The Different Kinds of Depressants
Alcohol, tranquilizers, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, opioids and opiates are examples of depressants. These are psychoactive drugs or substances that cause decreased sensorium by temporarily reducing the function of the brain and the spinal cord. Because of its effect on the central nervous system, more commonly known as “downers.”
The most common and widely used among the them is alcohol. Beer, wine, and other types of liquor are alcohol-containing beverages. The psychoactive substance alcohol diminishes a person’s ability to focus and the speed of his reaction to stimuli.Alcohol is considered an anxiolytic and GABAergic substance. GABAergic increases the amount of the inhibitory neurotransmitter gammaaminobutyric acid (GABA) in the synaptic cleft. Unlike other depressants, it is not approved for medical use and its effects vary in degree and type – from euphoria, lethargy, confusion, and coma in extreme cases. When alcohol intoxication occurs, speech becomes slurred, reflexes become diminished, perception of space and time is altered, and clumsiness becomes apparent. A small amount of alcohol can impair coordination and judgment. Consuming a large amount can cause immediate and disturbing effects such as nausea, vomiting, and altered sleep-wake schedule.
Long-term intake like alcohol leads to tolerance and physical dependence. Sudden cessation of intake can cause alcohol withdrawal syndrome. This syndrome causes a state of nervous hyper-excitability, a potentially deadly condition characterized by seizures and delirium.
Tranquilizers are also known as sedatives and sleeping pills. Tranquilizers are the most commonly prescribed depressants that are used therapeutically for sleeping disorders and anxiety. These relaxing and anxiety-reducing psychiatric drugs have a calming effect, which is similar to that of alcohol.
Major tranquilizers, also referred to as anti-psychotics, enhance the effect of receptors in the brain that reduce perceptions, psychotic thoughts, and agitation. They are prescribed as medications to treat schizophrenia, mania, delusional disorder, and other psychotic illnesses. Major tranquilizers have little potential for abuse; hence addiction is not a major concern in its use.Minor tranquilizers directly depress areas of the brain that function in regulating wakefulness and alertness. Unlike major tranquilizers, minor tranquilizers have high potential for abuse and addiction because it can produce euphoria when taken in high doses.
Benzodiazepines, nicknamed “benzos”, are multi-functional and act as sedatives in low doses, as anxiolytics in moderate doses, and as hypnotics in high doses. Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, Restoril, and Xanax are the common examples.
They are used to treat insomnia by causing sedation and inducing sleep. Benzos are also used to prevent seizures and to relieve muscle spasms. More importantly, WebMD lists the benzos Valium, Ativan, and Xanax as the drugs for anxiety treatment.
Barbiturates induce sleep and decrease anxiety, which is why they are also called sedative-hypnotic drugs. The effects of barbiturates span from mild sedation to general anesthesia or complete loss of sensation. They can be administered intravenously, intramuscularly, or orally in the form of a pill.
They are prescription drugs used as sedatives for the treatment of anxiety, seizures, and insomnia. According to barbiturate users, these depressants give them a feeling of euphoria and relaxed contentment. However, addiction to these barbiturates is potentially lethal because it can lead to respiratory arrest.
Respiratory depression, fever, hypotension, nystagmus, slurred speech, ataxia, fatigue, excessive excitement, irritability, poor concentration, addiction, dizziness, impaired coordination and judgment, confusion, sedation, drowsiness, and loss of inhibition are signs and symptoms of barbiturate intoxication.
Opioids and Opiates
Opiates are naturally occurring depressants that are derived from the sap opium. The primary active opiates that come from opium are codeine, morphine, codeine, papaverine, and thebaine. Opioids such as hydrocodone, heroine, and oxycodone are semi-synthetic depressants derived from opiates.
The immediate signs and symptoms of opiate abuse are a surge of euphoria accompanied by a warm flushed skin, weakness of extremities, and a dry mouth. After the initial euphoric surge, abusers fluctuate between wakefulness and drowsiness. Mental function is reduced and clouded because of CNS depression.These depressants can be taken by intravenous injection, by snorting, or by smoking. Physical addiction to opiates can develop within a few weeks of continuous abuse.
Sudden cessation of taking these depressants causes opiate withdrawal psychosis, characterized by severe anxiety and mental instability. It causes a sense of hopelessness and it takes away proper judgment and logical thinking. This state leads to impulsive actions that are potentially harmful.
There are different side effects for each substance, but the following signs and symptoms are among the general side effects of depressants:
Altered cognition and memory
Detachment and isolation
Hypotension and bradycardia
Depression of respiratory rate and depth
Prevention of convulsions
Effects on Health
The mechanism of action of central nervous system depressants is mediated by the neurotransmitter gammaaminobutyric acid (GABA). Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that allow communication via the synapses in between neurons. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, hence it decreases brain activity.
Depressants increase the effect of this specific neurotransmitter by increasing the amounts of GABA or increasing the activity of receptors for GABA. The effects on the user are drowsiness and a calming feeling because of decreased brain activity.However, while there are therapeutic uses of depressants, there are also potentially dangerous effects related to drug tolerance. Users should be warned that long-term use these depressants will lead to the development of tolerance. Users developing tolerance find that they need to increase the dose of these drugs to achieve the desired effects.
The escalating doses eventually pose health hazards. What are even more dangerous are the withdrawal reactions that take place when one suddenly stops the use of these depressants because sudden cessation causes the brain to be overly excitable, placing the person at risk for having seizures. This state of hyper-excitability occurs when the blood levels of the depressant suddenly falls after the neurons have adapted to high levels of it.
Recovering from drug tolerance should be taken seriously. Risks related to drug withdrawal may be hazardous to one’s health. If you or someone you love suffer from depression, call Hawaii Island Recovery at 866-515-5032 for professional assistance.