Depressant Drug Addiction And Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 17, 2023

Depressant drugs may include both prescription medications as well as illicit drugs purchased on the street. Substance use disorders involving depressants may be treated with evidence-based services at a rehab center.

Depressant Drug Addiction

Depressant drugs can be prescribed by a doctor or purchased illegally on the streets. When abused, many of these substances can cause physical and psychological addiction.

People facing drug addiction involving depressants can recover by seeking treatment services such as detoxification, behavioral therapy, and co-occurring disorder treatment.

What Is A Depressant?

Depressant drugs affect brain activity and neurotransmission levels, depressing stimulation and facilitating activity in gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitters.

When depressants are used, people may experience a range of effects including pain relief, sedation, euphoria, muscle relaxation, low blood pressure, and respiratory depression.

The long-term effects of depressant abuse may include:

  • suicidal thoughts
  • physical dependence
  • sexual dysfunction
  • weight gain
  • chronic fatigue

Central nervous system (CNS) depressants include medications such as phenobarbital, Sonata, Klonopin, Ativan, Nembutal, Valium, Xanax, and many others.

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Types Of Depressant Drugs Of Abuse

Below are some of the most common depressant drugs misused on the market today.


Barbiturates drugs are a type of sedative-hypnotic depressant that are commonly prescribed to treat seizure disorders, insomnia, anxiety, and more.


Amytal, also known as amobarbital, is used to treat sleep disorders or as a pre-anesthetic agent for surgeries.

People who engage in Amytal abuse are at high risk of experiencing a fatal overdose, as it only takes a few grams to cause heart or kidney failure.


Fioricet is a schedule III controlled substance that contains acetaminophen, butalbital, and caffeine. When used together, they can be effective as CNS depressants, analgesics, and headache relievers.

People who misuse Fioricet can develop an addiction. Side effects of the drug include drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, abdominal pain, and intoxication.

Learn more about Fioricet addiction and abuse.

Sleeping Pills

Several types of sleeping pills may cause addiction and harmful side effects when abused. Find some of the most frequently abused sleeping medications below.

Ambien (Zolpidem)

Ambien, generic name zolpidem, is usually prescribed to treat insomnia in adults. When abused, Ambien can cause hallucinations, drowsiness, and abnormal thinking or behavioral changes.

Read more about Ambien addiction.


Lunesta is a sedative-hypnotic that is often used as a sleep aid. Most healthcare professionals will only prescribe Lunesta for short-term insomnia due to its high potential for addiction.

People who attempt to quit using Lunesta after long-term abuse may experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety attacks and insomnia.

Learn more about Lunesta misuse and addiction.


Zopiclone is an addictive drug that is prescribed as a treatment for insomnia. Abusing zopiclone may cause an array of serious side effects or may lead to a fatal overdose.

Side effects of zopiclone abuse include a bitter taste in the mouth, upset stomach, dry mouth, cognitive impairment, and brain damage.


Alcohol is the most widely used and abused depressant substance in the world. Over time, alcohol abuse can cause serious health risks such as brain and liver damage.

A person may have an alcohol use disorder if they’re habitually intoxicated and cannot control their consumption voluntarily.


Many opioid drugs are derived from the opium poppy plant and are commonly prescribed for moderate to severe pain relief. These may include morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.

Opioids manufactured in a lab, such as fentanyl drugs, are powerful central nervous system depressants many times more powerful than morphine, and thus pose a higher overdose risk.

Depressant Drug Effects

While some depressant drugs are safe when used under the guidance of a doctor, any amount of use can result in a range of mental and physical side effects.

Depressant Drug Effects On The Brain

Due to the way depressants affect the brain and central nervous system, people who abuse these types of drugs may experience mild to severe disruptions in their thinking and behavior.

Effects may include:

  • impaired judgment
  • memory loss
  • reduced anxiety and stress
  • enhanced mood
  • reduced inhibitions

Depressant Drug Effects On The Body

When ingested, depressants will slow down the messages transmitted between the brain and the rest of the body.

Physical effects of depressants may include:

  • slowed reaction time
  • slowed breathing
  • vomiting
  • shallow breathing
  • dilated pupils
  • coma

Signs Of Depressant Substance Abuse

If you suspect that you or someone you care about may have a substance use disorder related to depressant drugs, there are certain warning signs of addiction you can look out for.

Warning signs of depressant abuse include:

  • taking depressants without a prescription
  • secretive behavior
  • periods of depression
  • withdrawal symptoms when not using depressants
  • problems upholding responsibilities at work or home

How Depressant Drugs Are Abused

Prescription depressants are often provided in pill or tablet form. When abused, people will typically either ingest more pills than prescribed or crush them and snort the powder.

Methods of heroin abuse and other illicit depressant drug abuse may include intravenous injection, insufflation (snorting), freebase smoking, and boofing (rectal administration).

Depressants such as alcohol are commonly abused through binge drinking, chronic drinking, or drinking household products.

Mixing Depressants And Other Drugs

The effects can be dangerous and potentially fatal when depressants are mixed with other drugs, including over-the-counter or prescribed substances.

Depressants And Other Depressants

Some people with an addiction to depressants may mix two different types of depressants to intensify their effects.

This can be very harmful to the body, and significantly increases a person’s chances of overdosing.

One of the most notable risks of mixing depressants is the dangerous effects on the heart and breathing. Depressants are known to slow heart rate and breathing, so when two depressant drugs are used together, a person is in danger of heart failure and slowed or stopped breathing.

Depressants And Alcohol

Mixing alcohol with depressants shares some of the same risks as those listed above, as the sedative effects of both substances may slow the breathing and heart rate down to the point of death.

The primary dangers of abusing alcohol with depressants include a higher risk of alcohol poisoning, respiratory depression, seizures, coma, and low blood pressure.

Depressants And Stimulants

When depressants and stimulants are mixed, it is generally a sign of recreational drug abuse, and can greatly increase the chances of overdose death.

Taking depressants and stimulants together have the opposite effect on each other, and can create a push-pull effect within the body. This may result in heart palpitations, dizziness, and dehydration.

Learn more about the risks of mixing depressants and stimulants.

Depressants And Nicotine

Typically, combining nicotine and depressant medications will not pose any serious health risks.

It is possible, however, to take too much of the depressant due to the counteracting effects of a stimulant such as nicotine.

Depressants And Antidepressants

The primary danger of mixing depressants with antidepressants is that it can often make the symptoms of depression worse, and increase the severity of antidepressant side effects.

If someone is currently taking both antidepressants and depressants to get high or escape from emotional pain, they likely need to seek treatment for a substance use disorder.

Depressant Withdrawal Symptoms

When somebody has been misusing depressants for a longer period they may experience moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly stop using the drug.

Withdrawal symptoms of CNS depressants include:

  • intense cravings
  • sleep problems
  • sweating
  • increased blood pressure and temperature
  • anxiety
  • hallucinations
  • agitation

Symptoms Of A Depressant Drug Overdose

A drug overdose may occur when a person uses larger doses of a drug or when they take the substance in a way in which it was not intended; i.e. snorting Ambien.

Common symptoms of a life-threatening drug overdose include:

  • severely slowed breathing
  • drowsiness
  • loss of consciousness
  • slowed heart rate
  • vomiting
  • hallucinations
  • coma

Factors that may increase the risk of overdosing may include long-term use of depressants, resuming use after a period of not using depressants, and polysubstance abuse.

Treatment For Depressant Addiction

If you or a loved one are battling an addiction to prescription or illicit depressants, a drug rehab program can provide you with the evidence-based services required to fully recover.

Addiction treatment programs may include:

  • medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • medically monitored detox
  • methadone maintenance
  • inpatient treatment for opioid drug use
  • outpatient treatment for the use of depressants
  • dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring disorders
  • mental health services
  • aftercare

FAQs For Depressant Drug Abuse

The commonly asked questions below may help you learn more about depressant drug abuse.

Yes, alcohol is considered a potentially dangerous CNS depressant, particularly when mixed with other depressants or stimulants.

Marijuana is considered both a depressant and stimulant, depending on the strain of cannabis used.

While not known to cause physical dependence, weed abuse can lead to impaired memory, mood changes, hallucinations, and altered perceptions of time.

Cocaine is considered a stimulant drug with high abuse potential. Signs of cocaine abuse include sweating, dilated pupils, increased energy, financial problems, sweating, and aggression.

Depressant drug classifications range from schedule I drugs such as cannabis and heroin, which have no known medical use, to over-the-counter sleep aids.

Many prescription depressants such as Ambien are considered schedule IV controlled substances, meaning that people are less likely to use them recreationally.

People attempting to detox from depressants may wonder how long these types of substances take to fully leave the body.

Depending on the severity of the addiction, the type of depressant being abused, and the overall health of the person, depressants can stay in the body between five days and a month.

The most commonly used, and abused, depressant in the world is alcohol.

Although alcohol is legal, it can cause a host of serious health issues such as overdose, cirrhosis, and alcohol-induced hepatitis.

Common street names for drugs in the depressant class include downers, tranks, sleeping pills, candy, xanies, oxy, chill pills, grass, benzos (benzodiazepines), smack, and dope.

The cost of prescription drugs on the street, including depressants, is dependent on a variety of factors such as the type of drug, dosage, local law enforcement, and ease of acquisition.

Some drugs such as opioids can sell for as little as $2 per dose, while sedative-hypnotics such as Ambien may sell for as much as $20 per tablet.

Recover From Depressant Drug Addiction

Call our helpline today for more information on depressant drug addiction and treatment options. Our team can assist you in reaching long-term sobriety.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 17, 2023

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