Teens’ access to depressants has increased with the widespread prescribing of drugs for medical and mental health conditions. Adolescents may have access to medications in their own medicine cabinets, making it increasingly easier to access and abuse these types of drugs. The 2015 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey indicated that nearly 4 percent of high school seniors reported taking sedatives in the past year. Teens who abuse depressants may experience irritability, depression, exhaustion and confusion. These and other serious effects of depressants warrant caution around these substances.

What Is A Depressant?

What is a depressant, exactly? Depressants – also known as sedatives or tranquilizers – refer to substances that work by decreasing the activity in the brain and the central nervous system (CNS), according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). 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 conditions such as anxiety and sleep disorders.

What Is A Type of Depressant?

Alcohol is one type of depressant. According to the annual MTF study, 35 percent of high school seniors and nearly 22 percent of 10th graders admitted to using alcohol in the past month. Youths who drink alcohol are more susceptible to damage wrought 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 and well-known depressant by teens and young adults. Due to its high toxicity, potential to form a dependency and widespread social acceptance, alcohol is more deadly than all the other depressants combined and accounts for more than 4,300 deaths in young adults under the age of 21 each year, reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Impairment from alcohol increases the risk of injury and death from car accidents, suicides, falls, drowning, homicides and alcohol poisoning itself.

Other Types of CNS depressants

There are different types of CNS depressants that are prescribed for anxiety or sleep problems:

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Sleep medications (non-benzodiazepines)
  • Barbiturates

Benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Ativan are commonly prescribed for treating anxiety, insomnia and seizures. Although they have a low potential for abuse, benzodiazepines are still 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, a reduction in alertness and muscle coordination, and rare paradoxical effects such as aggression or disinhibition. Benzodiazepines are particularly dangerous when combined with alcohol, a potentially lethal combination, and other drugs such as opioids.

Non-benzodiazepine sleep medications or anxiolytics (anxiety-reducing drugs) such as 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. Barbiturates are also highly addictive. Withdrawal symptoms and overdoses caused by barbiturates are extremely dangerous, and can lead to coma and even death.

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Side Effects of Depressants

CNS depressants initially produce effects such as 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. Side effects of depressants include:

  • Sleepiness or drowsiness
  • Feeling relaxed or calm
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Impaired mental functioning
  • Memory loss (amnesia or inability to remember what happened on the drug)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Slurred speech
  • Weakness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Depressed respiration
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Slowed heart rate and pulse
  • Decreased brain activity
  • Addiction

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 typically only prescribed for short periods of time.

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While most effects of depressants rarely include death, abusing these substances can lead to physical and mental problems, and withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. CNS depressant withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Weakness
  • Agitation
  • Delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • High body temperature

Addiction Treatment at Rancho San Diego

Rancho San Diego offers various types of treatment for addiction to CNS depressants. Adolescents receive evidence-based treatments, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for addiction to CNS depressants and other substance use disorders. Teens can also receive individual and group therapy, psychoeducation, and complementary and experiential treatments for substance use disorders. Students receive thorough evaluations during the admissions process to identify all co-occurring issues and provide a treatment plan optimized to each specific person. Call our 24/7 helpline at any time to speak to a member of our admissions team.

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