What is a Depressant?
Depressants are a classification of substances that produce a sedative effect on most humans. Depressants, also known as “downers,” can occur naturally or synthetically. Synthetic depressants can come in tablet or liquid form and can be prescribed for many different types of mental illness, such as manic disorders. Some examples of naturally occurring chemicals classified as depressants are alcohol, tryptophan, and lavender. Some examples of common synthetic depressants are Xanax, Klonopin, and Lithium.
Both natural and synthetic depressants can have practical and helpful medical uses. When used as directed, they can provide effective relief for insomnia and various mental disorders. However, these can be habit-forming and are commonly abused. No depressant should be used without medical supervision.
Depressants work by slowing down the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). These substances literally “depress” the communication between body and mind, thus slowing down the normal brain-to-body communication channel.
Different Types of Depressants
There are three main categories of prescription drugs that qualify as depressants. These are opioids, sedatives, and tranquilizers.
Opioids are medications that are generally prescribed for pain management. These include morphine, oxycodone, and fentanyl. Opioids are some of the most addictive substances on the planet, and opioid addiction has led to a serious medical crisis in the United States as well as worldwide. The over-prescribing of opioids has produced an epidemic of addiction that has brought harm and even death to thousands of families. While their pain management characteristics are valuable, the addictive nature of opioids makes them one of the most dangerous prescription medications.
These can be used to treat anxiety and various seizure disorders. The most commonly abused types of tranquilizers are benzodiazepines and barbiturates. These drugs are used to slow down the central nervous system by increasing the availability of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). The most commonly abused benzos are Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin. The most commonly prescribed barbiturates are Seconal, Luminol, and Mebarol.
Medications such as Ambien and Lunesta are generally used to treat sleep disorders are muscle spasms. Sedatives work similarly to tranquilizers but are less potent and thus less habit-forming.
Alcohol is also a depressant and it just so happens that alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the world. The active depressive ingredient in alcohol is Ethyl alcohol, which is a powerful neuro-inhibitor. It can lessen pain and anxiety and bring on sleepiness. In moderation, alcohol can be enjoyable and safe. However, the physical and psychological effects of alcohol can be potent and dangerous.
Developing Dependence on Depressants
When used correctly and in moderation, depressants can be helpful. However, as the opioid crisis and rising alcoholism rates show, they are also extremely dangerous and addictive. Depressants are appealing to drug abusers because they do produce a feeling of euphoria and relaxation. Many people like to wind down at the end of a stressful week with a beer or use a simple sedative to help them sleep. While there is little harm in these things, without care or proper supervision, things can quickly spiral out of control. Problems arise when people begin to rely on these substances to feel or act a certain way. This is referred to as a psychological addiction.
While psychological addiction can happen easily with many depressants, physical addiction can be just as dangerous. Many depressants can physically alter the brain by forcing brain cells to rely on increased levels of GABA that are produced when stimulants are used. Physical dependence occurs in the brain when the cells attempt to regulate the amount of GABA receptors through the increased production.
After physical dependence develops, the body is subject to various withdrawal symptoms. Depressant withdrawal symptoms can include increased anxiety, depression, insomnia, and fluctuating heart rate. At this stage of depressant use, someone may continue to use more and more of a substance in order to mask withdrawal symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms of Depressant Abuse
Signs of depressant abuse can be difficult to spot. Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the world and is legal as well as widely available. Most Americans who are of age will have a drink every now and again. Thus, it can be difficult to discern excessive drinking from simple social drinking.
In addition, many depressants are commonly prescribed for various maladies like sleep disorders, anxiety, or depression. If you believe you or someone you love may be struggling with an addiction to depressants, it’s important to know what resources and steps you have at your disposal.
In addition to the factors mentioned above, someone suffering from a depressant addiction may exhibit some of the following symptoms:
- An inability to control the amount of a depressant that you may consume
- A desire to use all the time
- Physical symptoms, such as sweating, heart palpitations, or weight fluctuations
- Taking or using a depressant in order to “de-stress”
- Inability to relax or calm down without using
There are also many signs of abuse that are somewhat unique to alcoholism. This can include slurred speech, drinking to get drunk, and frequent blackouts or vomiting.
Short-Term Effects of Depressant Abuse
The effects of depressant use can vary by category; however, most will produce some short-term slowing of the central nervous system. These neurological effects can manifest in many different ways, including:
- Feelings of relaxation and euphoria
- Dilated pupils
- Sleepiness and fatigue
- Impaired judgment
- Lower blood pressure and heart rate
- Slurred speech
- Impaired judgment
Some depressants can produce these effects in just a few minutes. Others may take longer or require more substance to produce a noticeable result. The more someone uses a substance, the more of a substance that is required to produce a neurological response.
Long-Term Effects of Depressant Abuse
The long-term effects of depressant use can include many adverse physical and psychological effects. However, the true long-term impact of depressant use depends on the type, severity, and longevity of use. Long-term depressant use, even if done with a prescription, can lead to substance use disorder.
Some common long-term effects of depressants include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight fluctuation
- Insomnia or narcolepsy
- Sexual dysfunction
- Lung issues
- Depression and anxiety
- Suicidal ideation
Overdose is also a possibility with many depressants, especially alcohol and various barbiturates. Excessive depressant use can lead to seizure, respiratory or heart failure, and even death.
Depressants are particularly dangerous when paired with each other or when adding a stimulant. Depressant use combined with a mental illness constitutes a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis.
Depressant Abuse Treatment at Harmony Place
Successful treatment for depressant addiction can be accomplished with hard work and the support of family and friends. In some extreme cases, detoxification may be necessary. This constitutes 24/7 supervision to help mitigate the effects of withdrawal. After detox, successful treatment will combine various therapies (CBT, group, and individual) with inpatient or outpatient treatment to find the right combination for each individual.
In treatment, you’ll learn how to avoid triggers, acquire tools to deal with temptations, and create a relapse prevention plan. The longer you remain in treatment and the more you commit to it, the better the chances of long-term recovery success. After successful treatment, your therapists will help you come up with a successful plan for reintegration into your day-to-day life. This will require the support of friends and family as well as a true commitment to success.
Don’t wait to seek help. Call Harmony Place and see how we can help you overcome addiction.