It’s Monday morning, and you’ve barely slept—it’s time to get up for work feeling completely exhausted. Never achieving the amount of rest desired has become a common theme in your life. A good night’s sleep sets the bar for what can be expected throughout your highly functioning day, but again and again, you’re coming up short.
When the next night arrives, you reach for that sleeping pill your doctor prescribed, and eventually, you drift away into a deep, restful state. Getting the proper amount of sleep each night helps to achieve mental and physical healing and helps you to avoid serious disease, but if this sounds like you, you are one of the many Americans who can’t get restful sleep because of sleep disorders.
Insomnia, narcolepsy, and sleep apnea are just a few of those sleep disorders. It has been shown that upward of 70 million Americans suffer from one sleep order or another, and to help aid with this problem, more and more people are turning to sedatives. These medications have been used for several decades to help promote healthy sleep with mixed results.
The most common sleep disorder of them all is insomnia, which affects a staggering 60 million people nationwide. Statistics show that women and senior adults (age 65-plus) are among the most commonly affected. So far, no scientific studies have shown why it affects these groups more than any others.
Sedatives are not just prescribed for sleep, though; people who have anxiety are another group that require sedatives for healthy functioning. The drugs used can vary from benzodiazepines like Xanax, or medications such as Amytal that fall into the barbiturate class of drugs.
Anxiety is a disorder that can ruin lives and mentally paralyze the people who have it. While the drugs discussed above can have life-changing effects for one person, such as giving them the confidence to leave the house, or something as simple as falling asleep, there is a dark side for people who use sedatives. As more of these medications are taken, users can develop a tolerance that requires them more and more to achieve sleep or a sense of normalcy. This is when dependence can lead to addiction, which can blossom into something potentially life-altering.
What Are Sedatives?
Sedatives are a class of drugs that can be used to induce and/or maintain sleep. These drugs were specifically designed for medical purposes to relax the central nervous system and slow normal brain function. In certain scenarios, when someone experiences an anxiety attack, symptoms can range from a pounding heart, an accelerated heart rate, trembling, and shaking.
Medications, such as Xanax, can slow this high over-functioning of the brain and bring it back to normal. While this sounds good for the short-term, the issue that arises is instead of seeking alternative or natural solutions, the first reaction when anxiety is felt is to grab a pill.
On that same note, those unable to sleep at night can have that same reaction—grab a pill. Once this is sought out for immediate relief, individuals begin to reprogram their bodies in a way that makes them forget how to fall asleep naturally.
Dependency will arise when this is used as a crutch, and often, when drugs are used with intentions beyond their medical purpose, the user will develop a correlation between pleasure and the drug. Consequently, as a result, a tolerance will quickly develop, and the user will continue to take more of the substance to create the same feeling.
A wide variety of sedatives that make it out of the pharmacies and into the streets include:
Slang Names: Bars, School Bus
Xanax is a powerful benzo that is prescribed for anxiety disorders. The drug produces calming effects by reducing activity in the brain, but this can be extremely dangerous when the medication is used in combination with other drugs such as alcohol or heroin. Because of its calming effect and slowed down breathing, using Xanax with another depressant can result in death.
Slang Names: Ambo, No-Go Pills, Tic-Tacs, Zombies
Ambien is used to treat insomnia and was designed to help users fall asleep faster and sleep longer. Like benzos, it produces a calming effect on the brain that enables you to relax. With the various sleep issues that plague Americans, it has become an extremely popular medication, but it carries a risk of dependency and can be dangerous when used in a manner in which it was not prescribed.
Slang Names: Downers, Blue Heaven
Amytal is in a class of drugs called barbiturates, which are classified as a hypnotic-sedative. Its purpose is to stop seizures, and it is used an anticonvulsant, but before the discovery of Ambien, it was used as a sleeping pill. In part, because of their addictive nature, substitutes were created as an alternative.
Sedatives work by affecting emotional reactions, memory, control of consciousness, and coordination. Benzos work by enhancing the action of the neurotransmitter, GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid). These are chemicals that enable brain cells to transmit impulses from one to another and are used to slow or calm things down, and benzos increase the efficiency of GABA, causing a calming effect.
When the body becomes dependent on the creation of GABA stimulation, withdrawal symptoms are likely to occur once it does not receive steady doses. The withdrawal symptoms are very uncomfortable, but it can also be dangerous if it results in grand mal seizures.
The withdrawal process happens in three stages. The first stage is minor, and it can include anxiety, tremors, and difficulty sleeping. The second phase can result in hallucinations, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, and vomiting. The third and most serious stage is something called delirium tremens. Delirium tremens is a psychotic condition that involves tremors, hallucinations, anxiety, and disorientation. In rare cases, it can prove to be fatal.
Because the symptoms of withdrawal in this class of drugs are severe, it is strongly advised that people don’t quit sedatives cold turkey. Sedative drug detox should be treated by medical professionals to protect the person going through withdrawal and ensure they can manage detox safely. It must be noted that effective addiction treatment keeps the client’s best interests in mind, and it should be considered when someone has become dependent on any of the drugs listed above.
Are Sedatives Addictive?
Benzos and barbiturates are central nervous system (CNS) depressants formulated to trigger euphoric calm in users. The euphoria these drugs impart, due to their interaction with GABA, are what make them ripe for abuse and addiction. Abuse of these drugs can trigger intoxication that is similar to the kind produced by alcohol.
Barbiturate medications are rarely prescribed and have been replaced by benzos due to their toxicity and sheer potency. Barbiturates became infamous for their ability to trigger overdose and death due to their addictive quality.
Substances from this class of sedative medications — amobarbital and pentobarbital, in particular — are classified as Schedule II controlled substances by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which means they “a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.”
Some barbiturates are classified as Schedule III drugs, which means their abuse could lead to “moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.”
Benzodiazepines are deemed less toxic and addictive, but they are still capable of abuse, even though they are designated as Schedule IV controlled substances, meaning they are less prone to causing addiction and dependence than benzodiazepines. Sedative-hypnotics or Z-drugs have also been designated as Schedule IV substances.
Either way, abuse of these sedatives can cause perilous effects.
Side Effects of Sedative Abuse
When used as prescribed, sedatives can cause life-changing effects that are positive, but the real issue is when users begin to exceed their prescribed dose. This is where the outward effects of misuse and abuse will become apparent. These can range from moderate to severe depending on the dosage, but some signs to look for are:
- Memory problems
- Impaired judgment and attention
- Mood swings
- Inappropriate behavior
Long-term effects that are associated with sedatives can range anywhere from addiction to death. Regular users engage in daily activities that can put everyone around them in danger. It is not recommended to carry on normal functions such as driving when under the influence of sedatives. Also, the use of one class of sedatives can potentiate and raise the risk of overdose with other sedatives.
Signs of Sedative Abuse
Being keen on detecting abuse signs will be the first step of defense. Combating addiction requires a lot of effort, and knowing the warning signs is the step of getting someone help. Some warning signs of sedative abuse include:
- Slurred speech
- Unusual risk-taking behaviors
- Slowed speech
- Poor control over actions
- Coordination problems
Users will often have intense and uncontrollable cravings to reach their desired sedative state, and this is a strong indicator that they have lost control of their drug use. People in this group are advised to seek professional addiction treatment immediately. Early detection is the key to saving a life.
Sedative Rehab Process
If you or a loved one has taken the step to a better life, deciding which treatment center to attend is a crucial part of the sedative rehab process. While this can be a stressful time, you should know what to expect moving forward to help alleviate any concerns about the unknown that you might have.
Once a substance abuse problem has been addressed, the next step is to enter a treatment center or hospital so that medical detox can take place. This step better ensures the success of one’s treatment experience because the sudden cessation of sedatives can be downright dangerous and hold the potential to cause grave harm.
How long medical detox lasts will depend on how long sedatives have been used as well as the dosage. After a successful detox, your medical team will review treatment options with you after an assessment that will help them evaluate what’s best for you.
Immediately following detox, clients who require an extended time in treatment will enter into a 30-to-90-day residential therapy program. This is where you or the recovering substance user will address the root of their substance abuse problem. This is an on-site form of therapy that requires 24-hour supervision. Intense therapy sessions will take place, and interaction with other recovering clients will aid in the rehab process.
If the medical team decides this better suits your needs, outpatient therapy will be a solution better equipped for business professionals, or those with personal obligations that cannot detach from the outside world for an extended time. Outpatient clients will visit the facility three to four times a week for two to four hours a day with the same intensive therapy sessions found in residential.
Counseling allows recovering users to meet the medical and mental health professionals in charge of monitoring their recovery. Counseling helps achieve prolonged recovery and discuss the long days ahead that former substance users will face as they rebuild their lives.
Sedative Abuse Statistics
- Barbiturates are a factor in about one-third of all reported drug-related deaths.
- The FDA estimates that 60 million-plus people are prescribed a sedative each year.
- 47,000 emergency room visits are caused as a result of sedative overdose annually.
- More than 10% of high school students have used sedatives for a nonmedical reason at least once.