downers addiction

What Drugs Are Considered Downers?

Medically Reviewed by Jodi Mabry

Every type of illegal and legal drug has a different effect on a person. One of the major classifications for a drug is whether it is an “upper” or a “downer” or in medical terminology: a stimulant or a depressant. Many of the most commonly used drugs in the United States are downers; however, each “downer” drug can have a different set of negative effects on a person. 

What are “Downers”?

“Downer” is slang for a classification of drugs more accurately and professionally referred to as  depressants. Drugs in the depressant classification provide users with a sedative effect. This is because depressants slow the messages sent and received by the brain and central nervous system. From this, individuals with depressants in their system often feel relaxed and even drowsy, decreasing their focus and alertness. However, one of the primary effects of many depressants is pain relief, which can also provide users with a sense of euphoria, adding to the addictive potential of “downers”.    

Which Legal Drugs are “Downers”?

Most “downers” are legal substances. However, they require a prescription from a doctor to be obtained legally. These drugs include: 

  • Barbiturates 
    • Amytal, Numbutal, and Seconal
  • Benzodiazepines 
    • Xanax, Halcion, and Librium
  • Prescription opioids 
    • Codeine, hydrocodone, fentanyl, oxycodone, and morphine

Which Illegal Drugs are “Downers”?

Many of the commonly used depressants in the United States are legal and available by prescription. However, there is one commonly used depressant that is illegal and prescribable: heroin. Unlike legal “downers”, heroin is not available by prescription. It is the product of illegal drug trafficking that takes place not only in the United States but around the entire world.  

The Effects of a Depressant Addiction 

Depressants and a depressant addiction can have several adverse effects on an individual. However, many of these effects will vary from drug to drug. 


Barbiturates are sedative-hypnotics that affect the central nervous system. Typically, these depressants are used to treat insomnia, seizures, and headaches. However, there are some common and serious side effects that can affect barbiturate users including drowsiness, low blood pressure, nausea, skin rashes, slow breathing, confusion, fainting, hallucinations, and coma. 


Like Barbiturates, there is a variety of depressants in the benzodiazepine group. Side effects for this group will vary based on the specific drug. Generally speaking though, side effects of benzodiazepines can include lack of concentration, reduced coordination, slower response times, mood swings, low blood pressure, drowsiness, and depression. Benzodiazepines can also pose a danger to anyone with liver problems. 


Fentanyl is a powerful and addictive synthetic opioid. As a depressant, it is similar to morphine, but it can be anywhere from 50 to 100 times more potent. Although fentanyl is available legally with prescription, it is often produced and sold illegally in the United States and abroad. When purchased illegally, fentanyl can be especially dangerous because it is often mixed with other drugs like cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and MDMA. Aside from providing pain relief, fentanyl can also cause drowsiness, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, issues breathing, and unconsciousness.


Unlike most other depressants, heroin is an illegal opioid drug. It affects the body in the same way many other depressants do. It slows everything down and provides significant pain relief. In the short term, heroin use can lead to dry mouth, a heavy feeling in one’s arms and legs, nausea, vomiting, severe itching, reduced concentration, and slowed responses. In the long-term, a heroin addiction can cause a person to develop any of the following:

  • Insomnia
  • Collapsed veins
  • Damaged nose tissue
  • Infection in the heart lining and valves
  •  Abscesses
  • Constipation
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Lung complications
  • Depression
  • Antisocial personality disorder  

Prescription Painkillers 

Prescription painkillers, like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine, can offer users pain relief when used as prescribed by a doctor. Unfortunately, these depressants are highly addictive. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the short term effects of prescription painkillers can include drowsiness, confusion, nausea, constipation, slowed breathing, and euphoria. However, when used more than prescribed, prescription painkillers can cause hypoxia, which can permanently damage the brain, induce comas, and in some cases be fatal.  

Looking for a Rehab in North Carolina?

“Downers” are a specific group of drugs also known as depressants. These drugs cause processes in the body to slow down. While this often leads to pain relief for those who need it, both legal and illegal depressants can be the cause of numerous unwanted effects, which negatively impact the body.   

If you or a loved one is living with a depressant addiction, help is available! Contact Oasis Recovery Center today to learn more about how to best treat a depressant addiction. We offer a variety of quality addiction treatment services and programs in North Carolina.

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