The Function of Central Nervous System Depressants

Drugs classified as central nervous system depressants, or central nervous system depressants, target the neurotransmission and receptors of GABA. GABA, which stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid, acts as a means to obstruct, deter, or delay the delivery of chemical brain signals. The GABA receptors are affected by the increased levels of GABA, as a direct result of CNS depressant drugs.

The relaxing and calming effects of CNS depressant drugs can be beneficial when individuals use them properly. Still, these drugs can be very addictive. This is especially the case when considering the relief of pain effect, and potentially accompanying euphoria. When individuals find relief from their conditions with the use of medication and face withdrawal symptoms during tapering-off, drug dependency must be treated.

Conditions Treated Using CNS Depressant Drugs

Despite the likelihood of developing an addiction to CNS depressants, many medical professionals rely on their use to treat chronic disorders. For some sufferers, therapy options, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help to restructure associations made with chronic pain. Although cognitive-behavioral therapy has been proven to be of assistance to some chronically suffering, medication provides more immediate relief. This is why CNS depressant drugs are still considered beneficial despite the risks that come with using them. They are prescribed quite liberally on a clinical basis.

Depressant drugs are often used to treat or help people who have:

  • Anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Panic disorders
  • Persistent stress
  • Moderate to severe pain
  • Sleep disturbances and sleep disorders, such as insomnia

In more severe cases, CNS depressant drugs do provide the necessary relief. Those with an illness who receive prescriptions for these medications should have careful monitoring from a professional. Addiction to depressants is a common but unfortunate complication that should be discussed with a doctor or addiction rehab professional.

Different Types of CNS Depressant Drugs

Since central nervous system depressants treat an array of conditions, several different varieties are available. Each substance or medication is engineered slightly differently in order to produce a more specific effect. Whether an individual is using any of these medications (with or without a prescription) a depressant addiction may develop.

Drugs that are central nervous system depressants vary in potency and dosage, as well as intended function. Some are considered more dangerous than others, even if they are purchased legally. However, it is important to remember that these chemicals alter the way the brain reacts to stimuli.

Therefore, putting intoxication and euphoria aside, abusing depressant drugs changes the way the brain operates. Young adults who are at a higher risk for addiction should especially be cautious. As brain development continues until the age of 25, permanent damage could occur as a result of depressant addiction and abuse. This leads to an increased chance of developing dependency and addiction.

A depressant drug can fall into one of three categories. They can be considered a tranquilizer, a sedative, or a hypnotic. Also, central nervous system depressants are not only specific to one type of substance. For example, one of the most popular, and potentially the most widely abused CNS depressant drugs, is alcohol.

Drugs Classified as CNS Depressants

Depressant addiction can affect anyone. Due to the nature of addiction and the way the brain processes these chemicals, no one is essentially immune. Although alcohol addiction tends to affect the younger to middle-aged generation, seniors are no exception. In fact, there is an increasing number of seniors who suffer from addiction after using prescription medications from medical professionals.

Drugs and medications that are classified as CNS depressants include:

Most of these depressant drugs are dangerous and addictive on their own. However, when people combine them, the risk of overdose and death increases significantly. If you or someone you know is suffering from an addiction to any medication, recommend professional rehab care. In the event of an overdose, emergency medical services should be notified immediately.

Alcohol: A Central Nervous System Depressant

Since alcohol is legal to purchase at a certain age, experimenting with it is often considered a right of passage. In small amounts, consumed responsibly and socially, it is often a central theme at gatherings and events. However, alcohol addiction is one of the most commonly treated addictions.

Alcohol is a CNS depressant; however, its effects depend on the amount and how quickly it is consumed. This is where many misunderstandings about alcohol use come in, as it can initially be very deceiving. When an individual begins consuming their first drink, a sense of euphoria may soon arise. This euphoric feeling (or “buzz”) is brought on as feelings of tension and stress begin to alleviate. However, this is most often only in the beginning.

Depressant Addiction: Alcohol Increases Stress

As a person continues to ingest more alcohol, the amount of stress a person experiences catches up very quickly. Now, the central nervous system is working to compensate for the lack of GABA intake, by producing more. So while it may seem as though alcohol is taking the edge off, it’s actually only slowing down the response. In a short amount of time, even unexpectedly, anger and depressed mood will return, often increased. If not during intoxication, soon after.

Among the many symptoms of intoxication, this CNS depressant often causes a person to exhibit negative thoughts or aggressive behaviors. Once tolerance develops, dependency and addiction follow quickly. Now, even though an alcohol addict may wish to discontinue drinking regularly, the negative effects of withdrawal encourage the cycle.

Barbiturates: Central Nervous System Depressant

Barbiturates uphold a reputation for being a very effective sedative. Though they are most useful in small amounts. In larger doses, while producing more hypnotic effects, the risks of depressant addiction increase significantly. Often prescribed to patients for anxiety or restlessness, these CNS depressant drugs have been around since the late 1800s.

In earlier years, depressants known as barbiturates were said to be a generally safe option. However, they quickly became widely discouraged as an intense period of withdrawal imposed a reluctance of discontinuation. In addition, the considerable amount of prescriptions given for these depressant drugs increased the occurrence of abuse and overdose. While these drugs are useful, they are considered high-risk for prescription drug addiction and abuse.

Depressant Addiction: Barbiturates and Dependency

While barbiturates are designed to produce a sedative state to induce sleep or calm an attack, there are after-effects. Not only are the symptoms experienced during withdrawal uncomfortable, but they also promote usage to be continued. However, without a valid prescription, means to obtain depressant drugs must now be done so illegally. Due to a lack of physician intervention and proper dosage availability, the risk of overdose is considerably high.

Although primarily prescribed for those in need of sleep assistance, depressants can impact sleep negatively. One adverse effect is the reduction in quality of sleep, reducing the time spent in REM, and the duration achievable. Self-medication or adjustment of dosage could unknowingly make their condition worse. This is especially observed in those with co-occurring conditions, who would benefit from dual-diagnosis treatment within rehab.

Benzodiazepines: CNS Depressant Drugs

Due to the extensive warnings against barbiturates, another CNS depressant drug became popular, treating many of the same conditions. Benzodiazepines are considered much safer to treat anxiety, sleep, and stress. However, they are only for short-term use. While the risks of overdose were slightly decreased, dependency and withdrawal can still be problematic. This is especially true in the event of tolerance to the medication.

Working with a specialist and participating in lessons that promote coping mechanisms is a safe alternative. During rehab, alternative methods can be discussed that may decrease the need for such depressants. Additionally, working toward sobriety with a therapist can help to manage symptoms for which these medications were originally prescribed for. Benzodiazepine addiction is unfortunately common, and adverse effects are often felt when an abrupt stop of the drug occurs.

Sleeping Pills and Depressant Addiction

Another means to treat those who suffer from sleeplessness and insomnia are CNS depressant drugs classified as sleeping pills. Although sleeping pills are considered beneficial for some, they are very specifically used for sleep. Unlike benzodiazepines, they are not considered effective to treat anxiety.

CNS depressant drugs are considered very dangerous when mixed with other substances. This is especially true when alcohol or other prescription medications, also classified as central nervous system depressants, are being used. Overdose and accidental suicide are major risk factors, aside from other potentially deadly side effects.

Opiates: CNS Depressant Drug Addiction

Opiate addiction is one of the most commonly treated addictions at rehab. These CNS depressant drugs are often prescribed for those suffering from chronic pain. While they are highly effective, they are also highly addictive. Because of how easily tolerance is developed to opiates, dosage increases will be necessary to ensure effectiveness.

However, it is this same factor that leads many to self-medication. When prescribers abruptly stop ordering these drugs, it is often without adequate means to address dependency. Due to developed tolerance and threat of severe withdrawal symptoms, further abuse is only reinforced. Once depressant addiction to opiates develops, a chronic user may resort to illegal means of acquiring these depressant drugs. This not only leads to trouble with the law, but it can also further dangerous, addictive, and deadly behaviors. This increases the risk of overdose.

Antihistamines are CNS Depressants

Although they are not deemed specifically addictive, OTC medications used to treat allergies and allergic reactions can be problematic. These medications, such as Benadryl and Zyrtec, are CNS depressant drugs that can have dangerous interactions. Specifically at risk are those that are unaware that these drugs do suppress the central nervous system.

When people combine antihistamines with alcohol or opiates, the chances of negative reactions increase. It is important to discuss with your doctor any adverse reactions that can take place. In addition, when in a rehab setting during MAT, or during outpatient rehab care, be aware of CNS depressant interactions. It is up to each individual to take caution when out of the facility, or using depressant drugs.

The Side Effects While Using CNS Depressant Drugs

Even when individuals use depressant drugs responsibly and at proper doses, negative effects and depressant addiction can occur. This is because the objective of these drugs is to inhibit sensations and feelings by slowing activity in the brain. This is where the use of GABA is altered for effectiveness.

When GABA usage is reconfigured within the central nervous system, it encourages the individual to relax, and even become sleepy. Even with proper usage, some of the expected side effects include:

  • Slurring of speech
  • Depressed breathing
  • Low or irregular blood pressure
  • Constriction or dilation of the pupil
  • Irregular or decreased heart rate
  • Incontinence or difficulty urinating
  • Memory loss, reduced inhibition, blackouts
  • Euphoria and intense relaxation or unresponsiveness
  • Confusion, delusion, disorientation, or lack of concentration
  • Dizziness, loss of coordination of movements, and reduction of reaction times

Often, when people discontinue depressant abuse, these side effects cease. However, there are serious risks of permanent damage. Unfortunately, some of these side effects of depressant addiction are considered life-threatening. Developing a reliable relapse prevention plan during rehab can help cope with lingering effects and avoid relapse.

Long-Term Effects of Depressant Addiction and Abuse

While it may be comforting to know that short-term side effects will most likely dissipate after discontinuation, long-term effects remain. This is especially the case if people do not seek treatment or address harmful behaviors that could lead back to substance use.

Individuals in recovery or living in sober homes after treatment must learn to cope as part of the process. This is especially true for those that have suffered long-lasting or advanced depressant addiction.

The most commonly reported long-term effects of depressant addiction, often requiring medical intervention, include:

  • Weight gain or extreme hormonal fluctuations
  • Depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or urges
  • Sexual dysfunction, hypersexuality, or disinterest
  • Chronic breathing problems or increased asthma
  • Hypersomnia, irregular sleep patterns, insomnia, or chronic fatigue
  • Ongoing physical dependency or continuation of depressant addiction or relapse

Many of the long-term effects of depressant addiction can be treated during rehab by a trained specialist. Treatment may include different types of therapy, in order to cope or adjust negative behavioral patterns. The most important issue to address is depressant addiction itself. Ongoing abuse and addiction can lead to far worse consequences than do any treatable side-effects in recovery.

Risk of Overdose with CNS Depressant Drugs

Without the proper avenues to treat chronic depressant addiction and abuse, the potential for negative outcomes will continue to increase. When an individual has relied upon CNS depressant drugs for a substantial amount of time, tolerance hinders effectiveness. In order for these drugs to produce the same effect, a dosage increase will be necessary.

When a limited supply of CNS depressant drugs is available, it is often reported that mixing depressant drugs boosts effectiveness. However, this increases the chance of deadly interactions, which may result in:

  • Seizures
  • Overdose
  • Breathing and heart rate depression
  • Death/accidental suicide

In addition to the harmful interactions between CNS depressant drugs, stimulant abuse also poses an extreme threat. Often abused in conjunction to offset both short and long-term side effects are drugs like cocaine and amphetamines. While stimulant addiction comes with its own list of hazards, combining stimulants and depressants increases the likelihood of overdose.

Identifying CNS Depressant Drug Abuse and Depressant Addiction

Depressant addiction often develops due to chronic pain. Whether acquired through prescription or illegally, there’s potential for abuse. If you suspect someone you know is suffering from depressant addiction, an intervention may be necessary. For help or advice on how to stage an intervention, utilize a rehab professional. Be on the lookout for some common behaviors that may indicate that a depressant addiction is present.

Some of the signs of depressant drug abuse include:

  • Sneaky or secretive behaviors
  • Avoidance of socialization
  • Decrease in work performance or attendance
  • Depression, mood swings, or lack of motivation
  • Noticeable withdrawal symptoms or side effects
  • The occurrence or predisposition to relapse

If you or someone you care for is exhibiting symptoms of depressant addiction, discuss getting the necessary help. If left untreated, addiction will worsen.

Depressant Addiction Withdrawal Timeline and Treatment

The nature of depressant addiction often prompts very sudden withdrawal symptoms with discontinued use. The symptoms often begin as early as 12 hours to one day after the last dose. It is likely that detox and withdrawal will continue well into the next 72 hours, yet for some, much longer. Between 12 and 72 hours, the most extreme and uncomfortable effects will take place. After, this sickness may dissipate or become more tolerable but can persist for up to 2 years post-use.

Often, withdrawal symptoms can become life-threatening. Although it is possible to detox and refrain from further abuse, inpatient rehab treatment may be necessary. Residential style treatment for depressant addiction provides the individual with the ability to receive treatment promptly after detox. This reduces the likelihood of relapse, as well as provides care for rebounding withdrawal, often observed with benzodiazepines and barbiturates.

The Dangers of Depressant Addiction Withdrawal

Although the extent of addiction may indicate a more intense period of withdrawal, it most often depends on the individual. For some, even moderate dependency on depressant drugs can produce alarming effects during detox. Although partial care may be effective to manage post-addiction care, symptoms often require full-time observation initially.

Some common withdrawal symptoms of CNS depressant drugs experienced during detox include:

  • Memory loss
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia and night terrors
  • Depression or depressive state
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks
  • Sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells
  • Dehydration and excessive sweating
  • Stiffness of limbs, seizures, and tremors
  • Weakness, shaking, restlessness and irritability
  • Hallucinations, delusions, and extreme disorientation
  • Return of severe pain that was otherwise treated with medications that led to addiction

Not every person experiences all of these symptoms. Still, the safest and most responsible method of ending depressant addiction is under the care of licensed and trained rehab professionals. This will allow the use of medication-assisted therapy when applicable, and a swift transition into programs and therapy.

Treatment for Depressant Addiction

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) may be an option during rehab, while detoxing from more severe addictions, such as heroin. This treatment process can alleviate debilitating withdrawal sickness, allowing people to focus on treatment and rehabilitation. It is performed under strict supervision and works to discourage relapse.

Eventually, when it is safe and acceptable, recovering addicts may be weaned off medication-assisted treatment. Then, their journey to recovery can continue while in and out of the rehab setting. There may be additional or follow-up options for MAT, such as suboxone, which is similar, yet frequently meets outpatient criteria.

Don’t Wait to Get Help for Depressant Addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction you are not alone. Many feel hopeless after the use of alcohol or pain medications and are afraid to take the next step. Getting sober will not only help improve emotional and mental wellness, but it also contributes to physical health and pain management.

For more information on how to overcome an addiction to central nervous system depressants, ask about rehab recommendations. You can take your life back, but also learn how to treat chronic pain with a healthy sober approach. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. Make the commitment to get help starting today! We look forward to helping you end the struggle of addiction and find your way to healing and freedom.