Drug Types: Stimulant or Depressant?

Dec 2022 Drug Types: Stimulant or Depressant?

How can you tell if a drug is a stimulant or depressant? Is one type of drug safer than the other? What happens if you mix a stimulant with a depressant? Understanding the important differences between stimulants and depressants – and recognizing the dangers of abusing either or both types of substances – can help you safeguard your health.

Difference Between Stimulants and Depressants

Stimulants and depressants are two categories of drugs. Each category contains both legal and illicit substances. A drug is determined to be a stimulant or depressant based on how it interacts with a person’s central nervous system (CNS). 

Stimulants, as the name indicates, will stimulate, or speed up, certain CNS processes. This can result in effects such as increased energy, improved mood, heightened sense of focus, and greater motivation. Ritalin and Adderall, which are commonly prescribed to treat people who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are stimulants. This category also includes dangerous illicit substances such as methamphetamine.

Depressants have the opposite effects of stimulants. When a person takes a depressant, the drug may slow or delay certain functions within the CNS. Depressants can ease feelings of stress and anxiety, improve mood, and lead to diminished inhibitions. Examples of depressants include Valium, Xanax, and other benzodiazepines.

It is important to understand that depressants do not necessarily cause people to become depressed – though if someone abuses a depressant, they may reach a point of sadness or hopelessness.

Stimulants vs Depressants

When you know if a drug is a stimulant or depressant, you may have a better understanding of how it will impact your body and mind. Of course, in cases of illicit stimulants or depressants, you can never be sure exactly what type of substance you are taking. It is common for drug dealers to cut or lace some drugs with other substances. This may elevate the dealer’s profit margin, but it also increases the likelihood that the person who uses the drug may experience both immediate and long-term harm.

Here are a few examples of common substances that have prompted people to ask, Is it a stimulant or depressant?

Is Cocaine a Stimulant or a Depressant?

Cocaine is a stimulant. When a person uses cocaine, they typically experience an intense rush of energy and euphoria. It achieves this effect by triggering a buildup of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure, reward, and motivations.

Is Alcohol a Stimulant or a Depressant?

When a person first consumes alcohol, they may become more talkative and exhibit a greater amount of energy. This causes some people to believe that alcohol is a stimulant. However, these effects are typically replaced by slowed reaction time, impaired cognition, and difficulty making decisions, which are classic effects of depressants. 

In other words, contrary to a common misconception, alcohol is a depressant. 

Is Heroin a Stimulant or a Depressant?

Heroin and other opioids are depressants. When a person uses heroin, they experience a sense of euphoric relaxation. They may have difficulty with balance, coordination, and focus. They may even find it difficult to stay awake. These effects are all characteristics of depressants.

Is Weed a Stimulant or a Depressant?

Weed (which is also referred to as marijuana or cannabis) may be categorized as either a stimulant or depressant, depending on the strain that a person is using. Some weed strains elicit a sense of sedation, while others prompt a boost in energy. The stimulant or depressant qualities of weed can depend on the levels of CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids in each strain. 

Dangers of Abusing Stimulants

The greatest dangers of abusing stimulants are addiction, overdose, and death. The physical effects of stimulant use include increased heart rate, elevated body temperature, and rapid breathing. Even if a person doesn’t overdose, the strain that stimulants put on the cardiovascular system means that ongoing stimulant abuse can lead to permanent heart and lung damage. 

Stimulant abuse has also been associated with several psychological dangers. People who habitually abuse cocaine or other stimulants may develop mental health concerns such as delusions, paranoia, and psychosis.

Dangers of Abusing Depressants

As with stimulants, the primary dangers of depressant abuse include developing an addiction, overdosing, and dying. Depressants can slow a person’s heart rate and breathing. This can prevent the brain from receiving an adequate amount of oxygen, which can have devastating consequences.

Depending on which depressant a person has been abusing, potential long-term effects include damage to the kidneys, liver, and heart; sexual dysfunction; persistent, overwhelming fatigue; and sleep problems. 

Dangers of Mixing Stimulants With Depressants

It is never a good idea to mix any drugs. Abusing one substance is dangerous. Abusing more than one can magnify the risk to your physical and psychological well-being. People who mix stimulants and depressants may expose themselves to many dangers, including the following:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Tics, tremors, and seizures
  • Outbursts of aggression and violence
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Coma
  • Death

Seek Help at Phoenix Rising Recovery Center in Palm Springs, CA

If you have become addicted to a stimulant or depressant, or you know someone who has, Phoenix Rising is here for you. Our recovery center in Palm Springs, California, offers a full continuum of personalized services for adults whose lives have been disrupted by substance abuse and addiction. Contact us today to learn how we can help you or your loved one.