Types of depressants
Alcohol, opioids, tranquilizers, allergy medications, cough and cold remedies, downers, sedatives, and other over-the-counter (OTC) drugs come under the umbrella of depressants or “downer” drugs. CNS depressants primarily work by increasing the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical that helps cells communicate. As GABA increases in the brain, people may feel tired or less anxious. For this reason, CNS depressants are commonly prescribed to treat problems like anxiety and sleep disorders.
Following are the most common types of CNS depressants.
- Sleep medications (nonbenzodiazepines)
Benzodiazepines like Xanax and Ativan are commonly prescribed for treating anxiety, insomnia and seizures. Although they have a low potential for abuse, benzodiazepines are habit-forming and can quickly induce tolerance. For this reason, benzodiazepines are not intended to be used longer than one or two months. Side effects of benzodiazepines include drowsiness, reduction in alertness and muscle coordination, and rare paradoxical effects like aggression or disinhibition. Benzodiazepines are particularly dangerous when combined with alcohol, a potentially lethal combination, and other drugs like opioids. Nonbenzodiazepine sleep medications or anxiolytics (anxiety-reducing drugs) like Buspirone, Ambien, and Lunesta have the same action as benzodiazepines, but might have a lower risk of dependence and cause fewer side effects.
Barbiturates are used for treating sleep, seizure and anxiety disorders. The use of barbiturates has declined with the popularity of benzodiazepines, which are considered to be safer and have a lower overdose risk. Highly addictive nature, associated withdrawal symptoms and overdoses caused by barbiturates are extremely dangerous and can result in coma and even death.
Alcohol is another type of depressant. Youth who drink are more susceptible to the damage brought about by alcohol abuse, not just on their minds and bodies, but also on their relationships with their families and loved ones. Alcohol is the most commonly abused depressant among teens and young adults. Due to its high toxicity and the potential to form a dependency, underage drinking accounts for more than 4,300 deaths in young adults under the age of 21 each year. Impairment from alcohol use increases the risk of injury and death from car accidents, suicides, falls, drowning, homicides, and alcohol poisoning itself. According to the annual monitoring the future (MTF) survey, though it is illegal for virtually all secondary school students and many college students to purchase alcoholic beverages, alcohol has been tried by 26 percent of eighth graders, 43 percent of tenth graders, 61 percent of twelfth graders, 81 percent of college students and 86 percent of young adults (aged 19 to 28).
CNS depressants: Side effects
Some of the initial effects of CNS depressants are drowsiness and feelings of relaxation and calmness. People who abuse CNS depressants take higher doses or take these drugs for longer periods of time than they are supposed to.
Following are some of the side effects of depressants:
- Sleepiness or drowsiness
- Feeling relaxed or calm
- Blurred vision
- Impaired mental functioning
- Memory loss (amnesia or inability to remember what happened on the drug)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Slurred speech
- Lack of coordination
- Depressed respiration
- Lowered blood pressure
- Slowed heart rate and pulse
- Decreased brain activity
Sometimes, CNS depressants can lead to a rebound effect, in which they produce effects similar to what the drugs treat. CNS depressants have a high potential for abuse and can lead to physical dependence among people who misuse these drugs. For this reason, depressants are usually prescribed for short periods of time.