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Addiction to Depressants

Prescription depressants are an invaluable tool to many people. It’s human nature, however, that we don’t always follow the rules, and as with any prescription medicine, health risks exist when a drug is used without the care and attention of a monitoring doctor.

What is a depressant, anyway?

Depressant’s have the colloquial name ‘downers’. They reduce the overstimulation of the brain or nervous system. Sleeping tablets fall in this category, as do barbiturates and benzodiazepines. Let’s look at these in a little more detail.

Benzodiazepines are usually known as ‘benzos’. They’ve been used for convulsions, anxiety, stress, disordered sleep and anything under the banner of ‘acute stress reaction’. Long term use is likely to trigger dependence, which is why they are only legally prescribed for short term use. Valium, Xanax and Klonopin all fall in this category.

The best known barbiturates are Phenobarbital and pentobarbital. They’re typically used for seizures and anxiety. While once common, they’ve fallen out of favor, with Benzodiazepines replacing them for the most part due to less overdose risk.

Sleeping tablets are, perhaps, among the most abused medications in the world. Ambien and Lunesta are two common brands, and the category aims to treat disordered sleep.

How do they work?

Although there are several mechanisms, most work by stimulating the body to produce gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA). This in turn induces relaxation by slowing brain activity. However, there are many side effects to this process. Slowed pulse, breathing and lower blood pressure alongside fatigue and sleepiness are obvious ones, but they can also reduce concentration, leave users disorientated or dizzy, and cause dilated pupils and urinary difficulty.

Long- term use is generally discouraged, but under certain circumstances may be medically necessary. Many depressants build up tolerance- where the user needs more and more to induce less and less effect. Chronic fatigue, weight gain, breathing or ironically sleep difficulties, depression and sexual performance issues can all develop.

How do I know if depressants are being abused?

As drugs with a legitimate purpose, it’s hard to know what abuse is and what isn’t with depressants. If you or a loved one is consistently taking any depressant without being prescribed by a doctor, or in a manner different to the one they prescribed, there may be an issue with abuse. Depressants should never be taken as escape or fun, and you should not be using a prescription that was not issued to you.

Addiction to Depressants

Mood swings, decreased social and work productivity, depression, withdrawal symptoms and secretive behaviours may all indicate abuse of depressants. Remember that these drugs can all lead to incredibly high risk of overdose, especially if used with stimulants or alcohol.

What does withdrawal look like?

As this is a drug class that alters brain chemistry, withdrawal can be particularly nasty. Medical care and attention is usually advised. This is only a partial list of side effects of withdrawal:

  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness or Seizures
  • Confusion or hallucinations
  • Panic attacks
  • Body pains and tremors

How can recovery begin?

It is highly recommended to seek out assisted medical treatment for withdrawing from depressant abuse. Recovery programs will usually commence by assisting you with the immediate issues of withdrawal and addiction, before progressing to Partial hospitalization treatment to help you learn coping strategies to avoid returning to an unhealthy lifestyle.


Detox is usually required from downers, and the patient will be medically monitored for severe withdrawal symptoms at this point. Detox is caused by the withdrawal from the body of the drug, so medication to assist with discomfort and cravings may be given.

Recovery treatment

After detox, the patient can enter Partial hospitalization rehab to focus on their recovery within a safe and supervised environment. They may continue to receive some medication, typically far less than during detox, and will be taught vital skills alongside therapy to help them cope with daily life without the need for the downer as a crutch. 12 step programs and life skills education may also be part of the program, as will diet, fitness and self-care.

Ongoing recovery

Once the patient has moved on from Partial hospitalization treatment, they can choose to use a transitional program to help them continue their recovery. This could be a program, outpatient support, support groups or sober housing.

The journey to recovery is always possible. Contact SLO Recovery Centers today if you or a loved one needs our help.