Learn Everything About Depressant Abuse

Prescription depressants, when used correctly, are helpful and needed to treat many medical problems. But like any drug, if used in ways other than as prescribed by a doctor, prescription depressants can be dangerous and even deadly.

What are depressant drugs?

Depressant drugs, also known as downers, work by slowing and reducing brain and nervous system activity. There are categories of depressants, which include:


Barbiturates (like phenobarbital and pentobarbital) are prescribed to treat anxiety, panic attacks, and seizures.


Also called benzos, benzodiazepines are prescribed to treat anxiety, sleep problems, panic attacks, and more. They are designed for short-term use only and have a high risk of addiction. The most common benzodiazepines are diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan) and Clonazepam (Klonopin).

Sleep medicines

Depressants such as zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta) are prescribed solely in the treatment of sleep disorders.

What are the effects of depressant drugs?

Depressants work by boosting the production of the chemical GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain. GABA slows brain activity and causes relaxation. Various long and short-term effects result from this increase in GABA.

Short-term effects include slow breathing, slow heartbeat, dilated pupils, confusion, inability to concentrate, fatigue, and dizziness.

Long-term effects will vary depending on the type of drug, the method of use, duration of use, and severity of use. Potential long-term effects include drug dependence, chronic exhaustion, weight gain, sexual problems, sleep problems, and breathing troubles.

What are the signs of depressant drug abuse?

Early stages of addiction to depressant drugs can be hard to detect, particularly if they are prescribed to an addict with no history of drug abuse or addiction. The first and most significant warning sign of drug abuse is taking the medication without a prescription or in ways not directed by the doctor. This includes taking someone else’s medicine, taking more than the recommended dose, or intentionally taking them to get high. Other signs of depressant drug abuse include sneaky or suspicious behavior, hiding things, moodiness, isolation, problems at work or in relationships, depression, anxiety, and withdrawal symptoms.

It is highly possible to overdose on depressant drugs, which can lead to long-term damage or death. The risk of overdose increases significantly when depressant drugs are combined with other substances, including alcohol.

What are the withdrawal symptoms?

Because depressants mess with the chemical balance of the brain, withdrawal symptoms are often sudden and severe. Withdrawal symptoms include sleeplessness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, body ache, confusion, auditory or visual hallucinations, anxiety, and panic attacks, shaking, and seizures.

If you are suffering from withdrawals, talk to your doctor about how to wean off painkillers safely and more comfortably. Quitting cold turkey is highly uncomfortable and can be dangerous.

How is depressant drug addiction treated?

If you have a depressant drug addiction, you must seek professional help. Rehabilitation is the best option, but at the very least talk to your doctor about how to taper off painkillers gradually and safely. You will have a higher rate of success staying sober if you aren’t fighting intense cravings and physical discomfort, and severe withdrawal can be dangerous.