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What Are Sedatives and Tranquilizers?

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Doctors don’t hand out sedatives and tranquilizers without weighing the pros and cons. If your practitioner thinks you need them, they have valid reasons. But it’s important to know that these medications aren’t inherently risk-free, so you can talk to your doctor about any concerns or questions you have.

Even when taking a sedative or tranquilizer drug as prescribed, you can develop tolerance. Tolerance means needing more of the substance to get the same desired effects. You may also experience withdrawal symptoms if you try to quit.

Some people take more of their prescription than suggested. Others misuse drugs without having a prescription in the first place. These risk factors can increase your chance of developing an addiction.

What Are Sedatives?

Sedatives work on your central nervous system. They slow down brain activity and can help you feel more relaxed and calm. Doctors often prescribe sedatives to treat sleep disorders and anxiety. They’re also used for general anesthesia.

In some cases, these drugs can cause euphoria. They also tend to cause other side effects, including:

  • Poor judgment
  • Memory issues
  • Coordination problems

Severe side effects may include:

  • Agitation
  • Aggression
  • Paranoia
  • Suicidal ideation

There are three main types of sedatives, and each works slightly differently:

Barbiturates – Barbiturates can treat:

  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Seizures

While popular in the 1950s and 1960s, they are rarely prescribed today. Barbiturates include substances like Nembutal, Seconal, and Amytal. Doctors now tend to prescribe benzodiazepines instead of barbiturates to treat the same things.

Benzodiazepines – Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are used to treat several conditions, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Sleep issues
  • Alcohol withdrawal

These drugs include Xanax, Ativan, Valium, and Klonopin. Today, benzodiazepine prescriptions are extremely common. Research shows they’re prescribed at about 66 million doctors’ appointments per year.

When used properly for short time periods, benzos may help ease symptoms of anxiety. But the longer you take them, the higher the risk of tolerance. Some long-term users abuse their pills.

Z-drugs – Z-drugs are usually prescribed for sleep issues. These drugs include Sonata, Lunesta, and Ambien.

What Are Tranquilizers?

Just like sedatives, tranquilizers can treat anxiety and sleep issues, but they also act to stabilize your mental health conditions, like bipolar disorder. Your doctor might prescribe a tranquilizer to you to help you cope with a short-term crisis. If you’re feeling as though suicide is an option, for example, medications could help you to feel calm and capable of making good decisions.

Some antidepressants are tranquilizers, but not sedatives.

There are two main types of tranquilizers:

Antipsychotic agents – These drugs, also known as neuroleptics, include Abilify, Seroquel, and Risperdal. They work by altering chemical levels within the brain. While that can be helpful, these medications can also cause side effects like:

  • Weight gain
  • Sedation
  • Increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes

It’s very important to avoid dangerous drug interactions with antipsychotics. Unfortunately, research shows that about 17% of people who use them also use cocainealcoholmeth, or opioids.

Anti-anxiety agents – These drugs are also known as anxiolytics, and they work by altering the brain’s messaging system. Benzodiazepines are included in this class.

What Does Addiction to Sedatives or Tranquilizers Look Like?

Addiction isn’t always straightforward. Many people struggle with just one or two symptoms, and they may not recognize they have a problem. Or they may believe concerned loved ones are overreacting. Over time, however, the issues can progress.

The signs and symptoms of addiction include:

  • Taking larger doses than your doctor has prescribed
  • Taking doses more frequently than your doctor has prescribed
  • Visiting multiple providers to obtain more pills
  • Buying pills from street dealers
  • Spending most of your time buying or using sedatives or tranquilizers, or recovering from them
  • Lying about or downplaying your substance use
  • Using pills despite financial consequences or concerns
  • Using pills in physically dangerous situations (for example, before driving or while taking care of a child)
  • Using pills despite relationship problems
What Are Sedatives and Tranquilizers?

Self-Assessment: Am I Addicted?

Getting Help for Sedative or Tranquilizer Use

If you struggle with an addiction, it’s important to reach out for help. Detox is usually the first step. During detox, your body flushes out the toxins and you enter withdrawal. Withdrawal simply refers to your body adjusting to the absence of the drug. It can be unpleasant, but it’s short-lived. Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Depression
  • Shakiness
  • Sweating

Medical detox is always recommended for stopping sedative use because it may not be safe to quit these substances cold-turkey. Doing so can result in seizures, which can be fatal.

If you have a mood disorder, you might be prescribed antipsychotic drugs to help with your symptoms. In that case, you wouldn’t detox from those drugs in the same way you would other drugs. This is another reason being under professional medical care at the beginning of your recovery journey is crucial: The experts can help take care of your brain and body, keeping you safe.

Detox provides 24/7 monitoring and safety by a detox team assigned to you. They may place you on a tapering schedule, which means you’ll take less and less of the drug until you can stop altogether. A physician will closely monitor your symptoms.

Detox lets you stabilize your medical and psychiatric symptoms, but it doesn’t mean you’ve beaten your dependence on tranquilizers or sedatives. After detox, you’ll also receive referrals for treatment and aftercare. These options are crucial because detox alone is rarely sufficient for long-term recovery.

When you enter a treatment program for sedative or tranquilizer abuse, you’ll get therapy that can help you to:

  • Uncover your strength – You may need to draw on hidden reserves to help you avoid the urge to return to your pills. Your team can help you find that strength through talking, skill-building, and community.
  • Find your peers – Addiction can be isolating. You may feel you only connect with people who also use drugs. In therapy, you can find other people who are hoping to quit, just like you are.
  • Resolve conflicts – Maybe you made decisions during your addiction that you’re not proud of. Maybe some family members stepped away from you due to those decisions. Your therapist can help you repair that damage with family therapy.
  • Heal your spirit – You may have a mental illness in addition to your addiction. That could leave you at risk for relapse. Your team can help you get control of that issue.

Your recovery plan may not look like anyone else’s does. You may need things that others do not, or you may not need solutions that they do. Your treatment team can help you to find the program that works best for you, so you can step away from sedatives or tranquilizers for good.

Questions about treatment options?

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