Uppers and Downers

Karolina Baker, Alphabiolabs

By Karolina Baker, Health Testing Specialist at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 04/05/2023

Would you be able to spot whether your client or colleague was under the influence of drugs?

Drugs can be grouped into four main categories: hallucinogens, inhalants, uppers and downers. This page explains how to spot the signs of each.

Types of drugs

Drugs can be classified by how they impact the mind and body. For example, some drugs have a tendency to make a user active and energetic, while others make an individual feel relaxed and calm. There are four main classifications: downers, uppers, hallucinogens and inhalants. The terms ‘downer’ and ‘upper’ refer to how different drugs act on the central nervous system (CNS). In short, downers are depressants and uppers are stimulants.

What are Downers?

These CNS depressants slow the functioning of the CNS, creating feelings of relaxation and tiredness. Many of these drugs are prescribed for symptoms of insomnia and mental illness, but are very commonly abused because they may also create feelings of euphoria. Depressants are among the most highly addictive drugs, most dangerous and most likely to cause overdose. Examples of downers include:

What are Uppers?

The main use of these stimulants is to increase energy, concentration and alertness. In the short term, uppers are believed to provide a ‘rush’, increase productivity and performance, while producing an excited high of pleasure. In the long term, they are incredibly addictive and have a very high potential for abuse. Examples of uppers include:


Hallucinogens alter the user’s perception of reality. They often result in auditory and visual hallucinations, known as ‘tripping’. Although hallucinogens are generally less addictive than other drug classifications, their immediate impacts are generally more severe and dangerous. Examples of hallucinogens include: LSD (Acid), Magic mushrooms and PCP.


Inhalants are chemicals that are ingested primarily by breathing them in. Most inhalants are commonly used materials that are not designed to be ingested by humans. Most produce feelings of a high.

While they tend to be less addictive than many other substances, the use of inhalants is incredibly dangerous and causes many serious health effects. Examples of commonly abused inhalants include: Paint thinner, Glue and Laughing Gas.

Knowing the signs

The signs and symptoms of drug misuse can be physical, cognitive and/or psychosocial. Physical symptoms include bloodshot eyes and/or dilated or constricted pupils.

Physical Symptoms:

  • Weight gain or loss
  • Apparent lack of interest in appearance and/or hygiene
  • Bloodshot eyes and/or dilated or constricted pupils (see below)
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Insomnia
  • Scabs, scars and other skin problems that may result from injection drug use
  • Dramatically increased or decreased energy.

Constricted pupils:

Associated with use of: Heroin, Methadone, Opium, Codeine and Morphine.

Dilated pupils:

Associated with use of: Cocaine, Crack, Speed, Amphetamines, LSD and Ketamine.

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Impaired ability to make good judgement
  • Impaired ability to focus or concentrate

Psychosocial symptoms

  • Social withdrawal
  • Aggression
  • Mood swings

If you have further questions about uppers and downers

For expert advice on drug testing solutions, please call our Customer Services team on 0333 600 1300 or email us at info@alphabiolabs.com.

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Karolina Baker, AlphaBiolabs

Karolina Baker

Health Testing Specialist at AlphaBiolabs

Karolina joined AlphaBiolabs in 2021, and holds the role of Health Testing Specialist.

As well as overseeing a range of health tests, Karolina plays an active role in the research and development of the company’s latest health test offerings.

Before joining AlphaBiolabs, Karolina worked as an Associate Practitioner at Mid-Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and as a research assistant at the Turner Laboratory, within the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health at The University of Manchester.

Karolina’s main scientific interests include clinical genomics and genetic diagnostics. Her qualifications include a BSc in Molecular Biology and an MSc in Genomic Medicine.

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