Prescription Sedatives (Tranquilizers & Depressants) | Ambrosia Drug & Alcohol Addiction Treatment Center
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Prescription Sedatives
(Tranquilizers & Depressants)

Sedatives are prescription medications that act as central nervous system depressants. Also known as tranquilizers, sedatives encompass drug classes such as barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics, anesthetics, antihistamines, and opioid narcotics. These tranquilizers and depressants are prescribed for conditions like acute anxiety, tension, panic attacks and sleep disorders. However, prescription sedatives tend to reduce the quality of sleep because they decrease REM sleep, or the process in the sleep cycle where vivid dreams occur.

Barbiturates: Pentobarbital (Nembutal®) & Phenobarbital (Luminal®)
Barbs, Phennies, Red Birds, Reds, Tooies, Yellow Jackets & Yellows
Pill or Liquid
Swallowed or Injected
Benzodiazepines: Alprazolam (Xanax®), Chlorodiazepoxide (Limbitrol®), Diazepam (Valium), Lorazepam (Ativan®) & Triazolam (Halicon®)
Candy, Downers, Sleeping Pills & Tranks
Pill or Liquid
Swallowed or Injected
Sleep Medications: Eszopiclone (Lunesta®), Zaleplon (Sonata®) & Zolpidem (Ambien®)
Forget-Me Pill, GHB, Mexican Valium, R2, Roche, Roofies, Roofinol, Rope & Rophies
Pill or Liquid
Swallowed or Injected

Health Effects

Prescription sedatives work by slowing down brain activity resulting in drowsiness or relaxation. With abuse, many dangerous side effects can occur.

  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor concentration
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Problems with movement & memory
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Slowed breathing
  • Serious Abstinence Syndrome:
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Hallucinations
  • Fatal tonic-clonic convulsions (seizures)
  • Slowed heart rate & breathing
  • Infectious diseases from shared needles
  • Death

What The Medications Look Like
Sedatives come in a number of shapes and sizes, pills and capsules. The popular barbiturates of abuse are Amytal and Seconal.
Amytal is a white powder or may be a clear liquid. A person abusing Amytal may reveal information they would otherwise keep secret. They may stumble, be irritable and may have sleep apnea.
Seconal are red-orange capsules. A person abusing Seconal may feel agitated, depressed, see double or have night terrors.

A person abusing sleep medications like Ambien would be drowsy, but might also perform acts like driving, cooking, or having sex without any memory of the event. These sedatives impair thinking, inhibitions and actions, especially when used with alcohol.

What Should I Avoid?
When taking any of these medications, do not drive, operate machinery, or do anything that requires you to be awake and alert. Dizziness or severe drowsiness can cause accidents or severe injuries.

The number of emergency room visits associated with sedative abuse increased by 155 percent between 2004 and 2009.

Avoid taking sedatives during travel, such as to sleep on an airplane. You may be awakened before the effects of the medication have worn off. Forgetfulness is common if you do not get a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep after taking sedatives.

How The Sedatives Work

Sedatives have various drug classes according to the way they affect the human body. They all represent the diverse group of drugs that share an ability to reduce the activity of the central nervous system and diminish the brain’s level of awareness.

When using sedatives, the drug effects decrease the communication between the brain chemicals, GABA. When GABA is affected, the person’s brain activity is quickly anesthetized.

The Differences Between Sedatives

The differences between benzos and barbiturates are that benzos are mostly prescribed for anti-anxiety whereas barbiturates are prescribed for sedative/hypnotic effects for those who have sleep disorders.

Physical and Mental Tolerance

During the first few days after taking a prescribed CNS depressant, a person usually feels drowsy and uncoordinated. However, those feelings will be soon be diminished.

If one uses these drugs long term, the body will develop tolerance, meaning larger doses will be needed to achieve the same initial effects, often resulting in addiction.


Sedatives are addictive. After repeated use, physical and mental withdrawal symptoms can appear. Because of the way these drugs interact with the body, gradually decreasing the usage with professional and medical assistance is recommended to reduce suffering and prevent complications.

  • Agitation and irritability
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Increased heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Convulsions

The Demographics

People who become dependent on sedatives usually fall into three categories:

  • Drug Addicts – use painkillers and street drugs
  • Alcoholics – use sedatives to treat chronic anxiety or sleep problems associated with their alcohol dependence
  • Patients under doctor care – use sedatives under the direction of a physician to treat long-term pain, anxiety or sleeplessness and gradually increase their dosage without informing their doctors.

Many people who are dependent on sedatives are middle-age and middle-class individuals who start taking the drug for a legitimate medical reason. Women may be more at risk than men for developing sedative dependence. The average age of first use of sedatives and tranquilizers is 25 years old.

The Elderly

Sedative dependence is the most common type of drug addiction among the elderly. Older people do not remove the drug from their bodies as efficiently as younger people, and may become dependent on lower therapeutic doses.

Sedatives are central nervous system depressants. The drugs enter the brain by affecting the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The increased GABA activity produces a relaxing effect that is beneficial to those suffering from anxiety or sleep disorders.

In higher doses some depressants can be used as general anesthetics. Prescriptions should only be utilized for a short time and always as directed by a physician.

General Addiction Questions

What do depressants do?

Central nervous system depressants slow down breathing and heart rate in a person. If these slow down enough, the person loses consciousness and can result in death.

What is a sedative?

Sedatives can be used to produce an overly-calming effect (alcohol being the most popular form). Because of the calming effects of sedatives, it is easily addictive. At high doses, sedatives may result in unconsciousness and even death.

How do I know if it's a sedative?

Most prescription sedatives have the same ending in the brand name, for instance, Benzodiazepines end in:

  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Estazolam (Prosom)
  • Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)

While Barbiturates end in:

  • Amobarbital (Amytal)
  • Phenobarbitol (Luminal)
  • Pentobarbitol (Nembutal)
  • Methohexital (Brevital)

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