What Are Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants?
CNS depressants are medications that slow down or depress the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain and spinal cord. They are commonly known as sedatives, tranquilizers, or sleeping pills, and can be used to treat stress, anxiety, or problems sleeping.
How Are CNS Depressants Abused?
Sometimes people mistakenly believe that prescription medications must be safe because they are prescribed by a doctor. While these medicines have a legitimate medical use, they can also be misused and abused, and, in some cases, lead to addiction. Misuse and abuse occurs when a person
- Takes medication prescribed for someone else
- Takes the medication without a medical need
- Intentionally takes a higher or more frequent dose
Over time, a person can develop tolerance to these drugs, meaning that a higher or more frequent dose is needed to produce the same effect. The body may become physically dependent on the drug, requiring it to feel “normal” and going into withdrawal without it. Once the person becomes addicted, he or she will crave CNS depressants and seek the drugs in spite of any negative effects.
How Do CNS Depressants Work?
Most CNS depressants work by increasing production of the neurotransmitter GABA. High GABA levels slow down brain activity, producing calm and drowsy feelings. They may make the person feel sleepy and uncoordinated.
Types of CNS Depressants
There are three main groups of CNS depressants: benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine sleep medications, and barbiturates.
This class of medications is used to treat acute stress, anxiety, panic attacks, or short-term sleep disorders. Because of the high risk of tolerance, dependence, or addiction, they are typically prescribed for short-term use. Examples include:
- Valium (diazepam)
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Halcion (triazolam)
- ProSom (estazolam)
Street names include candy, downers, sleeping pills, or tranks.
Non-benzodiazepine Sleep Medications
These medications help people who have difficulty sleeping. They are thought to be less addictive than benzodiazepines. Examples include:
- Ambien (zolpidem)
- Lunesta (eszopiclone)
- Sonata (zalepon)
Street names include A-minus or zombie pills.
Barbiturates can be used for anxiety or sleep disorders, but are not commonly prescribed for these conditions because of the greater risk of overdose. They are more commonly used in surgery or for sleep disorders. They include:
- Mephobarbital (Mebaral)
- Phenobarbital (Luminol Sodium)
- Pentobarbital Sodium (Nembutal)
Street names include barbs, reds, red birds, phennies, tooies, yellows, or yellow jackets.
Effects of CNS Depressants
The sedative effects of CNS depressants can cause unwanted side effects, especially when taken in higher-than-prescribed doses or by a person with no medical need for them. Heart or breathing rates may slow to dangerously low levels, even leading to death. They are especially dangerous when combined with prescription pain medications, some over-the-counter cold and allergy remedies, or alcohol.
Treatment for CNS Depressant Addiction
It is possible to overcome an addiction to CNS depressants, but because of the dangers that come with stopping their use, it should be done under medical supervision. The brain of a CNS depressant user becomes accustomed to the slowed activity. If the person suddenly stops taking them, brain activity will rapidly speed up and may cause seizures. In addition to medical supervision, counseling can help, in either an inpatient or outpatient setting. Here, the user will learn to understand the roots of his or her addiction and how to cope with stressful triggers in the future in order to avoid drug use and maintain sobriety.
While addiction to CNS depressants is a challenge, it can be overcome. If you or a loved one struggles with addiction to a CNS depressant, we can help. Call 1-877-726-3352