Sedative drugs are helpful for treating anxiety and sleep problems, but using them can lead to dependence or addiction.
Sedatives are a category of drugs that slow brain activity.
Also known as tranquilizers or depressants, sedatives have a calming effect and can also induce sleep.
There are three main classes of sedative medications:
Barbiturates: These drugs can be taken on their own or along with anesthesia. They're sometimes used to treat seizure disorders.
Benzodiazepines: These drugs are also used to treat seizures, as well as for muscle spasms, and anxiety before medical procedures.
Rohypnol (flunitrazepam) is a short-acting benzodiazepine that is 10 times stronger than Valium. Rohypnol has been used as a "date rape" drug, and is no longer legal in the United States.
"Z-drug" sleep medications: These drugs act on a specific type of receptor in the central nervous system called BZ1, which makes their action as a sleep aid very targeted.
Hallucinations and psychosis have been reported in some people who take these drugs, and they're not intended for long-term use.
Side Effects of Sedatives
The effects of using sedatives can resemble those of alcohol. In addition to their desired calming effects, sedative use can cause:
- Drowsiness, dizziness, and confusion
- Problems with movement and memory
- Slowed heart rate and breathing, which may be worsened if combined with alcohol
- Increased risk of falls and injury
- Worsening of depression and anxiety symptoms
- Impaired attention and judgment
- Mood swings and inappropriate behavior
- Risk of dependence and addiction
- Risk of death from overdose, either intentional or unintentional
If you suspect an overdose in yourself or someone else, contact a poison control center or get to an emergency room immediately.
You can contact a poison control center at (800) 222-1222.
Sedative Dependence and Addiction
Dependence and addiction are risks for all three classes of sedatives.
Addiction means having a compulsive desire to use a drug, even when this has a harmful effect on your work or personal life.
If you're addicted, you may feel unable to quit using the drug.
Dependence is when your body learns to depend on a drug. It can occur without addiction, but it often accompanies addiction.
If you become dependent on a drug, you may need a higher dose to achieve the desired effect (tolerance), or there may be physical or psychological effects when the drug is stopped (withdrawal).
If you're using any sedative medication regularly, you shouldn't stop taking it abruptly, as this can cause severe withdrawal symptoms such as seizures.
In order to stop taking the drug, you may need to have your dose reduced over time (tapered) with the help of a healthcare provider.