Sedatives

Sedatives / Benzodiazepine: Valium, Ativan, Ambien, Xanax, Xannies, Bars, Roofies, GHB, Zombies

Restoril, Klonopin, Serax, Librium), Lunesta (Eszopiclone), Sonata (Zaleplon), Barbiturates (Pentobarbital, Phenobarbital, Mephobarbital) and Ambien (Zolpidem)

Sedatives are calming drugs and are sometimes called “minor tranquilizers”. Sedatives include a wide range of synthetic chemical substances developed to treat anxiety and insomnia and are sometimes used to help with alcohol and heroin detox and to control seizures. The most commonly prescribed sedative substances are Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium).

The effects of sedatives are similar to those of alcohol (lowered inhibitions, physical depression, sedation, and muscular relaxation).

When used in excess, they can cause memory loss, tolerance, tissue dependence, withdrawal symptoms and addiction. For this reason, people may misuse sedatives to relieve anxiety, induce a mild euphoria, and lower inhibitions.

Another class of sedatives are hypnotics. While sedatives are calming drugs, hypnotics are sleep inducers.  Common drugs that are considered hypnotics are Ambien and Lunesta, prescribed for insomnia.

sedatives in prescription bottle

The Correct Use vs. Misuse of Sedatives

When used correctly, sedatives can be helpful in the treatment of a variety of psychological and physical conditions. However, when they are misused, they can cause harmful side effects, dependence, abuse, addiction and death.

Misuse can occur when someone either overuses the drug or uses it inappropriately in conjunction with other medications to enhance the effects of the sedative. 

During misuse or active addiction, a person might obtain the extra medications through a friend/family member, stealing from medicine cabinets, or by diverting them from legal sources through forged prescriptions, black market purchases, or theft.

Studies conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse show other factors that can lead to misuse, abuse or overdose. These can include:

  • Forgetting how many one has taken, and while waiting for the effects to start, increasing the dose.
  • Being unaware of the effects of mixing the medication with other substances like opioids or alcohol.
  • Tolerance for some effects of the drug but not the toxic effects. This can lead to a person needing a dangerously high and sometimes lethal dose to feel any effects of the medication.
  • Attitude of invulnerability and risky behavior when taking the medication for illicit purposes. This is perpetuated in adolescents.
  • The misconception that prescription drugs are safer or less harmful than “street drugs.”

People who misuse and/or abuse sedatives can develop a sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder.  After high dose, long-term continuous use, withdrawal symptoms from sedatives can be severe. A person who is Benzo/Sedative dependent can take several months to taper off the drug safely.  A taper includes a slow decrease in dosage over a period of time.  Withdrawal seizures can occur if a taper is not carefully and medically monitored.

Sedative Use Disorder is a treatable condition. Treatment starts with medical detoxification. Once medically stable, a person can continue treatment through residential or outpatient treatment programs that utilize evidence-based programming such as cognitive behavioral therapy and counseling.  Treatment can also include education on the dangers of abusing sedatives as well as relapse prevention planning, family involvement, and medication when appropriate.