Opioids, Depressants and Stimulants: What’s the Difference?

Opioids (painkillers), depressants and stimulants are three of the most common types of prescription drugs that are abused. Some of the most popular opioids include drugs like oxycodone, morphine and fentanyl. Popular depressants include Xanax, Valium and Ambien. For stimulants, you may have heard of drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin – some of the most widely used drugs of their kind.

We know these drugs have something in common – they’re widely used and they’re incredibly addictive. But what makes them different from each other? How do these drugs affect the body? Why are they commonly prescribed? And lastly, why are they so often abused? Let’s answer these questions below.

What are Opioids, Depressants and Stimulants Prescribed For?

Since opioids are painkillers, they’re prescribed to relieve serious pain. Doctors typically prescribe opioids to a patient who has recently had surgery and may be in pain.

Stimulants are meant to speed up the activities in the body by enhancing alertness, concentration and energy. Because of this, they’re often prescribed by doctors to treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy and depression.

Depressants, on the other hand, work by “depressing” or slowing down the normal activity of the brain. Doctors typically prescribe depressants to relieve anxiety or sleep problems for patients. When taken exactly as prescribed, depressants can be effective treatments for lowering stress and anxiety levels.

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How do These Drugs Affect the Body?

Since the purpose of these drugs is very different, they affect the body in different ways. Depressants, for example, slow down the central nervous system. When depressants are taken without a prescription or high doses are used, severe respiratory problems can result.

With normal use, opioids affect the body by breaking down and attaching to proteins in the brain called opioid receptors. Once attached, the painkillers can reduce the perception of pain felt by the individual. When a person abuses painkillers, however, the effect on the brain can result in a relaxed, euphoric feeling.

Stimulants work by enhancing the effects of the nerve cells in the brain that send messages to each other through the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters. When abused, stimulants allow individuals to feel more alert, to not feel tired and to get a “high” feeling.

Why are These Drugs Abused?

Addiction to opioids, stimulants and depressants is very powerful and dangerous. Individuals can experience the initial “high” of abusing one of these types of prescription drugs, causing them to yearn for that feeling over and over again. Soon, their body adapts to that feeling and requires more and more of the drug to get back to that “high” state. This tolerance can lead to increased use and physical dependence.

Unfortunately, immediate withdrawal of opioids, depressants and stimulants is not the answer – it can result in serious withdrawal symptoms. When a person has been abusing these types of drugs and becomes addicted, the best solution is addiction therapy from medical professionals.

Talbott Recovery provides addiction treatment programs for individuals who are addicted to depressants, stimulants or opioids. Learn more about our prescription drug abuse treatment to see if it’s the right solution for you.

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