How Depressants Affect Your Body

Stimulants vs Depressants: Differences, Effects & Addiction

How Depressants Affect Your Body

Stimulants and depressants are two main classes of drugs that affect how a person behaves, feels, and thinks.

Although they both affect the central nervous system, these drug classes are really at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Both stimulants and depressants can become addictive, resulting in the need for treatment in a drug rehab center. Let’s take a closer look at these two types of drugs.

Stimulants: Characteristics, Availability, and Effects

Stimulants are prescribed by medical doctors for the purpose of treating many conditions, including depression, narcolepsy, and ADHD. Known to increase focus, energy, and a feeling of well-being, legal pharmaceutical stimulants are distributed under several brand names, including Concerta, Vyvanse, Adderall, and Desoxyn.

Previously, prescription stimulants were used in the treatment of a wider range of conditions. For example, they were used to treat obesity because these stimulants would reduce appetite.

They were also prescribed for asthma, as they improved breathing by expanding the patient’s airways.

However, following the realization that they had high misuse and addiction potential, the number of conditions for which they are prescribed has lessened considerably.

Non-Prescription Stimulants

Stimulants also exist in the form of certain items that can be purchased off the shelf. These include aspirin, caffeinated beverages, nicotine, and topical pain relief products.

Illegal Stimulants

Illegal stimulants are manufactured, packaged, and sold in the form of cocaine, crack cocaine, crystal meth, and party drugs Ecstasy, “Molly,” and MDMA. These illegal stimulants are not only highly addictive but also highly dangerous to use. This is because they will often be diluted and “cut” with a toxic blend of stimulant and chemical substances.

Among the agents used to cut and dilute illegal stimulants are their non-prescription counterparts aspirin and caffeine. However, dangerous chemicals laundry detergent, cattle de-wormer, and boric acid are also used.

Effects of Stimulants on the Brain

When taken as prescribed, pharmaceutical stimulants have a mild to moderate effect on the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Both dopamine and norepinephrine are released. Dopamine, the “feel good” chemical, is what causes a feeling of euphoria, while norepinephrine causes blood pressure and heart rate to rise, constricts blood vessels, and opens breathing passages.

Dependence on pharmaceutical stimulants will involve taking an amount of the drug that will deliver either a stronger euphoria, do so for a longer period of time, or both.

The effect on the brain’s prefrontal cortex is the same with illegal stimulants but, because of the cutting and dilution agents used, the intensity of euphoria and energy felt when taking recreational drugs is far higher. As a result, a person’s brain becomes addicted far more quickly to the high they experience from a recreational drug.

As with pharmaceutical stimulants, over time, more of the drug is needed in order to meet the demand for a stronger high. Individuals will also increase their use in order to combat the symptoms of existing mental health disorders depression.

Depressants: Characteristics, Availability, and Effects

Depressants are also commonly prescribed by medical doctors. Depressants slow brain activity, decrease blood pressure and alertness, slow respiration, and lower heart rate.

As such, they’re used to treat anxiety, seizure disorders, and sleep disorders. They produce a calming effect and can also make the user drowsy.

Depressants are also available under several brand names, which include Lunesta, Xanax, Nembutal, and Valium.

Depressants such as Valium are classed as benzodiazepines, which, when stopped, can cause the user to experience withdrawal symptoms. Non-benzodiazepine depressants such as Ambien can have fewer side effects and, therefore, are thought to have a lower dependence risk than benzodiazepine-containing products.

Finally, barbiturate-containing depressants Mebaral have a higher risk of misuse, as well as a higher risk of overdose, which is why they are prescribed less frequently.

Non-Prescription Depressants

Alcohol is one of the most commonly known and misused non-prescription depressants. Solvents glue and petroleum substances are also on this list, and opiates morphine are also considered to be depressants.

However, opiates are not to be confused with opioids, which are a different class of drug. Opiates are made from the poppy plant.

Opioids are man-made pharmaceutical drugs that are chemically similar to their opiate counterparts.

Illegal Depressants

Illegal depressants include heroin and cannabis. Although not illegal by themselves, prescription depressants Valium can have an illegal facet when a user purchases the substance on the street or commits a crime for the purpose of obtaining or selling the drug.

Heroin and cannabis can be either laced or cut with several dangerous substances. They can include cocaine, LSD, lead, and embalming fluid. As with stimulants, combining depressants with these cutting agents can result in a high that’s far more intense but also far more dangerous.

Effects of Depressants on the Brain

Depressants slow brain activity by increasing the production and activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid in the brain. This chemical, also known as GABA, can cause sleepiness and clumsiness initially. With time, these symptoms diminish and disappear. However, those who take depressants over long periods may require more of them in order to achieve the same effect.

Following the abrupt stoppage or reduction of depressant use, a person can experience withdrawal symptoms. As well, seizures are a possible harmful effect of stopping the taking of depressants.

If a person stops taking a depressant containing barbiturates after a long period,  they can experience withdrawal, but can also experience complications that may be life-threatening.

These include overdose, coma, and death.

Drug Misuse Is Never Safe

When stimulant or depressant use becomes substance abuse disorders where more of the drugs are needed, many life-threatening medical conditions can be the result. In order to avoid these conditions, it’s extremely important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

Signs of stimulant dependence include:

  • insomnia
  • psychosis
  • headache
  • stomach upset

Signs of depressant dependence include:

  • fatigue
  • lightheadedness
  • confusion
  • dizziness

Other general signs of addiction include an inability to think about anything other than using, irritability, brain fog, explosive bouts of anger, and withdrawal from the people, places, and activities that one used to enjoy.

Treatment Options for Stimulant or Depressant Addiction

One who is addicted may engage in many risky behaviors that can affect them and those who love them. Physical problems arising addiction can include irreversible organ damage, cancer, and cardiac issues.

Addiction can also cause or co-exist with mental issues including depression, as well as emotional disorders and anxiety. Financial and legal trouble can arise when the loss of one’s job due to drug use occurs or when they engage in illegal activities to use or while using drugs.

The impact of addiction extends to all of a user’s relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners. A person may withdraw from these individuals in favor of using drugs, causing feelings of hurt, confusion, and abandonment in loved ones.

Getting Help

If you or a loved one is taking any stimulant or depressant—whether legal or illegal—and is experiencing the above symptoms, it’s critical to know about your treatment options. Professional help can ensure that you can stop usage in a safe manner with as little risk to your health as possible.

Addiction to any substance is a disease that, left untreated, will only progress and worsen. Treatment can interrupt the downward spiral of addiction, allowing a person to manage their withdrawal symptoms but also provide them with important skills to remain healthy and avoid relapse.

The intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) offered by BlueCrest Recovery Center are delivered in such a way as to continue to allow you to participate in work, school, and family life.

Designed for those who have already completed inpatient treatment or do not require it, our outpatient detox programs require participation for three hours, three nights per week.

Should inpatient services be needed, we can provide recommendations for locations where this treatment can be obtained.

If you’re ready to live a healthy and addiction-free life, BlueCrest Recovery Center can help. Contact us for more information about our intensive outpatient programs or request inpatient treatment information by calling (973) 298-5776.

Medically Reviewed and Fact Checked By Dr. Thomaso Skorupski, D.O.


What do Depressants Do? | Depressants and Alcohol Drug

How Depressants Affect Your Body

Depressants are a type of drug that work on the central nervous system (CNS) by depressing it and lowering a person’s brain activity and basic functions in the body. They work by slowing down the neurotransmitters that allow your brain to communicate with the rest of the nerves in your system.

CNS depressants are medications and other substances that slow down the CNS. Many CNS depressants work by increasing the activity of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical that prevents or slows the delivery of messages between cells.

Because of how depressants affect the body and the intensity of these affects, they can cause abuse or addiction to occur. Addiction to these drugs may require a treatment recovery program with trained health professionals and addiction specialists who can treat the underlying cause of the addiction.

What Drugs are Depressants?

The most common drugs that are depressants that are used are alcohol, barbiturates and benzodiazepines. One thing that virtually all depressants have in common is their ability to cause addiction.

While depressants are widely used in America and people do use them around the world, understanding the risk is important.

In the case of CNS prescription-strength depressants, it is advised that you be medically supervised, despite them being medications.


One of the most commonly used drugs that can cause abuse is alcohol. Many people drink alcohol in moderation and it does not affect them or their life. Others who drink alcohol begin to abuse it and it can be debilitating to their overall life and well-being.

Mixing alcohol with other depressants can be extremely dangerous, due to the fact that alcohol is also a depressant. Mixing alcohol and benzodiazepines for example, could mean that the person will become more intoxicated more quickly; this can lead to physical harm from falling after losing balance, becoming the victim of a crime assault or rape, and overdose.


Barbiturates are depressant drugs that are effective as anticonvulsants anxiolytics, and hypnotics, but have the potential to cause physical and psychological addiction or overdose among other possible adverse effects. Barbiturates have effects that range from mild relaxation to an inability to feel pain and loss of consciousness.


Benzodiazepines are man-made medications that cause mild to severe depression of the nerves within the brain (central nervous system) and inability to feel pain and sedation (drowsiness). Benzodiazepines can be prescribed by a doctor (MD) and used to treat certain health conditions such as nervousness, anxiety, seizures, muscle spasms or panic disorder.

Health Effects of Depressants When Used

So, you may be wondering, what do depressants do to you? Depressants change how the brain and body function, leading to certain health side effects and symptoms to occur.

People will experience differing symptoms from depressants depending on a number of factors including the type of depressant, dose of the drug, medical history and size of the person using depressants.

Some of the most common symptoms of depressants are:

  • Blurred, altered, or double vision
  • Lack of coordination and impaired sense of space
  • Euphoria
  • Muscle weakness
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Lethargy
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Disorientation
  • Slurred speech or stuttering
  • Shallow breathing or shortness of breath
  • Slightly reduced heart rate
  • Constipation

When a depressant is used for long periods of time it can negatively affect a person’s health, and cause detrimental damage to your system.

Long-term health effects can include:

  • Problems with memory, judgement or thought, memory
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of coordination
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Muscle weakness

Depressants Versus Stimulants

So, how do depressants and stimulants differ, and why are drugs depressants described as the opposite of amphetamines? Depressants and stimulants are very different in how they affect the body, to the point that they are considered opposites. Amphetamines are stimulant drugs, which means they speed up the messages travelling between the brain and your system, while depressants will slow down the central nervous system and the brain.

Addiction to Drug Depressants

other drugs, using depressants can result in addiction or a substance abuse disorder. Using drugs to excess can cause a person to develop a dependence for it, which means you will need to continue using it in order to feel “normal.”

Some of the symptoms of addiction and abuse include an intense craving for the drug, changes in relationships or hobbies or loss of interest in normal activities, spending a lot of time to get the drug and using it, and developing withdrawals when discontinuing drug use.

If you are struggling from any type of drug addiction, it is important to get help at AToN Center right away. Our addiction team can assist you through the treatment process and guide you to recovery.

Addiction Help at AToN Center

AToN Center is a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center that is located in San Diego, CA. Our premier recovery center treats all types of drugs, including alcohol, and we provide treatment to address the symptoms that are associated with an addiction or substance abuse disorder

Our staff consists of doctoral level clinicians and counselors, and we pride ourselves on delivering high quality, individualized, treatment help and care to all of our clients. We understand the struggle and pain that addiction can cause to you and your loved ones, and we can develop the right treatment plan to address your specific needs.

If you are looking for information on our treatment center, or if you would to view our facility, please reach out to one of our caring staff members right away. We are happy to help you through the entire recovery process, and ensure you get the help you need.


Prescription CNS Depressants DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse

How Depressants Affect Your Body

Central Nervous System (CNS) depressants are medicines that include sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics. These drugs can slow brain activity, making them useful for treating anxiety, panic, acute stress reactions, and sleep disorders.

CNS depressants cause drowsiness; sedatives are often prescribed to treat sleep disorders insomnia and hypnotics can induce sleep, whereas tranquilizers are prescribed to treat anxiety or to relieve muscle spasms.

Some examples of CNS depressants grouped by their respective drug class are:

BenzodiazepinesNon-Benzodiazepine Sedative HypnoticsBarbiturates
  • diazepam (Valium®)
  • clonazepam (Klonopin®)
  • alprazolam (Xanax®)
  • triazolam (Halcion®)
  • estazolam (Prosom®)
  • zolpidem (Ambien®)
  • eszopiclone (Lunesta®)
  • zaleplon (Sonata®)
  • mephobarbital (Mebaral®)
  • phenobarbital (Luminal®)
  • pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal®)

How do people use and misuse prescription CNS depressants?

Most prescription CNS depressants come in pill, capsule, or liquid form, which a person takes by mouth. Misuse of prescription CNS depressants means:

  • taking medicine in a way or dose other than prescribed
  • taking someone else's medicine
  • taking medicine for the effect it causes — to get high

When misusing a prescription CNS depressant, a person can swallow the medicine in its normal form or can crush pills or open capsules.

How do CNS depressants affect the brain?

Most CNS depressants act on the brain by increasing activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical that inhibits brain activity.

This action causes the drowsy and calming effects that make the medicine effective for anxiety and sleep disorders.

People who start taking CNS depressants usually feel sleepy and uncoordinated for the first few days until the body adjusts to these side effects. Other effects from use and misuse can include:

  • slurred speech
  • poor concentration
  • confusion
  • headache
  • light-headedness
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • problems with movement and memory
  • lowered blood pressure
  • slowed breathing

If a person takes CNS depressants long term, he or she might need larger doses to achieve therapeutic effects. Continued use can also lead to dependence and withdrawal when use is abruptly reduced or stopped. Suddenly stopping can also lead to harmful consequences seizures.

Can a person overdose on CNS depressants?

Yes, a person can overdose on CNS depressants. An overdose occurs when the person uses enough of a drug to produce life-threatening symptoms or death (read more on our Intentional vs. Unintentional Overdose Deaths webpage).

When people overdose on a CNS depressant, their breathing often slows or stops. This can decrease the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, a condition called hypoxia. Hypoxia can have short- and long-term mental effects and effects on the nervous system, including coma and permanent brain damage.

How can a CNS depressant overdose be treated?

The most important step to take is to call 911 so a person who has overdosed can receive immediate medical attention. Flumazenil (Romazicon®) is a medication that medical personnel can use to treat benzodiazepine overdose and has also been shown effective in treating overdose from sleep medicines.

The drug might not completely reverse slowed breathing and can lead to seizures in some patients who are taking certain antidepressants. Flumazenil is short acting, and the patient may need more of it every 20 minutes until he or she recovers.

For barbiturates and nonbenzodiazepines, body temperature, pulse, breathing, and blood pressure should be monitored while waiting for the drug to be eliminated.

Can prescription CNS depressant use lead to addiction and substance use disorder?

Yes, use or misuse of prescription CNS depressants can lead to problem use, known as a substance use disorder (SUD), which takes the form of addiction in severe cases.

Long-term use of prescription CNS depressants, even as prescribed by a doctor, can cause some people to develop a tolerance, which means that they need higher and/or more frequent doses of the drug to get the desired effects.

A SUD develops when continued use of the drug leads to negative consequences such as health problems or failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home, but despite all that the drug use continues.

Those who have become addicted to a prescription CNS depressant and stop using the drug abruptly may experience a withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms-which can begin as early as a few hours after the drug was last taken—include:

  • seizures
  • shakiness
  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • insomnia
  • overactive reflexes
  • increased heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature with sweating
  • hallucinations
  • severe cravings

People addicted to prescription CNS depressants should not attempt to stop taking them on their own. Withdrawal symptoms from these drugs can be severe and—in the case of certain medications-potentially life—threatening.

How can people get treatment for prescription CNS depressant addiction?

There isn't a lot of research on treating people for addiction to prescription CNS depressants. However, people addicted to these medications should undergo medically supervised detoxification because the dosage they take should be tapered gradually.

Counseling, either in an outpatient or inpatient program, can help people through this process. One type of counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy, focuses on modifying the person's thinking, expectations, and behaviors while improving ways to cope with life's stresses.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy has helped people successfully adapt to stop using benzodiazepines.

Often prescription CNS depressant misuse occurs along with the use of other drugs, such as alcohol or opioids. In those cases, the person should seek treatment that addresses the multiple addictions.

  • Prescription CNS depressants are medicines that can slow brain activity to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.
  • Prescription CNS depressants act on the brain by increasing activity of GABA, a chemical that slows brain activity.
  • People who start taking prescription CNS depressants usually feel sleepy and uncoordinated at first. They can also have poor concentration, confusion, lowered blood pressure, and slowed breathing.
  • A person can overdose on prescription CNS depressants. Flumazenil (Romazicon®) can be used to treat benzodiazepine and sleep medicine overdoses. Body temperature, pulse, breathing, and blood pressure should be monitored while waiting for the drug to be eliminated.
  • Prescription CNS depressant use or misuse can lead to a substance use disorder, which takes the form of addiction in severe cases, even when used as prescribed by a doctor.
  • Withdrawal symptoms include: seizures; shakiness; anxiety; agitation; insomnia; overactive reflexes; increased heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature; hallucinations; and severe cravings.

Learn More

For more information about prescription CNS depressants, see our:

This publication is available for your use and may be reproduced in its entirety without permission from NIDA. Citation of the source is appreciated, using the following language: Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Effects of Depressants on the Body

How Depressants Affect Your Body

The prevalence of prescription drug abuse has risen in the United States as a result of the opioid epidemic. Many people are suffering from addiction to prescription drugs depressants and stimulants. As a drug treatment facility in Texas, we understand the effects of depressants on the body and why prescription drug abuse is so dangerous.

What is a Depressant Drug?

Depressant drugs also referred to as central nervous system depressants are medications that slow brain activity, making them effective in treating conditions insomnia, anxiety, panic disorders, stress, sleep disorders, pain, and seizures.

There are three major types of CNS depressants: tranquilizers, sedatives, and hypnotics.

These drugs work by affecting an inhibitory neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which blocks certain brain signals to reduce activity in the central nervous system.

Some common CNS depressants include:

  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines (such as Valium, Xanax, and Ativan)
  • Most sleeping medications (such as Sonata, Lunesta, and Ambien)
  • Barbiturates
  • Opioids (such as methadone, codeine, hydrocodone)

Depressants work differently depending on the drug class they’re in, but they can all reduce activity in the central nervous system.

While some are considered to be slightly safer than others and are therefore more frequently prescribed, all depressants have a potential for abuse and should only be used if and as prescribed by a doctor.

Banyan Treatment Centers Texas offers different medical detox programs in Waelder that help patients slowly wean off of the physical side effects of drugs including CNS depressants. This is a frequently recommended first step in treating addiction because it offers 24-hour medical care and treatment for withdrawal symptoms.

What Effect Do Depressants Have On The Body?

Depressant drug effects on the body depend on factors including the drug class of the depressant, the dose that was taken, whether it was mixed with any other substances, the length of time the person has been using the drug, and a variety of other physical factors.

Alcohol is one of the most widely used depressants in the world, partly because it’s accessible for people 21 and older in the U.S. The effects of alcohol on the brain are similar to those of prescription depressants but different in that it can induce anxiety when drunk excessively.

Other prescription depressants may not be as accessible as alcohol, but they can still be abused and lead to addiction, nonetheless.

The effects of depressants on the central nervous system are the main reason why people abuse them. However, as with most other drugs of abuse, CNS depressants can lead to tolerance and addiction.

The longer a person abuses drugs, the more tolerant they become of their side effects. These individuals may then begin taking higher doses to experience the same high.

If this self-destructive pattern of behavior continues, it can result in addiction.

Some common side effects of depressants on the body include:

  • Relaxation and euphoria
  • Drowsiness
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of memory
  • Difficulties urinating
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Inhibited motor movement
  • Impaired judgment
  • Slurred speech
  • Blackouts or loss of consciousness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Reckless or self-destructive behavior

Long-term CNS depressant abuse can lead to a variety of health problems. The side effects of central nervous system depressants can become more severe over time. Some long-term effects of CNS depressants on the body include:

  • Addiction
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Sexual dysfunction and decreased libido
  • Respiratory problems
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts and behavior

Another common side effect of central nervous system depressant use is overdose. Overdose refers to the consumption of a toxic dose of drugs or alcohol. An overdose on CNS depressants can lead to seizures, respiratory depression, and death. These drugs should not be combined or taken with any other medications or substances that can also cause sedation.

Combining these substances can reduce breathing and heart rate, which can be fatal. Mixing depressants with any other drugs, illicit or prescription, is dangerous and should be completely avoided. We offer addiction treatment at Banyan Texas to help individuals regain their sobriety from addictions to drugs opioids, benzos, alcohol, and other depressants.

A great way to avoid prescription drug addiction is to ask your doctor how depressants affect the body before taking them.

They can explain how addiction happens when these drugs are abused and can offer specific directions for taking them safely.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction call us now at 888-280-4763 to talk to a team member about our addiction levels of care in Texas.


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