Central nervous system (CNS) depressants, also known as sedatives and tranquilizers, are substances that slow down brain activity and are often prescribed to treat anxiety, sleep disorders, panic attacks, and seizure disorders.
In higher doses, CNS depressants may be used as anesthesia. Most CNS depressants activate a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and produce a drowsy or calming effect on users. There are a wide variety of CNS depressants that include alcohol, benzodiazepines (e.g. Valium and Xanax), chloral hydrate, and Zolpidem (Ambien). The effects of these medications make them highly sought after for abuse. They have a number of street names including Reds, Yellows, Downers, and Barbs.
Depressants Effects and Side Effects
Depressants are often abused due to the calming effects they produce. Depressants can help individuals feel more sociable and comfortable in groups of people. They often reduce inhibitions, increase an individual’s confidence and allow individuals to escape stress and anxiety, producing euphoric effects that provide temporary relief. Many of the side effects and perceived as positive; however, long-term abuse can damage an individual’s health and their relationships with others. When taken as prescribed, depressants are effective at treating the symptoms of many disorders; however, they can easily become physically and psychologically addictive. Even with the increased availability of many prescription depressants, alcohol is still the most widely abused depressant.
Depressants can cause a number of side effects including confusion, dizziness, impaired judgment, and lack of coordination. They also increase an individual’s likelihood of developing diabetes and high blood sugar. Over time, the body begins to develop tolerance to the effects of depressants, causing an individual to require larger doses to achieve the same effects. Long-term use of depressants can lead to chronic fatigue, sleep problems, depression, and breathing problems. Continued use and increased dosages can cause an individual to develop a dependence on the substance. If usage reduces or suddenly stops, individuals are susceptible to dangerous withdrawal side effects, including a rebounding effect which may cause seizures and other life-threatening complications. Individuals may experience hallucinations, high body temperature, and convulsions.
Dangers of CNS Depression and Mixing Substances
Due to the way in which an individual builds tolerance over time, those who abuse depressants may start to mix multiple substances in order to produce stronger effects. It is not uncommon for individuals to mix depressants, such as Valium and alcohol, to produce stronger highs. Mixing depressants can quickly lead to overdose and damages the heart, lungs, and brain. Depressants amplify the effects of one another which can lead to a dangerously low heart rate, slowing respiratory activity, coma and even death. If there are enough depressants present, the body will experience complete organ failure and shut down.
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Whether it is due to overdose or withdrawal, depressants are incredibly dangerous and require medical intervention to help individuals safely abstain from use. In many cases, individuals will need to gradually taper off use rather than suddenly stop in order to avoid the risk of life-threatening complications and death. Medically supervised detoxes can provide individuals with medications to increase an individual’s comfort while withdrawing from depressants and provide immediate medical assistance in the event that they experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.