When it comes to drugs of abuse, stimulants and depressants are among the most common. Stimulants are drugs which produce an increase in physical and mental activity by stimulating the nervous system, whereas depressants are those which depress the nervous system.


This article will talk about the difference between these two categories of drugs, as well as providing examples of both. Towards the end we will educate you about how to overcome an addiction to either type of drug.

What are Depressants?

Depressants are a class of drugs that cause depression in the central nervous system. 


Contrary to what many people think, depressants do not make you feel depressed. In fact, many people who struggle with depression develop a habit of abusing depressants because they help to numb the related pain and emotional discomfort.


Most depressants are characterized by being relaxing or sedating. Here are a few examples of drugs which can be classified as depressants.



Alcohol is far and above the most common depressant. It is readily available, heavily marketed, and popular in nearly every country in the world.


Alcohol is also partly responsible for the common misunderstanding that depressants cause depressive behavior.


Despite being classified as a depressant, alcohol often causes people to behave in an emotionally unstable manner. It is not uncommon for intoxicated people to behave in self-destructive or harmful ways, or to experience fits of crying, anger, or guilt — all common symptoms of depression.


While these symptoms may be similar to those of depression, they are more often a result of alcohol decreasing an individual’s inhibitions. This allows them to express emotions that they would otherwise be repressing.


Medically, alcohol is considered a depressant because of the way that it affects the central nervous system. Alcohol tends to lower blood pressure and decrease the rate of breathing. 



Opiates are another class of depressants. Opiates are very powerful sedating drugs which can range in intensity from fairly mild to extremely potent.


Opiates such as codeine are relatively mild and can be purchased over-the-counter. When using these drugs, there is a very low risk of dangerous respiratory depression.


However, more powerful opiates like oxycodone and heroin can cause serious respiratory depression. With these drugs, there is a very real risk of overdosing due to extreme respiratory depression.


Opiates are also known for being very addictive. When you become addicted to opiates, you will develop withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly try to stop using them.


Withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of a very serious flu. You may experience shaking, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, and changes in body temperature. While opiate withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable, it is not so serious that it may kill you.



Benzodiazepines are another class of central nervous system depressants. They are most commonly prescribed by doctors to help reduce symptoms of anxiety. Benzodiazepines are also useful for helping to prevent seizures.


Benzodiazepines work in a very similar fashion as alcohol. They influence a neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter which helps to balance the activity of stimulating, or excitatory neurotransmitters.


People who struggle with anxiety or seizures often have an imbalance of excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters. When your body becomes overwhelmed by excitatory neurotransmitters, you may develop physical symptoms like twitching, shaking, or seizures. 


Benzodiazepines produce relaxation by inhibiting, or slowing, the activity of these stimulating neurotransmitters.


However, this is also one of the reasons that withdrawal from benzodiazepines and alcohol can be so dangerous. When your body becomes dependent on these drugs to produce GABA, it tends to stop producing GABA on its own. This means that when you stop taking these drugs, your body will be even more out of balance than it was before. 


This extreme imbalance can lead to overexcitation which causes serious withdrawal symptoms including seizures.

Benzodiazepines also carry a serious risk of respiratory depression, especially when combined with other depressants. There is a greater risk of overdosing from benzodiazepines than there is from alcohol. However, combining the two is extremely dangerous.


Stimulants are a class of drugs that stimulate the central nervous system. Stimulants are all marked by similar characteristics. They tend to make people hyper energetic, more talkative, more motivated, and can cause physical symptoms like increased blood pressure, sweating, and agitation.


Many stimulants cause a release of dopamine in the brain. As such, many of them are very addictive. 


Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of motivation, happiness, and excitement. Drugs that stimulate this pathway are notoriously addictive, especially if the people using them are trying to mask an underlying condition such as depression or fatigue.


Here are some examples of common stimulants.



Cocaine is a fairly short acting stimulant that is a popular drug of abuse. Most of its effects last no longer than an hour. Cocaine is often cut with other stimulants, however, which may prolong its effects.


Cocaine is a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor. This means that it prevents dopamine from being taken out of the neural pathway as it would normally be. This causes high amounts of dopamine to continue to bombard the receptors, causing feelings of extreme euphoria.


As the effects begin to wear off and dopamine is moved out of the brain cells, people often experience a very intense comedown. The down from cocaine is very much the opposite of its initial effects. People may become lethargic, depressed, anxious, and unmotivated.


Cocaine is not known to cause a serious physical addiction. However, it can create changes in neural pathways that can have long lasting effects. Long-term use of dopamine drugs can interrupt the flow of dopamine through the brain and make it difficult for people to find enjoyment in activities like socializing or their hobbies.



Amphetamines are one of the most commonly used types of stimulants. They are popular in both the medical community, which uses them as medication for ADHD, and in the recreational community.


In either case, amphetamines function by releasing large amounts of dopamine into the brain. This is different from cocaine, which causes your brain to overuse the dopamine that is already being produced.


This means that amphetamines usually have a longer duration of action than short-acting NDRIs like cocaine or methylphenidate (Ritalin).


However, the effects are similar. Amphetamines often cause an increase in mood, chattiness, and energy.


While the basic effects are often similar, each amphetamine has its own unique properties. Here are some examples of common amphetamines and their differences.


Methamphetamine is a very popular drug of abuse. Many people are surprised to learn that methamphetamine is also clinically prescribed for cases of serious ADHD and narcolepsy. In either case, methamphetamine causes very long stimulation (often longer than 24 hours at high doses), elevated mood, increased focus, and increased libido.


Amphetamine, often called speed in the UK, is another popular drug of abuse. Amphetamine is sold as a prescription drug under the name Adderall, which contains a mixture of the two isomers of amphetamine.

These two isomers are levoamphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Both cause stimulation in the nervous system. Levoamphetamine is understood to have a more physical action, producing fewer mental effects. Dextroamphetamine has more of a cognitive effect, stimulating mood and focus.


MDMA, or methylenedioxymethamphetamine, is a bit different than the previous stimulants mentioned. MDMA affects serotonin more than dopamine. As such, it’s effects are quite a bit different than other amphetamines.

While MDMA can certainly still be stimulating, it’s stimulating effects are less obvious than those of a drug like methamphetamine. Feelings of extreme motivation and spontaneity are replaced by more empathogenic feelings. MDMA is known to cause feelings of loving kindness, appreciation for life, and enhanced social connection. It has been used before during psychotherapy to help people open up and discuss their traumas.


Since it affects serotonin rather than dopamine, it’s comedown effects are also a bit different. MDMA often leaves people feeling dejected, depressed, unhappy, and antisocial.


Treating Addiction from Depression and Stimulants

If you find yourself addicted to stimulants or depressants, it makes sense to pursue a recovery sooner rather than later. 


It’s important to know the treatment from these different types of drugs can be quite a bit different. In this section, we will explore the differences between treating addiction to depressants and stimulants.


Addiction Treatment for Depressants

Depressants are usually much more physically addictive than stimulants. This means that they will often require a more intensive treatment protocol. Depressants are more likely to require detox than stimulants.


Treatment for alcohol addiction

Alcohol is able to cause very serious withdrawal symptoms that may kill you. This means that in most cases, rehab facilities will recommend that you attend a detox program prior to actually starting therapy This is best done after following a weaning regimen during which you will gradually reduce the amount of alcohol you consume.


If you do not attend a detox program, then you run the risk of experiencing seizures.


The detox period or alcohol can range from several days to several weeks. During this time, it is a good idea to make sure that you have medical supervision.


After you have finished your detox., You will be taken through the rest of your rehab program. During your program, you will likely be guided by a therapist through your emotional and mental history to uncover the underlying factors behind your addiction. Then, you will be able to work through these problems and find a healthier coping mechanism to replace the alcohol.

Recovery from benzodiazepines

Much like alcohol, benzodiazepines can cause very serious and potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms. This means that you will likely want to attend a detox program if you are trying to stop using these drugs.


One of the main differences between benzodiazepine and alcohol withdrawal is that benzodiazepine withdrawal can be extremely protracted. Some drugs like Valium have a half-life of several days, which means that it could take more than 72 hours for half of the drug to even leave your system.


Drugs with long half-lives tend to cause prolonged withdrawal. It is not uncommon for people to experience benzodiazepine withdrawal for up to a month. 


After the initial withdrawal period has finished, you may experience post acute withdrawal syndrome. Post acute withdrawal consists of residual symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, that may persist for months or years while your brain returns to balance.


After you have completed your detox program, a therapist will help you understand the cause of your anxiety. They will then help you understand different ways that can help you manage your anxiety without using benzodiazepines.

Recovering from opiates

Despite being some of the most addictive drugs on the planet, opioids do not create an addiction so serious that it’s withdrawal symptoms could kill you. 


That said, many therapists will still recommend going through a detox program. This is because the withdrawal symptoms are often so difficult and uncomfortable that they drive people to relapse before they are able to complete the process..


Whether or not you decide to go through a detox is up to you. 


Once you’re ready to start your rehab program, you will be helped to understand the reasons that you began using these drugs in the first place.


Some people develop physical dependence from opiates prescribed legitimately by a doctor. Without being properly educated about addiction and withdrawal symptoms, these people may seek alternative sources of illicit opioids in order to fight off withdrawal symptoms.


Others may become addicted to prescribed drugs because they find that they numb a particular emotional pain. As powerful analgesics, opiates numb not only physical pain but mental pain as well. Many will continue to use these drugs as a coping mechanism for pain that they might not even be aware of.


Your therapist will help you uncover the root cause of your dependence so that you can work through it in a more holistic manner. If your addiction is entirely physical then you may not require much therapy.

Treatment for Stimulants

Most stimulants do not cause serious physical dependence. While they might cause changes in the brain that can take a while to undo, these are not the same as physical withdrawal symptoms. Many of these symptoms manifest as post acute withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and depression.


As such, it is not often recommended that you attend a detox process prior to attending rehab for stimulants.


However, patients who will be attending an outpatient program might prefer to engage in a detox process for the first week or so. As you are not confined to a facility during outpatient rehab, you may not have anything to prevent you from relapsing. Spending the first week in a detox facility can help to ensure that you do not relapse.


Whether you are attending rehab for cocaine, amphetamines, or other stimulants, the treatment process will be fairly similar. While each rehab process will be tailored specifically to your mental and emotional needs, in all cases, it will be guided by a therapist to help you discover the underlying cause of your addiction.


If you are struggling to manage your use of medically-prescribed stimulants, your therapist may help you discover why you feel it is necessary to use more than your prescribed dose. They may also help provide techniques and tools which you can use to manage conditions like ADHD without medication.


Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Even after you have sobered up, you may experience post acute withdrawal syndrome. Post acute withdrawal syndrome is a condition that is marked by prolonged, psychological withdrawal symptoms.


Many of these symptoms are the result of the brain trying to return to balance after years of being abused. Many of these changes can be attributed to imbalances in the dopamine system that were created by continually engaging your reward response.


The reward system is typically activated when we do something that is good for our survival such as eating food, having sex or getting exercise. However, drugs activate the same system without us having to do anything productive.


Overtime, this causes the reward system to fall out of balance. After receiving heavy surges of dopamine for so long, it becomes difficult for us to find pleasure in everyday things like eating food or exercising. Many people find that they lose the motivation to engage in their hobbies or socialize.


While these problems may persist for several months or even years, depending on how serious your addiction was, rest assured that they can be managed. Your therapist will likely take you through some techniques that you can employ to help you restore function to your dopamine system.


This will typically involve participating in activities that help to regulate your dopamine receptors. This might mean doing things like yoga, eating a healthy diet rich in vitamins and nutrients, or getting regular exercise.


Inpatient or Outpatient Rehab?

There are two main types of rehab programs that you can choose from. These can be broadly classified as either inpatient or outpatient programs. Depending on the drug of addiction, the intensity of your addiction, and your personal preferences, you may decide to choose one or the other.


Outpatient Rehab

Outpatient rehab is a form of treatment that does not require you to stay at the facility. As long as you attend the meetings and sessions that you’re scheduled for, you’re free to leave the facility as you want.


Outpatient rehab is generally recommended for people who have mild to moderate addictions, or who are addicted to drugs that cause less severe dependence. People who are seriously addicted may opt to a more intensive process like inpatient rehab.


This is because there is nothing stopping you from relapsing when you’re not at the facility. As you come and go from outpatient rehab it will require a lot of discipline to stay sober.


While there may be an increased risk of relapse, there are also a number of benefits to outpatient rehab. You’ll be able to maintain your work and school life, as well as your personal relationships.


This can be immensely useful for someone who is going through recovery. Having a strong support network is one of the most important foundations of recovery. Maintaining your support network can be difficult in an inpatient program where you do not have the freedom to see people as you wish.

Inpatient Rehab

Inpatient rehab is generally recommended for people who have more serious addictions. It is also a good option for those who have tried and failed to complete an outpatient program.


During an inpatient program, you will be committed to the facility for the entire duration of your program. This might be as short as a month or as long as three months.


The purpose of inpatient rehab is twofold. Firstly, you will be unable to run the risk of relapse because you will be committed to the facility the entire time. On top of that, you will have nothing to focus on except for your recovery.


Inpatient rehab also provides you with access to professionally trained medical staff around the clock. If there are any psychological or physical emergencies during your recovery, you’ll be attended to quickly.


There are, however, some obvious drawbacks of inpatient rehab. The main difficulty is that you will not be able to connect with anybody outside of the facility on a regular basis.


Employers, partners, and family members will not be able to see you every day. This means that you will have to take a hiatus from school or work. This can make inpatient rehab difficult for some people to attend. Inpatient rehab can also present challenges for people who are in intimate relationships as you may not be able to connect with your partner for a number of months.


Depressants and stimulants are two of the most commonly-abused classes of drugs. Depressants are often physically addictive and can cause serious withdrawal symptoms. Stimulants are generally psychologically addictive.


If you or a loved one are addicted to depressants are stimulants then you may want to reach out to a rehab group. The sooner that you’re able to start your recovery the better.


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