If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 988 and press 1, or Text 838255. You can also call 911.

The Ups and Downs of Stimulants and Depressants

A stimulant, also called an “upper,” temporarily speeds up the body by increasing alertness, attention and energy to help a person stay focused (think: ADHD meds). A depressant, also called a “downer,” temporarily slows brain function, breathing and coordination (think: sleep aids or anxiety meds). Sometimes Service members are prescribed stimulants and depressants to help with various concerns. While helpful when used as prescribed, misuse can be life threatening.

What is misuse and how does it happen?

Prescription drug misuse means using prescription drugs without following your health care provider’s directions (such as taking more at a time or more frequently than prescribed), taking someone else’s prescription drugs or using medication for any reason other than what it was prescribed for.

Service members work at all hours of the day, in highly stressful and demanding environments. Additional duties like standing watch or varying work shifts might make it tempting to take an “upper” to stay alert. Or it might be hard to settle down after a stressful event, which might make it tempting to use a “downer” to sleep. But taking drugs in a way that is not prescribed is considered misuse and can be harmful to your health both now and later.

Negative effects of misusing stimulants include:

  • Depression
  • Breathing problems
  • Stroke
  • Seizure
  • Anxiety
  • Heart damage

Negative effects of misusing depressants include:

  • Poor concentration
  • Confusion, dizziness and fatigue
  • Slowed breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Depression

These effects can impact your health and your career. Taking these drugs can make you pop positive on a drug test and cause negative consequences if your health care provider didn’t prescribe them. So how do you stay mission ready without misusing drugs?

Non-drug alternatives

Instead of misusing prescription drugs, use healthy alternatives. To increase alertness, check out these tips to stay awake the right way. You can also try caffeinated products (at safe levels) including coffee, tea or ration items like caffeinated gum and pudding. To find ways to relax, check out these tips to ease stress and safe ways to sleep better to maintain readiness.

If you are feeling run down or stressed and are tempted to use an “upper” or “downer,” talk to your health care provider about how you feel. Before turning to prescription drugs, find out what you can do to protect yourself.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 988 and press 1, or Text 838255. You can also call 911.