Substance Use Disorder


What is a depressant?

Depressants are a drug that slows down the central nervous system. They reduce feelings of anxiety or tension, impair cognitive processes, and slows movement. In high doses, they can arrest vital functions and cause death. Alcohol is the most widely used depressant, and can depress breathing when taken in large amounts. Some depressants such as heroin cause a rush of pleasure.

Common Types of Depressants

Common depressants are barbiturates. These are sleep medicines and anti-anxiety medicines. They may also be used to treat epilepsy and high blood pressure. These medicines quickly lead to psychological dependence and physical dependence. If a person were to mix alcohol with these drugs they can be four times more powerful.

Opiods are also depressants, these have pain relieving qualities. These are naturally occurring opiates morphine, heroin, and codeine are derived from the juice of the poppy plant, and there are synthetic drugs such as Demerol and Darvon that have opiatelike effects. They provide a rush of intense feelings of pleasure, and this makes them widely attractive. They also dull awareness of problems and seem to provide a relief from stress. The medical use of opiods is the relief of pain. Withdrawal from opiods begins with flu-like symptoms, anxiety, restlessness, irritability, cravings for the drug. Within a few days symptoms worsen to include high blood pressure, vomiting, cramps, tremors, hot and cold flashes, insomnia, diarrhea, cramps, and others. These are not devastating, but can be very uncomfortable. Morphine is very much still a restricted drug, another opium derivative. Heroin is the most widely used opiate.

What is substance abuse?

Substance use and abuse are two separate issues, so where does one begin and the other end? According to the DSM-5 substance abuse is a pattern of recurrent use that leads to damaging consequences. Damaging consequences may mean failure to turn in assignments or show up for work, or engaging in activities that may be unsafe to themselves or others, such as driving drunk or working on heavy machinery while under the influence. A person may miss work or school because they are sleeping it off.

This may become a problem because the more frequently a person uses a depressant, the more tolerant the person becomes to the substance. This could cause a dependence to the substance. At some point the person will begin to develop withdrawal symptoms. This means that if the person doesn’t have access to their substance, they will often need another drug to replace it or they will exhibit negative symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms can vary with different types of drugs, but with alcohol in particular, a person may develop DTs. These are reserved for those longtime users of alcohol that suddenly reduce or stop intake. DTs can present as hyperactivity, and delirium, they may also experience hallucinations.

Treatment Options

Treatment for substance abuse is often a frustrating endeavor. People often will not seek treatment on their own. This disorder is often treated in a professional environment, and may include substitution for their drug by another drug to help them to reduce symptoms of withdrawals. Methadone helps to blunt the cravings for heroin, and curbs unpleasant symptoms. Another drug, naltrexone blocks the high that is produced by alcohol and heroin. This doesn’t prevent them from using the substance, but it does seem to lessen the cravings for them. Learning to live without the substance however is a lifelong endeavor, and never easy for the dependent individual. Relapse happens frequently, and is more likely once the individual returns to their daily existence. Often people that are involved in this dependence have other psychological disorders. Most treatment facilities only focus on the dependence, and this often produces negative results for the long term outcome.

The other most common form of treatment for narcotic drug and alcohol abuse are voluntary treatment programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Pills Anonymous, and even Families Anonymous for the friends and relatives of addicts.

Misconceptions about Drug Abuse

Some common misconceptions are that drug addiction is a more serious problem than alcohol addiction. The misconception happens because of the illegal nature of recreational drugs. People believe that because alcohol is legal, it must mean that it is less dangerous than criminalized drugs. Alcohol is the most dangerous of all drugs.

Some people believe that all drug addicts are bad people. This is not a situation where bad people choose to fall into this lifestyle. This is not an accurate portrayal, and doesn’t reflect the reality of how substance abuse problems develop.

Some people believe that once someone develops a drug addiction, that they are stuck with it for life. This view of the user is not helpful and is clearly wrong. There are many who have fallen to the lows of addiction, and then turned their lives around completely.

References (n.d.). Common Myths about Drug Addiction. Retrieved from

California State University, Northridge. (n.d.). Substance Abuse and Dependence. Northridge, California, US. doi:

Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2014). (ab)normal psychology (Sixth ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Education.