There are substances called depressants, but they have nothing to do with depression. Depressants are substances that slow the body and brain down to sometimes dangerous levels. They affect the cardiovascular system. There are different kinds of depressants and the different ways they can affect the body. A lot of people have probably had experiences with a depressant and didn’t realize it, because of their popularity. Some are prescribed for anxiety or insomnia. Alcohol is one of the most popular depressants.
Depressants are substances that slow down the activity of the central nervous system. By decreasing the activity to the brain, these substances create a calming effect and slow down the body’s and brain’s normal functioning. They affect your level of awareness, lower your pulse, and your heart rate. This is why they are referred to as ‘downers’. There are 3 different types of depressants that we’ll talk about. Depressants are ethyl or alcohol, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines. Doctors and other medical professionals do not use barbiturates as much as they used to, but they are still out there. It is important to know and understand the substances that we take, whether prescribed, taken illicitly, or even legal substances like alcohol.
Let’s begin with ethyl, also known as alcohol. Ethyl alcohol and grain alcohol are clear and colorless liquids. Ethyl is a natural byproduct of plant fermentation. These are the principal ingredients in alcoholic beverages like beer, wine, or brandy. Alcohol can sometimes feel like an upper when you start drinking, but what is happening on the inside is what makes it a downer. Alcohol slows the body down. Alcohol is the second most widely used psychoactive drug in the world, caffeine is number one. While alcohol is a legal drug, it also has a high potential for abuse. In a 2014 survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, they found that nearly 61 million people in the U.S. over the age of 12 reported being binge alcohol users. Another 16 million people over the age of 12 reported being heavy alcohol users. Abusing alcohol can lead to an addiction quickly. Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, it is highly recommended that going to a detox and then rehab when trying to kick the booze.
Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are prescription medications that are usually prescribed for anxiety, depression, panic disorders, PTSD, or even during a tragic time in someone’s life. They can even help with alcohol withdrawal in a detox setting. They act on specific receptors in the brain, called gamma-aminobutyric acid-A receptors. Benzodiazepines attach to these receptors and make the nerves in the brain less sensitive to stimulation, which has a calming effect. Drugs like Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), Klonopin (clonazepam) are benzos. They are extremely addictive. After long-term use drugs like this can cause extremely dangerous and painful withdrawal symptoms, that can sometimes be fatal. Like alcohol, detox, and then rehab setting is the safest place to get off of benzos.
Barbiturates are created from barbituric acid. Barbiturates have sedative and hypnotic properties, which means they reduce anxiety and induce sleep. These are a class of drugs that were used widely during the 1960s and the 1970s as a treatment for anxiety, insomnia, and seizure disorders. They have largely been replaced by benzodiazepines, which is safer, but both can be extremely addictive. Some common barbiturates are:
- Luminal (phenobarbital) – used to prevent seizures
- Amytal Sodium (amobarbital) – used to treat sleep problems
- Seconal (secobarbital) – short-term treatment for insomnia
All of these drugs affect the central nervous system. Symptoms they have in common include, slurred speech, poor concentration, confusion and headaches, problems with movement and memory, and more. In high doses, all three of these drugs can be fatal. They all have beneficial attributes, but it is only in moderation (with alcohol) and working closely with a doctor (with benzos or barbiturates) that these drugs can or will help.
These drugs can help those that need them, but when any of these are abused it becomes dangerous. Even with a prescription, you can become addicted to drugs that are given to you. Depressants are among the most widely used drugs in the world and with such a high potential for addiction- we need to be careful. If you or someone you know is struggling with substances, reach out for help. Asking for help can never hurt.
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