Sedatives/Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants | Drug Free Kids Canada
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Sedatives/Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants



Prescription sedatives are central nervous system (CNS)depressants, meaning that they depress or slow down the body’s functions.

These medications are mainly used to relieve anxiety and assist with sleep problems. Other medical uses include inducing sedation for surgical and other medical procedures, treatment of alcohol withdrawal, seizure control and relaxation of skeletal muscles.

Often referred to as sedatives and tranquilizers, CNS depressants are substances that can slow normal brain function. Most CNS depressants reduce brain function through a neurotransmitter called gammaaminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical that enables communication between brain cells.

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Prescription sedatives and CNS depressants are usually taken in pill form; however, some are available as suppositories or prepared as a solution for injection.

Sedatives are often prescribed by doctors to treat a variety of health conditions including anxiety and panic attacks, tension, acute stress reactions and sleep disorders. When given in high doses, sedatives may act as anesthesia. Sedatives have the potential for abuse and should be used only as prescribed.

Examples of Depressants

There are three different classes of sedatives: benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine sleep medications and barbiturates.

Barbiturates are a type of depressant often prescribed to promote sleep.

Benzodiazepines are a type of depressant prescribed to relieve anxiety.

Some of the most well known sedatives and CNS depressants are listed below with the names you might find on a prescription label.

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  • Estazolam (ProSom)
  • Zolpidem (Ambien)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata)
  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • Mephobarbital (Mebaral)
  • Sodium pentobarbital (Nembutal)
  • Secobarbital (Seconal)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Chlorazepate (Tranxene)
  • Meprobamate (Miltown)
  • Chloral hydrate (Noctec)
  • Ethchlorvynol (Placidyl)
  • Methaqualone (Quaalude)
  • Oxazepam (Serax)
Street or Slang Terms for Sedatives

Benzos, xanies, xani-bars, xani-bombs, and roofies are commonly used terms to refer to sedatives.


Abuse of Sedatives

While different sedatives work in unique ways, they produce a drowsy or calming effect that can help those suffering from anxiety or sleep disorders. Because they can produce a state of intoxication, they have a high potential for abuse.

Some people tamper with the medication to misuse it for the drug’s euphoric effects. Tampering involves changing the form of the medication or the route by which it is taken or both.

Are Teens Abusing Sedatives?

Depressants such as sedatives and tranquilizers have been growing in popularity among teens. In 2007, six percent of U.S. high school seniors reported abusing depressants including Valium and Xanax, compared to four percent in 1995.

Signs and Symptoms of Sedative Abuse

Sedatives and CNS Depressants have the potential for abuse and should be used only as prescribed.

Be on the lookout for these side effects:

  • Physical side effects: include dilated pupils and slurred speech; relaxed muscles; intoxication; loss of motor coordination; fatigue, respiratory depression; sensory alteration; and lowered blood pressure. Teens taking barbiturates may exhibit side effects such as slurred speech, dizziness, sedation, drowsiness, and fever.
  • Psychological side effects: include poor concentration or feelings of confusion; impaired judgment; and lowered inhibitions. Teens on barbiturates may experience depression, fatigue, confusion, and irritability.



If you have observed any of the symptoms or side effects listed above, contact a medical professional immediately.

Withdrawal from Sedatives

Because all CNS depressants work by slowing the brain’s activity, when someone stops taking them, the brain’s activity can rebound and race out of control, possibly leading to seizures and other serious consequences.

Withdrawal symptoms: include anxiety, insomnia, muscle tremors, and loss of appetite. Going “cold-turkey” off of some depressants can have life-threatening complications, cause convulsions, delirium, and in rare instances, death.

If you have observed any of the symptoms or side effects listed above, contact a medical professional immediately.

Potentially dangerous Drug and Alcohol interactions with Sedatives

Woman taking painkillers and alcohol

Sedative abuse is often combined with the use of other drugs like alcohol, other prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and street drugs like marijuana.

Did you know?

Combining these substances can be highly dangerous:

    • Alcohol – Using sedatives with alcohol can slow both the heart and breathing and may lead to death. When combined with alcohol, the effects and risks of depressants are seriously increased.
    • Prescription drugs – Some interactions with other drugs can be risky. Sedatives should be used in combination with other medications only under a physician’s close supervision.
    • Over-the-counter drugs –  Sedatives should not be combined with any other medication or substance that causes central nervous system depression, including some over-the-counter cold and allergy medications. Doing so may slow the heart and breathing, a serious health risk.
Signs of Sedative overdose
Symptoms including shallow breathing, clammy skin, dilated pupils, weak and rapid pulse, coma, or death.

If you see your teen or anyone else in this state, call 911 immediately.

DFK offers links to resources in your area to help you and your family find the right kind of help for sedative dependency or addiction.