Depressants (sedatives) are prescription drugs that promote sleep or calmness. They are classified as central nervous system (CNS) depressants and include but are not limited to; alcohol, tranquilizers, opioids such as heroin and OxyContin and benzodiazepines.

When a depressant is used it directly affects the central nervous system, causing breathing and the heart to slow down. When taken in excess, a dose too high for the individual, it can cause these to slow down far enough that the person loses consciousness and can go into a coma or die.


Depressants (sedatives) are commonly used to relieve anxiety or to help the individual to sleep well. There are two main types of prescription depressants (sedatives) that are currently used for these medical purposes; barbiturates and sleep medications. However there are other types of depressants such as alcohol, tranquilizers, opioids.

While most of these depressants are designed for medical use, others are commonly used for recreational purposes. All depressants (sedatives) have the potential to be addictive. If any depressant medications are used in combination with alcohol, they can be life-threatening even at lower dosages. Those who abuse them do so for the euphoric feeling it can produce.

Signs and Symptoms of Depressant Abuse

An individual who is abusing depressants may show the following signs:

  • sedated or drowsy
  • talk slowly and may slur their speech
  • unable to concentrate
  • coordination and memory are likely to be off
  • poor concentration
  • lower inhibitions
  • poor control of their actions and may take risks they would not normally take

They may also show other symptoms of Depressant abuse, including but not limited to:

  • dizziness
  • slow breathing and heart rate
  • low blood pressure

An individual who is abusing a depressant drug over a long period of time will begin to develop a tolerance, increasing doses. They may begin to develop a tolerance to the drug, when abruptly stopping they are overwhelmed by symptoms of withdrawal that cause them to return to the drug for comfort. They may rush to take a second dose when binging which can lower their breathing and heart rate to the point of unconsciousness, if this occurs seek emergency care immediately.


Treating a depressant abuse problem often requires an long term inpatient treatment program which addresses both physical and psychological dependencies. Common treatment aspects include but are not limited to:

  • Medical Detoxification
  • Individual Counseling
  • Group Counseling
  • Behavioral Modification Therapy
  • Family Counseling
  • Chemical Dependency Educational Lectures

The objective of treatment is to help patients to safely overcome their physical and psychological dependency to depressant drugs. Commonly these programs use a 12-step based model, helping patients to uncover the cause of their addiction, work through it along with any other issues they may face, as well as to develop the skills needed to overcome cravings and any relapse triggers they may face in their daily lives.