Misuse and abuse of prescription drugs are on the rise in America and the most common types used are painkillers with opioids, depressants and stimulants, each with their own properties and a common denominator of being highly addictive. Understanding the difference between opioids, depressants, and stimulants, why they are prescribed and how they affect the body is important in determining the best course of treatment at a drug addiction treatment center.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at three types of chemical addiction and the prescription drugs that drive them.


Commonly taken for pain management, prescription drugs containing opioids include oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl. The way they work is by reducing the intensity of pain signals to neurotransmitters in the brain. They also control the areas of the brain that determine emotional responses, which produces a sense of well-being to assist in counteracting pain. Prescription drugs containing hydrocodone are most commonly used for painful conditions such as dental injury. Oxycontin and other brand-name painkillers are also widely used after painful injury and before and after surgery to provide immediate pain relief. Codeine is perhaps the most seemingly harmless opioid-based drug as it is broadly prescribed for mild pain such as headaches, pulled muscles and also to relieve diarrhea, yet it remains addictive.

How Opioids Affect the Brain and Body

When opioids enter the bloodstream, they attach to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord and other major organs including the gastrointestinal tract. They act by reducing a person’s perception of the pain they are in and often result in drowsiness, confusion, and nausea if abused. In some cases where a strong dose of the opioid-based drug has been ingested, it can suppress respiration and cause further medical complications, some of which are life-threatening.

Opioids also have an effect on the reward center of the brain and for many people, the sensations the drug creates can be extremely enjoyable. This is a time when someone can become vulnerable to addiction as their need to repeat the sensation becomes intensified. If an individual continues to use beyond the level of their prescribed dose, they may be tempted to obtain street drugs as a supplement and before long, dependence will develop into addiction unless they commit to drug rehab.


The most widely used prescription drugs containing stimulants are Adderall and Ritalin and they are designed to increase energy levels for improved attention and alertness. Stimulants were originally used to treat respiratory conditions such as asthma, neurological disorders, and obesity. However, because it became evident that stimulants were highly addictive and had the potential for abuse, they became less widely used for medical treatment. These days, medical use of stimulants is restricted to a few illnesses including ADHD, narcolepsy and sometimes depression although usually for those who have not responded to other treatments.

How Stimulants Affect the Brain and Body

Stimulants act in a similar way on the brain as neurotransmitters known as monoamines; by stimulating the production of norepinephrine and dopamine. These chemicals in the brain create a sense of euphoria when stimulants have been taken without consulting a doctor and increase the heart rate, raising blood pressure. This can lead to a number of complications, some of which are severe and even life-threatening.

Taking high doses of stimulants can result in a dangerously high body temperature and heart palpitations and in extreme cases, seizures or heart failure.


Popular prescription depressants include Xanax, Valium and Ambien and are sometimes referred to as tranquilizers or sedatives. These drugs are intended to slow brain activity to relieve anxiety and sleep disorders and they are mostly prescribed for these purposes. The sedating properties of depressants containing benzodiazepines, while useful for short-term treatment, carry a high risk of developing dependence and ultimately addiction.

How Depressants Affect the Brain and Body

The majority of depressants act by affecting the brain’s neurotransmitters in a variety of ways according to the nature of the condition they are prescribed for. The main reason the drug is prescribed is to reduce brain activity in order for a patient with depression to manage their symptoms more effectively. However, the difficulty with depressants is that the body can become quickly accustomed to its pleasing effects, which can drive an individual to seek higher doses to get the therapeutic effect.

Why is Drug Rehab Important for Users of Opioids, Depressants, and Stimulants?

When someone has developed dependence or addiction on drugs, the initial stage of a program at a drug rehab treatment center is detox. Many people are tempted to go it alone when it comes to detox and believe they have the ability to simply stop using. Not only is this ill-advised, it is potentially life-threatening. Medical supervision is required around-the-clock for someone in detox from opioids, depressants or stimulants as it is impossible to predict the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Most drug rehab centers will have detox facilities where patients can be monitored throughout the process and receive responsive treatment as and when it’s needed.