How Stimulants and Depressants Affect the Mind and Body

People take stimulants or depressants for recreational purposes because of a drug’s effects on the mind and body. However, the unseen effects can also lead to injury, addiction, accidental overdose and death. National surveys suggest that more than 23 million people in the United States live with substance addiction, and a mere fraction ever seek drug addiction help.

A Look at Stimulants

How Stimulants and Depressants Affect the Mind and BodyOften called uppers, these drugs are used to inhibit sleep, lose weight, prevent asthma or treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The substances have structures similar to the monoamine neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. When attached to the appropriate neuron receptors, stimulants elevate blood pressure, heart rate, blood glucose levels and body temperature, and open lung passages. Excess dopamine also causes a sense of euphoria. Over-the-counter and legal formulations in this classification include:

• Caffeine
• Dexedrine
• Dextroamphetamine
• Ephedrine
• Nicotine

Illegal drugs have no medicinal value and are never considered safe at any dosage amount. Even one-time use may cause adverse effects that could result in an emergency room visit, hospitalization or death. Illegal substances in this group include:

• Crack
• Cocaine
• Ecstasy
• Methamphetamine

Medical preparations may be prescribed by licensed physicians as an aid to weight loss and for the treatment of ADHD, depression or sleep disorders. Individuals having a legal prescription may fall into addictive patterns. However, people often steal the medications from family members or friends, use the formulations to get high and then become addicted. Commonly abused prescription drugs include:

• Adderall
• Concerta
• Methylphenidate
• Ritalin

Understanding Depressants

Depressants are used to slow the activity of the central nervous system. In high enough doses, the compounds cause anesthesia. The formulations affect the gamma-aminobutyric acid and serotonin neurotransmitters, which interact with other compounds to produce a variety of effects that may include drowsiness or a sense of calm. OTC or prescription CNS depressants are often used to treat allergies, colds, anxiety or insomnia. Legal and illegal formulations are created in capsule, tablet or liquid forms. Some are prescribed as sedatives or pain relievers. Individuals might also use the substances illegally to counteract the effects of stimulants or to experience a euphoric high. The long list of drugs in this classification include:

• Alcoholic beverages
• Phenobarbital, Seconal and other barbiturates
• Ativan
• Codeine
• Diphenhydramine
• Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB
• Glue, hair spray, paint thinner and other inhalants
• Haldol
• Heroin
• Fentanyl
• Seroquel
• Morphine and other opioids
• Marijuana
• Valium
• Xanax
• Zyprexa

How Stimulants Impact the Mind and Body

How Stimulants and Depressants Affect the Mind and BodyThe desired effects of uppers include appetite suppression along with increased alertness and energy levels. Many also experience a boost in confidence or feel invincible. Adverse physical effects often include dizziness, flushed skin, headaches and excessive sweating. High enough doses cause high blood pressure, chest pains, irregular heart rate, nausea and vomiting. Users run the risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke depending on the intensity of the drug and the dose taken. Psychological effects include aggression or agitation, paranoia, panic attacks and homicidal and suicidal thoughts. An overdose may result in death because of cardiovascular collapse.

Stimulant use elevates dopamine and energy levels. However, when the drug effects subside, users experience extreme fatigue. With chronic abuse, neurons counteract the effect of abnormal neurotransmitter levels by releasing less dopamine and reducing the number of receptor sites. Getting high then requires increasing dosages or taking the drug more frequently to achieve the desired sensation. The lows following the high become more dramatic, which influences individuals to continue using the drug. In time, the degree of altered neurotransmitters becomes so severe that drug abusers must take the substance to feel normal. At this point, addiction has occurred.

The need to use the drug becomes more important than taking care of oneself. The addict is no longer concerned with personal hygiene. Long-term use of these formulations leads to dehydration, malnutrition and extreme weight loss. Physical appearance becomes drastically altered, as the body consumes fat stores to survive. The body’s natural immune system diminishes, which makes chronic users more susceptible to infection. Lack of proper nutrition, hydration and immune defenses combined with poor hygiene and the chemical compounds of drugs causes oral health issues. Teeth become damaged, crack and break. Gum tissues become diseased.

Long-term stimulant use leads to nerve tissue damage that can alter physical sensations. Addicts often experience tingling or other annoying sensations under the skin from damaged nerve cells and abnormal communication between nerves. Addicts commonly perceive the annoyance as an infestation of parasites because of the change in mental state that also takes place. In response, addicts dig or pick at their skin, causing open sores that are slow to heal. Damage to neurons can also cause Parkinson’s-like symptoms, involving uncontrollable muscle spasms and tremors.

The stress on the cardiovascular system can lead to irregular heart rates, heart attacks or strokes. Injecting a stimulant can cause abscesses in blood vessels or blood clot formation. If clots break free and travel through the bloodstream, heart attack, stroke or respiratory emergencies occur. IV users also run the risk of developing systemic infections. The kidneys and liver become damaged from continually trying to metabolize and eliminate the substances from the body. The ongoing constriction of blood vessels in the gastrointestinal tract causes tissue death. Gut bacteria may run rampant and cause ulcers or gangrene. Smoking drugs can lead to lung damage, which progresses into chronic asthma, bronchitis or emphysema.

Restricted blood flow, nerve damage and neurotransmitter changes cause brain damage that manifests in bizarre, violent and irrational behaviors. While some of the physical and psychological symptoms reverse in time, other symptoms caused by irreversible tissue damage are permanent.

The Effect of Depressants on the Mind and Body

The desired effects of taking downers are drowsiness and relaxation. However, adverse effects include depression, confusion and slowed heart rate, blood pressure and respiration rates. Individuals often appear inebriated or drunk and have slurred speech, a lack of physical coordination and dizziness. Users experience a general lack of energy and cannot concentrate. Higher doses cause impaired judgment, memory loss, depression, irritability and paranoia.

Chronic use or combining multiple drugs may lead to an accidental overdose, which results in dangerously low vital signs, deep sleep, coma and death due to the excessive levels of neurotransmitters. In time, tolerance develops as neurons release less GABA and serotonin. Neurons also decrease the number of available receptor sites. The user then takes more of the drug or increases the frequency of the dosage. Addiction occurs from the need to achieve the desired effects. Over time, chronic use of a depressant damages neurons, which leads to tissue shrinkage and cell death.

Addiction to these drugs causes breathing problems, chronic fatigue, depression, sleep disturbances and impotency. The dangers of stopping the drugs abruptly require that physicians prescribe the medications for short-term use only. Once the prescription draws closer to being discontinued, the dosage must reduce gradually to prevent adverse effects. Individuals often experience cravings, anxiety or panic if unable to get the drugs to stop withdrawal symptoms, which often include insomnia, general weakness, nausea and vomiting. Without the drug, addicts commonly experience a rebound effect that may additionally cause painful muscle spasms and seizure activity. Detoxification may also induce delusions, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts.

Drug Addiction Help for Overcoming Stimulant and Depressant Use

In rare cases, individuals make the decision to cease taking depressants or stimulants and successfully stop the addiction independently. Addiction robs people of having any control over using the drug. Stopping then requires professional drug addiction help. Addicts are sometimes willing to get help when the dependency costs them relationships, jobs, finances, health and possibly a place to live.

Initially, people must consult with a physician, psychologist or other licensed professional who has experience in dealing with addiction. An interview along with psychological and physical evaluations determine the type and severity of the habit. Armed with a complete history, professionals then recommend the type of treatment that may provide the most benefits.

Treatment begins with a detoxification period that requires complete cessation of taking all substances. Withdrawal symptoms develop as the body eliminates compounds while readjusting and functioning in their absence. Detox effects vary with each addict and depend on the type of substance used and the length of time the habit endured. Individuals addicted to alcohol or benzodiazepines in particular need close medical supervision and treatments that manage possible life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Following detox, addicts have the choice of entering outpatient therapy for mild to moderate addictions or inpatient rehab for moderate to severe addictions. Though treatment programs are personalized to fit the needs of each individual, programs are further focused to address the needs of specific age groups, gender or religious beliefs. Recovery programs may offer traditional 12-step assistance, and individual and group therapy. Holistic therapies might include art and music therapy, pet therapy, massage, yoga, acupuncture or other activities that help divert thought processes away from cravings and improve self-confidence.

Regardless of the type of treatment chosen, addicts must learn new mental and physical habits to replace the addiction. The brain and body must learn to deal with temptations and triggers that cause cravings. Addicts must adopt coping skills to handle stressful situations or emotional circumstances that may cause them to relapse. Practitioners must also recognize and treat underlying emotional or mental health issues that may influence someone to use substances as a means to cope.

Drug addiction help also teaches addicts that they must control their environments to minimize the risk of coming in contact with people, places, objects or other triggers that may tempt them to use again. As cravings continue for years after getting clean, relapsing isn’t uncommon. However, individuals reduce the chance of falling or get back on the path of sobriety faster when having a support system once treatment ends.

Therapy may serve to heal relationships with family or other loved ones who then learn more about addiction and capably offer the addict support. Recovering individuals may meet sponsors who’ve overcome addiction themselves and are able to act as guides and mentors. Many communities have support groups or organizations that meet weekly and provide the chance to share experiences and learn from each other. Some may need to continue therapy or counseling. If feeling insecure about returning to a normal life for fear of stumbling, addicts might also consider halfway houses or sober living centers.

If you’re ready to live a life free from addiction and the consequences that chemical dependency causes, take the first step and seek help. For questions about where to turn or whom to talk to, call the 877-929-6887 helpline and get the answers you need.

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