Substance Use Disorder: DEPRESSANTS

Learn more about Alcohol, Benzodiazepines, & Barbiturates

Could you be suffering from a substance use disorder?

Substance Use Disorder: Depressants, Signs & Symptoms

Classifications of substance use include, depressants, stimulants, opioids, hallucinogens and phencyclidine (PCP), and cannabis. A substance can be natural or chemical, and causes some kind of psychological effect. Depressants are one of the most common substance use disorders. Depressants include alcohol, benzodiazepines, & barbiturates. Use of these depressants is common, especially alcohol. Yet it might be hard to distinguish between occasional use and addiction.

Alcohol may not be a drug, but it is certainly addictive. There are different categories of symptoms that match up with certain substance. In general, depressants cause one to feel depressed or down. Once ingested, these substances hinder the central nervous system, and depending on the amount, can cause relaxation, sleepiness, impaired judgement and a decline in motor skills (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014).

Depressant substance use has also been associated with other disorders such as depression and PTSD. Depressants are often used to curb symptoms of these other disorders (Calhoun, P. S., Sampson, W. S., Bosworth, H. B., Feldman, M. E., Kirby, A. C., Hertzberg, M. A., . . . Beckham, J. C., 2000). Does this sound like you or someone you know?

Substance use varies in four degrees

1) INTOXICATION-immediate effect after ingesting a substance

2) WITHDRAWAL-effects associated after ceasing the use of a certain substance (long-term use)

3) ABUSE- repeated substance use that severely affects one's work life and social life both legally and physically,

4) DEPENDENCE- daily use of a substance that creates tolerance and increased amounts must be taken to affect behavior.

Causes and Treatment Options

Many believe that one's age and gender can cause substance use. Adolescents and young adults are especially susceptible to substance abuse. Men are also more likely than women to abuse alcohol. Binge drinking is also more likely across college campuses. Heavy binge drinking (four or more drinks in one night) can cause alcohol abuse in the future.


  • Receptors in the brain sense pleasure, and varying amounts of neurotransmitters that occur naturally can put people at risk for substance use disorders.
  • Genetics have been found to be a important factor when it comes to excessive substance use. Genes associated with the neurotransmitter known as GABA have been found to relate to alcohol substance abuse.
  • Young children are impressionable, leading to children modeling their parents substance use behavior.
  • Heavy stress can also cause one to seek out alcohol and prescription drugs for their numbing effect on the brain.

HELP IS OUT THERE! There are a number of treatment options for people with varying needs!


  • Medications like Benzodiazapine can help people cope with symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Acamprosate can help reduce the desire of alcohol. Disulfiram is another drug that when combined with alcohol, will make the sufferer quite sick
  • Behavioral therapy such as sensitization and classical conditioning work to associate one's substance of choice with negative body symptoms.
  • Cognitive treatments look into why someone is abusing a substance. Therapists work closely with clients to identify certain triggers like the places and people that are around, when one feels the need to use.


It's true that addiction of any sort is kept behind closed doors, but now is the time to come forward and seek help for any type of substance use disorder you might be suffering from.

I don't drink everyday, so I can't have a substance use disorder.

People may think that they have to be fully addicted to a depressant to seek help, but that is a myth. Even people who think they need a certain depressant to have fun or feel sexy, should seek treatment.

Only adolescents and young adults abuse alcohol.

Alcohol is a popular substance used in our culture and is often abused without the sufferer even knowing. People think that only adolescents and young adults abuse alcohol but this is not often the case. Often people are in denial when it comes to any substance abuse, and friends and family should be on the look out for signs and symptoms.

After being arrested for a DUI, I have learned my lesson.

A lot of people think that once someone is arrested for using a depressant, like in the case of a DUI, that they will be swayed from doing that behavior again. However studies show that DUI offenders are still likely to drive intoxicated for a second time. They are willing to take the risk, thus putting themselves and others in danger (Van Dyke, N., & Fillmore, M. T., 2014).

Only celebrities and rich people abuse prescription pills.

Some may believe that being addicted to pills is just for the rich & celebrities, however these days, prescription drugs are prescribed at an alarming rate as a treatment to curb symptoms following medical care. Thus allowing normal people to develop dangerous additions (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014).

My religion does not allow me to drink alcohol, therefore I will not develop a depressant substance use disorder.

Just because you don't drink doesn't mean you cannot have a substance use disorder. There are a lot of religions whose followers abstain from alcohol. However these religions do not ban all depressants. There is a gray area when it comes to the use of prescription drugs and addiction is becoming common among many religious people (Shepperd, J. A., Miller, W. A., Smith, C. T., & Algina, J., 2014)

Seek help now!

If you or someone you know is suffering from a depressant form of substance use disorder, please get help soon. These disorders can lead to depression, suicide, and accidental overdose. Depressants like alcohol are widely accepted as a normal, but its consumption should be monitored to avoid abuse and dependence. Once you make the decision to seek help, make sure to find a therapist that will fit your needs.

Who do I chose when it comes to seeking treatment of depressant substance use disorder?

You have options, but make sure to seek out a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist. If you prefer not to jump into therapy, Alcoholics anonymous (AA) and Narcotics anonymous (NA) are there to help as well

What is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?

If you choose to take use a biological treatment, you are most likely going to use medication as means of treatment. Thus you will need to seek the help of a licensed psychiatrist. These mental health professionals are trained doctors. They attended medical school and then completed their residency in the field of psychology. Psychiatrists can provide any medical interventions needed and can prescribe drugs as a form of treatment. A psychologist is a therapist that holds a bachelors degree or higher. Although they cannot prescribe drugs, they are trained in a number of different beneficial therapies using psychological, behavioral, and cognitive techniques.

Are their other treatment options besides therapists?

At times, therapy can be expensive. Group organizations like AA and NA can offer an affordable form of group therapy. Members work on a twelve step program in order to eventually and completely abstain from the respective substance (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2014).

Contact your Doctor for more information about depressant substance use disorder


Calhoun, P. S., Sampson, W. S., Bosworth, H. B., Feldman, M. E., Kirby, A. C., Hertzberg, M. A., . . . Beckham, J. C. (2000). Drug use and validity of substance use self- reports in veterans seeking help for posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68(5), 923-927. doi: 006X.68.5.923

Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2014). Abnormal Psychology (Sixth Edition). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education

Shepperd, J. A., Miller, W. A., Smith, C. T., & Algina, J. (2014). Does religion offer worldviews that dissuade adolescent substance use? Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 6(4), 292-301. doi:

Van Dyke, N., & Fillmore, M. T. (2014). Alcohol effects on simulated driving performance and self-perceptions of impairment in DUI offenders. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 22(6), 484-493. doi:

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Baker College