Many people are aware of the dangers of opioid prescription abuse, but depressant addiction is an equally serious problem. Prescriptions for sleep aids and tranquilizers have become the second most abused prescriptions after painkillers.
What Are Depressants?
You may be familiar with these medications as sedatives and sleep aids. Doctors usually prescribe them for insomnia, but they are also short-term treatments for anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), epilepsy, and other disorders.
How Do Depressants Work?
They are psychoactive compounds that work by depressing the work of the central nervous system (CNS). This causes your body’s functions to slow down and numbs the nerve endings. These effects can make you feel relaxed or sleepy.
These CNS depressant drugs also reduce inhibition and lead to high-risk behavior.
Is Alcohol Considered a Depressant?
Although alcohol is a depressant, scientists class it differently from these medications. It acts on different parts of the brain and central nervous system. However, the effects of sedatives and tranquilizers can mimic the effects of consuming alcohol.
Types of Depressants
Below are the most common types of depressants that can lead to substance abuse and depressant addiction.
Commonly Prescribed Sedatives
These CNS depressant drugs are sometimes known as barbiturates, but the word actually refers to older sedatives like phenobarbital, Seconal and Nembutal. Today, doctors are more likely to prescribe benzodiazepines and other tranquilizers.
These are all 100% legal prescriptions. You may know them by their brand names:
Some prescription drugs have been withdrawn from U.S. pharmacies. The so-called date rape drug Rohypnol is the best-known illegal benzodiazepine. It is not legal to make or prescribe Rohypnol or Quaalude in the U.S. These drugs are classified as having no accepted medical use.
From the Cabinet To the Street
Although most depressants begin as legal prescriptions, they enter the illegal market through many avenues. People steal them from medicine cabinets, pharmacies, hospitals and distribution centers. Doctors prescribe them illegally through so-called “pill mills.”
After painkillers, CNS depressant drugs are the most frequently abused prescription drugs. Street names for these drugs include barbs, benzos, nerve pills, downers, tranks and rophies.
Over-the-counter sleep aids include those that contain diphenhydramine and alcohol. Excessive doses of these medications can create mind-altering effects. Those that contain painkillers are more likely to cause depressant addiction.
Herbs like valerian root, melatonin and chamomile may also be used in sleep aids. Herbal medicines typically do not contain addictive substances.
How People Abuse Depressants
Many seemingly harmless drugs and medications can be turned into psychoactive drugs. The principal ways people misuse these types of depressants are:
- Taking excessive amounts to achieve an altered mood or a high.
- Mixing medications to produce a specific effect; for instance, combining a sedative with an opioid to create a sense of euphoria.
- Using the medication in ways not approved by the prescription; for instance, crushing pills to snort or inject them.
Extent of the Problem
How widespread is the depressant addiction problem? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population and consumes 75% of the world’s prescription medications. Many of those medications make their way into the hands of teenagers and children.
The top reasons young people gave for using depressants are that these drugs are:
- Easy to get.
- Available everywhere.
- Safer to use than street drugs.
- Cheaper than other drugs.
Dangers of Depressant Addiction
Abuse of prescription sedatives can have damaging long-term effects. A user can develop physical and psychological dependence on the substance. This makes recovery extremely difficult. Intensive treatment in an inpatient or outpatient setting offers the best chance of recovery.
Some signs of sedative substance abuse include slurred speech, loss of coordination, weakness, frequent headaches, dizzy spells, and blurred vision.
Effects of Prolonged Use
Using CNS depressant drugs for a long time can cause:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Intense anxiety
- Visual and auditory hallucinations
- Intense cravings for more of the substance
- Excessive sweating
Some sedative users mix their medications with opioids. Opioids are primarily painkillers, but they contain ingredients that depress the central nervous system. While most people don’t overdose on barbiturates, they can overdose on a deadly combination of sedatives and opioids.
Mixing depressants and opioids is known as polydrug intoxication. Substance users who have this form of intoxication are at high risk of death from an overdose.
How Widespread Is Depressant Addiction?
According to the Center for Drug Abuse Statistics:
- More than 45% of American adults used a prescription drug in the past 30 days.
- Almost 70% of people with depressant addiction report using them as sleep aids. About 20% of users say they take depressants to relieve tension.
- Prescriptions are the fifth most abused substance after alcohol, tobacco products, marijuana and painkillers.
- Of the people who abuse all types of depressants, 12% are addicted to the substance they’re using.
- Depressant addiction has declined 13.8% since 2015.
Treatment and Therapy Options for Sedative Addiction
Treatment is available if you’re suffering from substance use disorder. What are your options?
Medically Supervised Detox
Medically supervised detox is the first step in treating substance abuse. It’s especially important for people who abuse alcohol or CNS depressant drugs because a sudden withdrawal from them can be dangerous.
It’s also important because many substance abusers fear that withdrawal will be long and painful. Under a medically supervised detox, users withdraw painlessly. They receive medication for nausea, vomiting, shakes, and other symptoms that normally accompany withdrawal.
Detox removes the toxic substance from your body, but it is not enough on its own. Medical detox takes away the fear of “cold turkey” withdrawal. It is the first step in treating an addiction to CNS depressant drugs.
Treatment Center Options
Residential or Inpatient Rehab Centers
A residential treatment center provides a safe, structured environment where the user has no access to drugs or alcohol. A daily schedule of therapy, support group meetings, family therapy, and regular nutrition help substance users heal mentally and physically. At the center, residents can focus fully on their recovery in a supportive environment.
Partial Hospitalization Program
This option provides the benefits of residential treatment without requiring overnight stays. Partial hospitalization includes daily treatment sessions, medical care, support group meetings, and other keys to recovery. In a typical program, a client spends a full day at the treatment center and returns to their own home at night.
Intensive Outpatient Treatment
People using this option can get treatment while they stay at their jobs or in school. Typically, the treatment involves two to three hours of therapy twice a week. Intensive outpatient treatment is ideal for people in the early stages of addiction or those who have recently relapsed.
What To Expect from Treatment
After medical detox, most treatment centers offer a combination of the following interventions.
- Individual therapy: Most treatment centers offer evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management therapy.
- Multidimensional family therapy: This involves the entire family and focuses on improved communications.
- Group therapy: Learning social skills is a key part of learning to live without substances.
- Medical care: Treatment centers can monitor the dosage of necessary prescriptions and provide urgent medical care.
- Holistic therapies: Some centers provide art therapy, meditation, yoga and other holistic treatment methods.
- Nutrition and exercise programs: Most substance abusers are malnourished and otherwise unhealthy. Nutritious meals and regular exercise contribute to their overall health.
- Peer support: Many centers recommend membership in peer support groups to help addicts get and stay clean.
Follow-up care is key to preventing relapses and easing the former user into a full, productive life. Relapses are part of recovery, and quick intervention is the best way to get a substance user back on track. Sober homes, ongoing treatment and support groups are the three primary forms of follow-up care.
Some former users benefit from weekly or monthly treatment sessions to help them stay sober. Therapy can help them cope with the temptation to relapse and other daily struggles of living a drug-free life.
Sometimes called halfway houses or sober living communities, these homes allow former users to adapt to daily life without substances. Some sober homes are highly structured. They have strict rules, curfews, and weekly meetings. They require residents to get jobs, pay rent, do daily chores, and submit to regular drug testing. Sober homes with strict regulations have been proven to reduce relapse and imprisonment rates.
There are many support groups for substance abusers who want to get and stay clean. They include Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Rational Recovery, SMART Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), Women for Sobriety, and LifeRing.
Does Treatment Work?
Millions of former users can testify that treatment for substance abuse works. If you’re looking for the right treatment center for yourself or a loved one, get the answers to these questions:
- Does the center provide evidence-based therapies?
- Will you have access to group and individual counseling?
- Is it a safe, drug-free environment?
- If it’s an inpatient center, does it offer opportunities for socialization and downtime?
- What follow-up care is available?
Staying Sober Successfully
It’s important to remember that treatment is not a one-time solution for substance abuse. Relapse rates are high, but even a short period of sobriety can have a dramatic effect on a substance user’s life. With each relapse, most users discover the strategies they need for successful sober living.
Get Help for Substance Abuse
If you need treatment for yourself or a loved one, reach out to us today. Our directory of rehab centers offers medically supervised detox and proven treatments in a safe, supportive environment. You can get help for depressant drug abuse. We are available any time.