Drug Awareness: Stimulants and Depressants

Psychoactive Drugs

Psychoactive, also called psychotropic, is a term that is applied to chemical substances that change a person’s mental state by affecting the way the brain and nervous system work. This can lead to intoxication which is often the main reason people choose to take psychoactive drugs.

The changes in brain function experienced by people who use psychoactive substances affect their perceptions, moods, and/or consciousness. (The Different Types of Psychoactive Drugs (verywellmind.com)

Groups of psychoactive drugs include Depressants, Stimulants, Hallucinogens, Cannabinoids, and Solvents.

Methods of Drug Use

How a person takes a drug affects the path that is taken to their brain.

  • Inhaling: permeates the lungs; goes to the heart and enters the blood being pumped to the rest of the body
  • Injecting: enters the blood then goes to the heart, lungs and throughout the body
  • Sniffing/Snorting: is the shortest distance to the brain, but still must go into the blood, heart, lungs and throughout the body
  • Ingesting (eating/swallowing): goes through the stomach, kidneys, liver, heart, lungs and blood to the rest of the body

(Addictions Foundation of Manitoba)


Depressants (downers) slow the central nervous system that, in turn, reduces anxiety and increases relaxation by creating a sense of calm and drowsiness.

  • Examples of depressants include: Alcohol, Benzodiazepines, Barbiturates and Rohypnol [Roffies-Date Rape drug], Methadone and Opioids [Fentanyl, Carfentanil, Codeine, Morphine, Heroin, Hydrocodone (Vicodin®), Oxycodone [OxyContin®, Percocet®]
  • Depressants decrease alertness and the impact of the environment on the thoughts and feelings of users.
  • Depressants can be highly addictive and extended use can cause tolerance and physical dependency.
  • Withdrawal symptoms can include muscle and joint pain, fever, nausea, sweats, chills, stomach cramps and diarrhea. Alcohol withdrawal can be very dangerous
  • Overdose is a risk.

Under the Influence of Depressants

  • Slow brain function
  • Slowed pulse and breathing
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Poor concentration
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Fever
  • Sluggishness
  • Visual disturbances
  • Sluggishness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Disorientation, lack of coordination
  • Depression
  • Difficulty or inability to urinate
  • Higher doses can cause impairment of memory, judgment and coordination, irritability, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts. Some people experience the opposite of the intended effect, such as agitation or aggression.

Long Term Effects of Depressant Abuse

  • Tolerance to many depressants can develop rapidly, with larger doses needed to achieve the same effect. The user, trying to reach the same high, may raise the dose to a level that results in coma or death by overdose.
  • Long-term use of depressants can produce depression, chronic fatigue, breathing difficulties, sexual problems and sleep problems. As a dependency on the drug increases, cravings, anxiety or panic are common if the user is unable to get more.
  • Aggressive behavior, mental disorders, hypertension (high blood pressure), brain stroke, paralysis of muscles and nerves.   (Long Term and Short Term Effects of Drug Use, Abuse and Misuse (Grade… (slideshare.net)
  • These drugs can also increase the risk of high blood sugar, diabetes, and weight gain (instances of up to 100 pounds have been reported).
  • Addiction (as per the DSM-V: Alcohol Use Disorder, Substance Use Disorder)

Opioids by Prescription

Traditionally, physical pain is treated with opioids. When someone is recovering from surgery, they may be given painkillers to take for the next few days or if someone suffers from chronic pain, they may be prescribed opioids.

Unfortunately, although they are given out by doctors, prescription opioids can also be abused. Some evidence suggests that between 12 and 29% of patients given prescription opioids for chronic pain will misuse these medications.  (Using Psychotherapy for Pain Management | Banyan Palm Springs (banyantreatmentcenter.com)

8 to 12% of patients prescribed opioids will become addicted to them. (Using Psychotherapy for Pain Management | Banyan Palm Springs (banyantreatmentcenter.com)

Symptoms of Opioid Overdose

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Unresponsive to outside stimulus, like a sternum rub
  • Awake, but unable to talk
  • Breathing is very slow and shallow, erratic, or has stopped
  • For lighter skinned people, the skin tone turns bluish purple, for darker skinned people, it turns grayish or ashen.
  • Choking sounds, or a snore-like gurgling noise (sometimes called the “death rattle”)
  • Vomiting
  • Body is very limp (sometimes in an atypical overdose, the body may become rigid)
  • Face is very pale or clammy
  • Fingernails and lips turn blue or purplish black
  • Pulse (heartbeat) is slow, erratic, or not there at all

Alcohol Withdrawals

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Aggression or hostility toward others
  • Clammy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Mood swings
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Short-term memory lapses
  • Grand Mal Convulsions (seizures) 3-5% of users
  • Delirium (significant confusion)


  • Stimulants (uppers) speed up the central nervous system and produce feelings of excitement, confidence and alertness. These feelings are often accompanied by a sense of power and a feeling the user is able to do anything.
  • Stimulants create fake messages in the brain, telling the body that it is under stress.
  • The blood that is sent to the skin decreases, therefore, it becomes difficult for the body to cool itself. Overheating can occur as a result.
  • Heart rate speeds up causing the blood vessels to the heart to constrict.
  • The liver releases sugar into the bloodstream.  This reduces the body’s energy stores.
  • As the stimulant wears off the user may experience depression, fatigue and irritability.
  • Some examples of stimulants include:  Caffeine, Nicotine, Amphetamines (Ritalin, Adderall), Meth, Cocaine, and Crack Cocaine.

Under the Influence of Stimulants

  • Dilated pupils
  • Restlessness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Sweating
  • Deceptive behavior, such as lying or stealing
  • Using prescriptions more than prescribed
  • Exhibiting excessive energy or motivation
  • Aggressive behavior or anger outbursts
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Hyper-focus
  • Flight of ideas
  • Racing thoughts
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Increased sense of well-being or confidence
  • Jitteriness
  • Mood-swings
  • Risky or impulsive behaviors

Long Term Side Effects of Stimulant Abuse

Aside from addiction (DSM-V: Stimulant Use Disorder [SUD]), there are other adverse effects of chronic stimulant abuse on a person’s health. These effects include:

  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Psychotic behavior
  • Malnutrition
  • Damage to blood vessels
  • Kidney damage
  • Lung damage
  • High blood pressure
  • Paranoia
  • Brain Damage
  • Stroke
  • Comatose
  • Overdose
  • Death


  • Caffeine is the widely used psychoactive drug in the world.
  • Going without caffeine for several hours may lead to psychological or physical withdrawal symptoms in those who consume large amounts on a daily basis.
  • Regular users of 350 mg/day or more will likely experience physical withdrawal including headache, fatigue, weakness, impaired concentration, depression, anxiety, irritability, increased muscular tension, tremors, insomnia, nausea, and vomiting.
  • A detailed review suggests that although caffeine triggers certain brain chemicals similarly to the way cocaine and amphetamines do, it does not cause classic addiction the way these drugs do. However, it may lead to psychological or physical dependency, especially at high dosages.

(9 Side Effects of Too Much Caffeine (healthline.com)

Immediate Side Effects of Ecstasy Abuse

Ecstasy is also known as Molly and MDMA.  Ecstasy is sometimes categorized as a hallucinogens as it produces some of the same effects. The short-term consequences of Ecstasy abuse include overdose and hospitalization.

When taken in large doses some of the potential negative effects are:

  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Seizures
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Dizziness