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The Difference Between Stimulants and Depressants

young people meet in addiction recovery group

Most addictive drugs can be classified as either a stimulant or a depressant. These groups interact differently with the central nervous system, often throwing off the chemical balance of the body and brain. Stimulants react by speeding up every aspect of the body and brain controlled by the central nervous system, while depressants do the opposite; slowing down bodily functions and cognitive processes. Individuals who abuse these drugs may become addicted to a drug in one category or the other, or may fall into a cycle of abuse that involves the constant use of both drug types in an attempt to achieve balance and feel normal.


Depressant drugs include alcohol, prescription drugs, and illegal street drugs. While alcohol and heroin may seem as if they are very different from each other, they work in similar ways within the body, inhibiting the function of the central nervous system by slowing down the heart, breathing, and digestion. Users may take these drugs to feel relaxed, euphoric, and induce sleep. Using one of these depressants can often escalate to the use of a more potent form. For example, many users who develop an addiction to opioid pain relievers escalate their use to heroin once they build a tolerance or are no longer able to obtain a prescription. Depressant overdose can cause the user to stop breathing, resulting in death.


Common stimulant drugs include illegal street drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines, and MDMA, as well as prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin. Stimulant drugs speed up bodily functions, increasing heart rate and raising blood pressure. They can make users feel euphoric and energized, but this feeling is usually followed by exhaustion and depression equal or greater to the high. Stimulants can also have negative mental health effects, such as an increase in anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks. Other common side effects include nausea, sweating, irregular breathing, and convulsions. Stimulant overdose can lead to heart attack or stroke, both of which may result in death.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, now is the time to reach out for help. At Arbor Behavioral Healthcare, you will meet knowledgeable, compassionate professionals who understand addiction in all its forms. The Arbor uses an integrative and holistic approach to treat addiction and mental health issues. No treatment is one-size-fits-all, and at The Arbor you will have a team of experts prepared to create your customized treatment plan. We offer care for your mind, body, and spirit so you can heal from the inside out and look forward to a lifetime of sobriety and wellness. If you are ready to take the first step in your recovery, please call us today at 844-413-2690.