Uppers, Downers, All-Arounders
If you’ve heard these terms, you may have wondered exactly what they mean. These terms are a practical way of classifying substances based on their overall effects. Thus uppers refer to stimulants, downers refer to central nervous system depressants and all arounders refer to psychedelics or those substances that can distort perceptions.
List of Substances
(Click on the links below for more information)
Uppers are stimulants that affect most of the basic processes that happen in your body that keep you alive, like your temperature, heart rate and breathing. They also stimulate the pleasure/reward center in the brain, which often means they have a high potential for addiction and abuse. Uppers are a wide class of drugs and each stimulant that is part of the category has a different intensity. Uppers include cocaine, amphetamines, Adderall, caffeine and nicotine.
Like uppers, downers also affect most of the basic processes that happen in your body to keep it alive by slowing or inhibiting processes causing users to experience sedation, disinhibition of emotions and impulses, muscle relaxation and drowsiness. Unlike uppers, however, downers take effect through many different processes in the body. Because of this, there are three major classes of downers: opiates/opioids; sedative-hypnotics; and alcohol. Skeletal muscle relaxants, antihistamines, over-the-counter sedatives and lookalike sedatives are also considered downers.
This class of downer controls pain and induces pleasure but creates problems because of tolerance, tissue dependence and severe withdrawal. Common opioids/opiates include heroin, codeine, and Oxycontin/Vicodin. In addition to tolerance, tissue dependence and severe withdrawal symptoms; opioid/opiate users risk drug contamination, dirty needles, high cost, STIs, and a high potential for addiction.
This class of downer can induce sleep, depress most body functions like breathing and muscular coordinator and cause the user to experience relaxation, lowered inhibitions, less intense physical sensations and reduced muscular coordination in speech and movement. Sedative-hypnotics are generally prescribed to individuals that need treatment for various psychiatric disorders in which the goal of treatment is to calm, induce sleep or reduce anxiety. These medications are prescribed by doctors for very specific reasons, however, many valid prescriptions are diverted to the illicit drug market for abuse. Risks associated with abuse of sedative-hypnotics include a rapid onset of tolerance and dangerously severe withdrawal symptoms. Commonly abused sedative-hypnotics are phenobarbital, Seconal, Nembutal, Tuinol, Rohypnol, Valium, Librium, Xanax, and Halcion.
All-Arounders are a group of substances that distort the user’s perception of reality by manipulating the brain’s interpretation of the senses. The user’s brain experiences sensory messages that are intensified and often mixed up. Impaired judgment and reasoning are often side affects as well. Some of the more common all-arounders include LSD, MDMA, mushrooms, marijuana, salvia, K2, bath salts, peyote and PCP.
Prescription medications can be very strong and can cause severe, life-threatening emergencies if they are not taken as prescribed, are abused, or used by someone without a prescription. In the past 10 years, the number of people who overdose on prescription medications surpassed the number who overdose on street drugs.
- Do not take with other medications.
- Do not take with alcohol.
- Do not take if you have any medical conditions.
- Do not take when you are feeling upset, angry, or sad.
How Do I Know There’s a Problem?
Signs and Symptoms
Abuse of drugs can be difficult to spot initially, as people learn how to hide symptoms or offer alternative explanations. Also, symptoms can vary from person to person, depending on the quantity and purity of drug used Most students won’t walk up to someone they’re close to and ask for help. But there are signs you can look for. People say things like, “I can stop using anytime I want to.” But they don’t.
- Decline in grades, missing class
- Outbursts of anger, irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in peer group
- Struggles to stop using
- Paranoia and hyper-vigilance
- Personality changes, sudden mood swings
- Pinpoint pupils (opiates like heroin, codeine)
- Dilated pupils (cocaine, amphetamines)
- Bloodshot eyes (marijuana, alcohol)
- Weight loss (amphetamines, coke)
- Tremors (most stimulants)
- Not sleeping or sleeping too much
There are other signs that substances are taking control of your friend’s life. If you see them happening over and over, chances are your friend needs help.
- getting high on a regular basis
- lying about things, or about how much he/she is using
- avoiding you in order to get high
- giving up activities he/she used to do, such as sports, homework, or hanging out with friends who don't use
- believing that in order to have fun they need to use
- pressuring others to use
- taking risks, including sexual risks
- seems to have or need more money
- drug paraphernalia
- “cover-ups” such as eye drops, gum, nose spray, long-sleeved shirts
- having "blackouts" -- forgetting what he/she did
- constantly talking about using
- getting in trouble with the law
- driving under the influence
- license suspension for a drug-related violation
General symptoms of overdose
- shallow respiration
- weak or rapid pulse
- loss of consciousness
- clammy skin
- dilated pupils
What To Do
Environment plays an important role in discouraging high-risk behaviors and as such, you are a VIP (Very Influential Person) to your friends. Focusing on ways you can change the environment is one way to reduce/address this. Here are some things to assist you:
- Be factual. Tell your friend what they did that was risky.
- Tell your friend of your concerns regarding their behaviors.
- Hold your friend accountable for their behavior.
- Suggest non-using activities.
- Avoid judgmental labels, such as calling your friend an addict.
- Don’t threaten or lecture.
- Don’t attempt to reason with a friend under the influence; wait until they are sober.
How to talk to a friend
Show your concern; don’t worry about being too polite to bring up the topic of concern. Things you want to know before you begin:
- Peer interventions can influence behavioral change.
- Students are competent to take action; sometimes you just don’t know it.
- The peer group is an influential part of most high-risk behavior environments. By not speaking up, we can appear to be condoning risky behaviors.
Choose a time when you can be calm (not when you’re hurt, angry, upset)
Choose a time when you won’t be interrupted. Trying to talk before class or a date will increase your pressure.
- First, listen to your friend
- Second, say what you saw. Be factual. Tell your friend about how you saw them act on a particular occasion, what they did. Describe a specific instance of their behavior that you directly observed. For example, if your concern is regarding substances, the reason for being specific is that substance abusers often have memory problems caused by blackouts or they don’t recall events the way they happened. It gives the factual information they don’t have and it takes away part of the false belief about what happened when they were drinking or using drugs.
- Then, say how you feel. Express your care about the harm done and your concern about what you’ve seen. Your friend may not understand how their actions affect other people’s feelings.
Hold your friend accountable
- This allows them to have logical consequences for their behaviors. They may have friends or family who cover up, clean up and protect them.
- Friends may believe that their behaviors are under control or not noticeable, they may minimize their problems or blame others.
- Don’t cover for a person or make excuses for them- this allows them to continue their behaviors and not take responsibility for it
- Correct myths or misinformation when you hear it. People make rationalizations that allow them to continue their behaviors
Dealing with Resistance
- Once you have raised the subject, your friend may respond defensively or deny there’s a problem. Initially, your friend may feel ambivalent about addressing their problem. He/she may want to stop but the triggers to continue may be stronger.
- Understand your friend’s defensiveness may be based on their feelings and is not directed at you.
- Look for subtle signs that your friend is reaching out for help and respond in a non-judgmental manner
- Listen to your friend’s concerns, ask them to tell you the pro’s and cons of what they’re experiencing
- Make it clear that you dislike the behavior, not your friend
Taking Care of Yourself
- Set boundaries. Let your friend know where your limits are and stick to them. Say, “I won’t ride in the car if you’re high.” The important thing is that you’re only trying to take care of the damage that your friend’s high-risk behavior does to you. You’re not trying to control or manipulate their behavior.
- Example of what not to say- “if you don’t change, I’m dropping you”
Say this instead: “I just don’t want to be around you anymore when you’re high.”
- Remember, you can’t control your friend’s life. At some point, your attempts to help exceeds your abilities and it’s time to bring in additional resources. Don’t feel guilty if you reach that point.
Be a real friend. Save a life. Encourage your friend to talk to someone and to seek help.