Depressants are substances that directly affect the central nervous system, causing individuals to feel a sense of relaxation and drowsiness. While these effects might feel pleasant in the short term, depressants are also highly prone to abuse, dependence and addiction.
Because this group of substances affects motor coordination, concentration and judgment, there’s a danger of bodily injury while using them, among other risks. Continue reading to learn more about depressants and risks associated with these substances.
What are depressants?
Depressants are a group of substances that depress or slow down the functions of the central nervous system. While prescription depressants are helpful for individuals struggling with anxiety disorder or insomnia, they can lead to dependence since they’re not intended for long-term use.
Depressants can include:
- Barbiturates: Seconol, Amytal, Luminal, Nembutal
- Benzodiazepines: Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Klonipin
- Hypnotics: Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, Restoril
Depressants cause sedating effects by increasing the activity of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, causing brain activity to slow down.
Effects of depressants include:
- Slowed pulse
- Slower breathing rate
- Lowered blood pressure
- Drowsiness or fatigue
- Trouble concentrating
- Slurred speech
- Memory loss
- Loss of coordination
- Impaired judgment
Dangers of depressants
Continued depressant use increases tolerance levels, causing the individual to consume higher doses of their substance of choice in order to obtain the same effects. This increased consumption and tolerance can cause a person to develop dependence and addiction.
Dangers of depressants include:
- Accidental injury
- Suicidal thoughts
- Sexual dysfunction
- Substance dependence
Mixing alcohol and depressant drugs
Mixing alcohol with sedatives or barbiturates may be a sign of substance misuse or substance use disorder and can be quite dangerous. Consuming even moderate levels of alcohol while taking prescription depressants can cause an adverse interaction between the substances.
The use of depressant drugs together with alcohol may also increase the risk of an overdose, since alcohol is also a central nervous system depressant. The liver may become overwhelmed since it’s metabolizing both substances. Depressant toxicity can result in respiratory depression or failure, which can sometimes be fatal.
Signs of a depressant drug overdose may include:
- Shallow breathing
- Altered level of consciousness
- Cognitive disruption
- Appearing uncoordinated; staggering
- Low blood pressure
- Slurred speech
- Skin rash
- Limp extremities
- Faint pulse
- Unresponsive to stimuli
- Possible kidney failure
- Heart failure
Signs of depressant use disorder
Whether the substance problem involves benzodiazepines, barbiturates, hypnotics or alcohol, these signs could indicate that someone is dealing with depressant use disorder:
- Attempts to cut back or quit the substance but is unable to.
- Becomes obsessed with obtaining and using the substance.
- Obtains the substance illicitly, such as doctor-shopping, stealing the. substance, or purchasing it online or on the street.
- Not being honest about your substance use.
- The substance use begins to disrupt daily life, such as missing work due to withdrawal symptoms or causing problems in relationships.
- Keeps taking the depressant or drinking despite the negative consequences
- Experiences legal problems related to the substance use
- Has withdrawal symptoms when the effects wear off
If you or a loved one is experiencing a depressant use disorder, help is available. The first step of recovery involves withdrawal management. If the substance involved is a prescription depressant, a physician will create a tapering schedule, allowing your system to slowly adjust over a two-week period.
Once the detox and withdrawal process is complete, you will enter a comprehensive treatment program to help you learn new coping skills that will help you succeed in recovery.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.