would. Where stimulants make you the “life of the party,” depressants make you the person that no one wants to be around because you are, well, let’s say, boring. Taking depressants makes you feel groggy or just “down.” You are probably slow to do much of anything and have difficulty completing everyday tasks. Some people would prefer to be more sedated than up, active, and go, go, go!  

Alcohol is one of the most used depressants. Alcohol, on the surface level, can make someone the “life of the party,” but given just a little too much, they can become drained and lethargic. This feeling is due to the depressant effect alcohol has on the brain. Consume too much alcohol, and it is possible to have what is called a “blackout,” which is when you remember nothing from the night before.  

Depressants are found in pharmaceutical drugs rather often. If you have heard the term benzodiazepine, you know what depressants are. Xanax, Valium, and Ativan are all examples of depressants. These drugs are often prescribed to people that have real struggles with anxiety. Depressants will take someone who is always anxious and slow them down a bit. It will make life appear more “manageable” to those who would argue otherwise. 

Here is an interesting sheet that will better describe depressants in pharmacology form. 

Stimulants, Depressants, and Addiction

It is often discussed which one is more addictive, stimulants or depressants. Is it possible to be addicted to both at the same time? Can you use both at the same time? Is one more addictive than the other? The simple answer to this is that it’s complicated. 

In terms of pharmaceuticals, they are both readily available if you meet the criteria for getting a prescription. In reality, people often go to the doctor regarding specific symptoms and get a prescription. When they start taking that prescription, they do not fully realize the risk involved with that medication. The potential risk for addiction is something that is often overlooked, and it can have some severe consequences. 

Using both Adderall (a stimulant) and Xanax (a depressant) as examples, they are both highly addictive and, if not taken seriously, can result in a severe addiction. Once addicted, you will require a medical detox to rid your body of them safely. Given the nature of these drugs and their effects on the body, it is difficult to stay off them permanently unless there is a solid foundation for recovery.

Alcohol and Benzodiazepines are the only two forms of drugs you can die from when it comes to withdrawals. Unfortunately, many alcoholics are, in fact, also addicted to benzodiazepines at the same time. It is thought that this is because the ways that they affect the brain are in the same way. So, when trying to come off of these drugs, you should seek medical support as quickly as possible.  

Can You Recover From Being Addicted to Stimulants and Depressants?

Yes, you can. Thousands, if not millions, of people, are addicted to these drugs. So you are not alone. There are many resources out there for someone who is considering getting off of these drugs. It isn’t something that will be easy by any stretch of the imagination. 

Addiction is addiction. Even though people can become addicted to just about anything these days, most of them get treated the same way. It is often suggested to find the “root” issues causing you to use these drugs in the first place. When that issue is found and addressed, it can make things easier when coming off these drugs. 

Most people addicted to drugs and alcohol are not addicted because they choose to be. They are addicted because they don’t know any other options. Most addicts and alcoholics, given the opportunity, would quit in a heartbeat. They often can see the destruction that their addiction has caused them and would be the first to admit that they want to stop. But with addiction comes a lot of negative self-talk and a lack of willingness. If we can break through those barriers and start working towards a life of sobriety, then things tend to become a lot easier.