What is a Depressant?

What is a Depressant? | Just Believe Recovery Carbondale PA

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What is a Depressant?

A central nervous system (CNS) depressant, or sedative, is a broad class of drugs which slow the brain, resulting in a decrease in anxiety, insomnia, and sometimes, pain. They are sometimes used to counteract the effects of their antithesis, stimulants.

This effect is usually accomplished by increasing GABA (gammaaminobutyric acid), a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) in the brain. This chemical inhibits brain activity and can create a calming, relaxed, or drowsy efffect. Although different depressants work in different ways, the goal of increased GABA is the same.

Anti-Anxiety Depressants

Anti-anxiety depressants are also known as benzodiazepines, or benzos for short. These include commonly known drugs such as Valium, Xanax, and Ativan. They reduce anxiety and stress, and are effective at treating panic disorder. Benzos should be used short-term, as long-term use can promote addiction and dependency. Some of these depressants are actually used for sleep disorders as well.

Depressants for Sleep

Certain sedatives are used primarily for sleep only. These include hypnotics such as Ambien and Lunestra. While they act on many of the same brain receptors as benzos, they have less side effects and are generally less habit-forming

Barbiturates are not used a lot these days, primarily because benzos and other sleep medications tend to be safer and have a much higher threshold for overdose. However, they may be used for seizure disorders or anesthesia in hospitals, particularly phenobarbital.

Depressants for Muscle Relaxation

Muscle Relaxers do not usually work directly on muscles, but rather are a total body relaxation tool. They block pain/nerve sensations sent to the brain. They are frequently prescribed for injuries and spasms. The most popular example of a muscle relaxer is Flexeril.


Anti-psychotics are medicines generally used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They may also cause sedation, and include the name brands Haldol and Seroquel.


Alcohol is the most used depressant, thanks to its legality in most countries. Consumable alcohol is available in many drinkable forms, including beer, wine, liquor, and malt liquor. Because alcohol reduces inhibition, in small amounts it may not really act as a depressant. In larger amounts, sedation is likely, along with profound loss in motor skills, speech, and memory. A hangover is basically an alcohol overdose, and often includes headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and even tremors.

Side Effects

The side effects of depressants vary from person to person, but across the board are all similar for drugs in this class. They include:

  • Respiratory depression/difficulty (shallow breathing)
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Confusion or lack of concentration
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired coordination and judgment
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Coma

Effects of Withdrawal

For even short-term users, insomnia, weakness, and nausea are common.

Chronic users may also face irritability, fever, delirium, seizures, and hallucinations.

If you or someone you know is an addict, please seek help immediately.

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