A depressant is a chemical or a substance that causes a decrease in activity, arousal and stimulation in the central nervous system (CNS). Depressants, also called sedatives, downers and hypnotics, slow down the functioning of the human brain and body.
These drugs have a high addiction potential and thus, should be used with extreme caution. If used inappropriately, these drugs can be highly addictive and can lead to the development of severe symptoms signifying abuse.
Some of the common types of depressants available in the market are alcohol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates and non-benzodiazepine sleep medications.
Alcohol is the most commonly abused depressant that can cause serious health problems, including liver disease, dementia and cardiac problems. People using alcohol may experience feelings of euphoria, drowsiness and slurred speech. When taken in large quantities, it can cause a person to lapse into a coma. It can also cause respiratory failure and death. Under the influence of alcohol, an individual’s ability to perform complex tasks like driving vehicles can get impaired.
Benzodiazepines like diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax) are depressants, prescribed as short-term treatments for anxiety, panic attacks and sleep disorders.
As these drugs are highly addictive, withdrawal from the same may result in seizures and psychotic reactions.
Benzodiazepines can be divided into three classes: short-, medium- and long-acting.
- Serax and Xanax are examples of short-acting benzodiazepines. They have higher addiction potentials and can cause withdrawal seizures if abruptly discontinued after taking for a long duration.
- Medium-acting benzodiazepines include Ativan and Restoril.
- Long-acting benzodiazepines include Valium and Klonopin. They have less addictive potential and are commonly used to wean individuals off of short-acting benzodiazepines and alcohol. In addition to this, they can also be used for the treatment of seizure disorders.
Barbiturates have a higher addiction potential compared to benzodiazepines, even though the structure of barbiturates is similar to that of benzodiazepines. Some examples of barbiturates include mephobarbital (Mebaral), phenobarbital (Luminal Sodium) and pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal). Barbiturates are not commonly used by medical professionals. They are often used in surgical procedures as anesthetics.