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This class of drugs interacts with the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord, to depress, or slow down, cognitive activities. They include sedatives, used to make a person calm or drowsy, and tranquilizers, intended to reduce tension and anxiety.

Sometimes called “downers” or “benzos” (short for benzodiazepine), these drugs come in tablet, capsule or liquid form. Some drugs in this category include Xanax, Valium, Halcion, Librium, Ativan, Klonopin, Seroquel, Zyprexa, Seconal, Phenobarbital, Amytal, and Haldol.

The effects of depressants are similar to alcohol and can range from very short to very long-lasting. Users can rapidly develop a high tolerance for these drugs, increasing their need for escalating dosages to maintain the desired effect. As dependency on the drug increases, users frequently experience cravings, anxiety, and panic.

If you’re concerned that your loved one may be using these drugs on a regular basis, please contact an addiction treatment professional to discuss treatment options and next steps.

How Sedatives Affect the Brain

Sedatives directly impact the brain by promoting the production of particular neurotransmitter chemicals that slow down activity. For example, benzodiazepines produce the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, which creates a state of fatigue, memory loss, pain reduction, and reduced emotional volatility.

Because sedatives slow down the brain and body in a similar way to alcohol, it's important that users do not combine these drugs, as this can result in an overdose and lead to coma or even death.

Signs of Sedative, Hypnotic and Depressant Addiction

Though this category represents a diverse array of drugs with differing effects, common signs and symptoms of sedative and depressant addiction include:

  • Symptoms of alcohol intoxication with no alcohol consumption
  • Lack of facial expression or animation
  • Flat affect
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Lethargy
  • Tremors
  • Disorientation
  • Slow brain function
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Visual disturbances
  • Lack of coordination
  • Difficulty or inability to urinate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts

Warning Signs of Sedative Addiction

In addition to the signs and symptoms of sedative use listed above, individuals may display a series of behaviors that are warning signs for sedative addiction. These may include actions like:

  • Struggling with speech or memory
  • Making plans to quit using the drug but being unable to do so
  • Trying to cut back on the quantity of drugs used and being unable to do so
  • Lack of interest in personal or professional relationships
  • Neglect of family, friends, or hobbies
  • "Borrowing" prescription medications from friends and family members
  • "Doctor shopping" for a medical professional to refill a prescription
  • Taking more of the drug than prescribed, or taking it recreationally
  • Driving while under the influence of the drug
  • Combining the drug with alcohol or other drugs

Sedative addiction can be treated. If your loved one needs help finding the right treatment, contact an addiction recovery professional to learn about your options.

The Dangers of Mixing Sedatives and Opioids

A high proportion of opioid overdoses also involve sedative use, particularly benzodiazepines. The reason these two drugs are so potent together is the combined power of their sedative effects, which slow the brain and body to dangerous levels. For example, benzodiazepines and opioids can cause the user's heart and breathing rate to slow dangerously, and can even cause them to fall unconscious or into a coma. Individuals who struggle with mental health challenges or chronic pain may attempt to combine these drugs for increased sedation with fatal results.

Symptoms of Sedative Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms from Sedative use occur when a user stops taking drugs after their brain has been highly stimulated by long-term drug use. While sedative withdrawal can be minor, in extreme cases, it can cause hallucinations and abnormal behavior. Below are some common symptoms of sedative withdrawal:

  • Anxiety, agitation, and insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Vomiting
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations

Because sedatives interact with the central nervous system, these drugs can lead to major health issues. While sedatives are controlled substances that are usually used to treat conditions such as anxiety and sleep disorders, if used improperly, they can cause serious physical and mental complications.

Seeking Professional Help

If you or a loved one are concerned about the use of these drugs, please contact a treatment professional as soon as possible. A licensed treatment provider can provide vital resources to assist with managing withdrawal, selecting the right treatment option, and putting you on the path to long term recovery.

Turning Point of Tampa has helped individuals find recovery from addiction and substance use since 1987. If you need help or know someone who does, please contact us at 813-882-3003 or admissions@tpoftampa.com.

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