Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium), non-benzodiazepine sleep medications (Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata), barbiturates (Mebaral, Luminol Sodium, Nembutal).
CNS depressants, sometimes referred to as sedatives and tranquilizers, are substances that can slow brain activity. This property makes them useful for treating anxiety and sleep disorders. (NIDA)
CNS depressants are mainly used to treat sleep and anxiety disorders. They can also be used for alcohol withdrawal, seizures, as a muscle relaxant, or to help patients prior to undergoing anesthesia. Most CNS depressants act on the brain by affecting neurotransmitters that facilitate communication between brain cells called GABA receptors. Although each medication is different, it is their effect on these receptors that reduce brain activity, producing a drowsy/calm feeling. (NIDA)
CNS depressants slow normal brain function, which may result in slurred speech, shallow breathing, sluggishness, fatigue, disorientation, and lack of coordination or dilated pupils.
During the first few days of taking a prescribed CNS depressant, a person usually feels sleepy and uncoordinated, but as the body becomes accustomed to the effects of the drug, these feelings begin to disappear. Higher doses cause impairment of memory, judgment, and coordination, irritability, paranoia, and suicidal ideation.
Some people experience a paradoxical reaction to these drugs and can become agitated or aggressive. Using CNS depressants with other substances – particularly alcohol – can slow breathing, or slow both the heart and respiration and possibly lead to death. (NIDA)
Continued use can lead to physical dependence and – when use is reduced or stopped abruptly- withdrawal symptoms may occur. Because all CNS depressants work by slowing the brain’s activity, when an individual stops taking them, there can be a rebound effect, possibly leading to seizures and other harmful consequences. Tolerance to the drug’s effects can also occur, meaning that larger doses are needed to achieve similar effects as those experienced initially. This may lead users to take higher doses and risk the occurrence of an overdose. Addiction can also occur, meaning that users continue to take these drugs despite their harmful consequences. (NIDA)