Depressants are a class of drug which slow down brain functioning. They do this by depressing the central nervous system (CNS). This sedative quality of these substances means that they have many medicinal applications such as a treatment for insomnia and anxiety.
Alcohol is the most popular of all depressants. This recreational drug has been used for thousands of years as a way for people to relax and unwind. It is also the drug that has led to the most human suffering and social problems, and currently accounts for more deaths than all other drugs combined. All types of depressant have the potential to be addictive and substance abuse is common with this type of drug. In popular culture it is usual to describe these drugs as downers. Stimulants have the opposite effect to depressants so these are referred to as uppers.
The four main types of depressants are ethyl alcohol, opiates, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates. Ethyl alcohol is one of the most widely used drugs and is also the one that causes the most harm. Benzodiazepines and barbiturates are also sometimes referred to as tranquilizers or sedatives. Opiates are a type of strong pain killer that are derived from the poppy plant.
Benzodiazepines include drugs such as:
* Diazepam (valium)
* Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
* Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol)
* Alprazolam (Xanax)
* Oxycodone/ Oxycontin
All depressants work by slowing down the functioning of the central nervous system. This is usually done by enhancing the effect of a type of neurotransmitter called GABA. This is an inhibitory neurotransmitter which means that its job is to calm down operations within the CNS. Alcohol is also able to increase the depressant effect by interfering with excitatory neurotransmitters as well. Opiates also reduce pain signals as well as inhibiting the CNS.
Depressants are prescribed for a number of different medical conditions including:
* General Anesthesia
* Seizure prevention
* Pain reduction
* Blood pressure reduction
* Heart rate reduction
* To promote muscle relaxation
* As an aid to help people be more sociable
The calming effects of depressants on the brain are pleasurable. The most common reasons why people abuse this type of drug include:
* It allows people to be more sociable. Even shy individuals will find it easier to function within a group. It is this ability to increase sociability that accounts for the popularity of alcohol.
* This type of drug reduces inhibitions
* Abusing depressants temporarily allow people to escape their problems.
* Those individuals who have a lot of anxiety and stress can find a bit of short-time solace in this drug
* It can increase feelings of confidence
* They can create feeling of euphoria – this is especially true with opiates
If people abuse depressants they will begin to suffer because of it. It can start to really damage their mental and physical functioning. It may not take long for an addiction to develop and then the individual will find that their life has been taken over by the drug. The most common dangers of depressant abuse include:
* Increased tolerance means that the individual now has to take more of the drug to get the same effect
* Once they have become physically addicted they will experience withdrawal symptoms should they try to stop taking the drug. These withdrawal symptoms can sometimes be fatal.
* This type of abuse can cause physical damage to different body organs. For instance, alcohol abuse can lead to diabetes, alcoholic liver disease, or wet brain.
* People become so obsessed with these drugs that they develop a willingness to commit criminal acts to get their hands on them. This is particularly likely if are unable to obtain the drugs by legitimate means.
* The individual will find it more difficult to deal with work and home commitments.
* Increased risk of accidents and becoming the victim of violence.
* Mental health deteriorates and the individual may experience a lot of depression and anxiety.
* This type of abuse can often lead to suicide.
* Long-term abuse can mean loss of family, friends, and employment.
* Overdose is common with this type of substance. This is particular true of barbiturates when an overdose can quickly lead to death.
Those individuals who abuse depressants will tend to exhibit certain symptoms. These effects can be a warning to friends, colleagues, and family that something is not right. If a person has these symptoms it does not necessarily mean that they have an addiction. There are other physical and mental health problems that could be the cause. It is also not necessary for the individual to have all the symptoms for them to be abusing a drug; even a couple of these behaviors could indicate abuse. The most common signs of depressant abuse include:
* Evidence of withdrawal symptoms when the individual is not using depressants
* A loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed
* Secretive behavior
* Even though these drugs are causing obvious harm the individual continues to use them
* Time of work and reduced productivity
* Periods of depression
* Less interest in personal hygiene and grooming
* Mood swings
* They can’t remember things that happened due to blackouts
* They are unable to control the amount of alcohol or other depressant they are using
* Denial when confronted with the abuse
* The person feels unable to cope without their drug
* Poor behavior possibly followed by a period of remorse
* Inability to keep up with their family and social commitments
The most effective treatment for depressant addiction is complete abstinence. How this is achieved will depend on the type of drug. With barbiturates and benzodiazepines a common approach is to taper the individual off the drug. The drug is not stopped immediately but instead it is given at a reducing rate over time until abstinence is reached. There are guidelines available for how the drug should be reduced. In some cases the doctor may decide that it is better to allow the individual to reduce the dose at their own speed.
Alcohol addiction is also best treated with lifelong abstinence. With this type of depressant the tapering off approach is unlikely to be effective. Alcoholics will tend to spend a lot of time trying to reduce their usage without success. The best approach is to just quit alcohol but this means entering a period of withdrawals. If the individual has been abusing alcohol for a long time they may be at risk of delirium tremens. This means that their alcohol withdrawals will need to be medically supervised because there is the risk of death. It may also be decided that tapering off is not the best solution for coming off other depressants in some cases.
Those individuals who have abused depressants can find it difficult to just stop and get on with their lives. This is because the reasons why they fell into addiction in the first place may still be there. They will therefore require assistance in developing new coping strategies. These skills can be developed with the help of rehab, therapy, or support groups.
The withdrawal symptoms from depressants can be quite severe. This is why medical supervision of the withdrawal period will sometimes be advised if there is not going to be any tapering off period. Doctors are able to assess whether an individual is likely to have the more serious effects of withdrawal and plan for this as appropriate. The possible symptoms include:
* Delirium Tremens (with Alcohol)
* Mental confusion
* Changes in pulse, respiratory rate, or blood pressure
* Nausea and vomiting
* Digestive problems
* Tremors and body spasms
* Body aches and pains
* Heart palpitations