Sedatives addiction is one of the most widespread public health problems in the United States today. And the statistics on sedatives addiction show clearly that younger people are the predominant abusers of these prescription drugs. It’s estimated that more than 10 percent of high school students have used sedatives for a non-medical reason at least once, and at least 47,000 emergency room visits annually are a result of sedative overdose. Additionally, nearly two million Americans over the age of 12 abuse sedatives on a regular basis, and the drugs—which are grouped under the “sedative-hypnotic,” depressant” or “tranquilizer” classes—are blamed for at least a thousand deaths each year. Despite the high risk of abuse, this class of drugs is among the most prescribed by physicians today.
The definition of sedatives describes two main classes of the drug: Barbiturates and Benzodiazepines. Barbiturates—which include Pentobarbital, Mehobarbital, Secobarbital, Amobarbital, and Phenobarbital—have been used in the medical industry for more than 150 years as a means to induce sleep, relieve anxiety and treat seizure disorders. Some of the most common brand names of these often bright-colored capsules include Nembutal, Mebaral, Seconal, Amytal and Luminal.
Benzodiazepines, on the other hand, have only been in use since the 1960s and were originally formulated as a safer substitution for barbiturates. Like Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines—which include Lorazepam, Alpazolam, Triazolam, Clonazepam, Clordiazepoxide, Diazepam, Clorazepate, and Oxazepam—are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and convulsions and are sometimes prescribed as muscle relaxants as well. Familiar brand names of Benzodiazepines include Ativan, Xanax, Halcion, Klonopin, Librium, Valium, Tranxene and Serax, and like Barbiturates they usually come in the form of brightly colored capsules.
No matter the specific brand name being taken, the risk of addiction is extremely high across the entire spectrum of the sedative-hypnotic class. Barbiturates and Benzodiazepines—commonly used to produce a relaxing effect—work by suppressing the central nervous system, meaning they slow down its function and generally the rest of the body’s systems as well. They also impede normal brain function by affecting specific neurotransmitters—chemicals that conduct communication between brain cells. With barbiturates, abusing or even innocently miscalculating a dosage can lead to respiratory distress—where breathing slows of stops—a quick onset of coma and seizures and even death. And whereas health professionals consider Benzodiazepines to be a safe alternative to Barbiturates they still have potentially harmful psychological effects including memory impairment, poor motor coordination and general confusion.
Addiction to any sedative can develop quickly as the body becomes accustomed to the drug and builds a tolerance to its effects, requiring larger and larger doses be taken to achieve the desired relaxation, calmness and drowsiness. However, a real danger of sedatives occurs when too much is taken at once or when it is combined with alcohol: in both cases heart and respiratory functions can become dangerously slow or stop all together, and too often people will take a sedative as a way to calm the undesired effects of another drug they are taking, which overwhelms the body’s ability to metabolize the various drugs and leads to liver toxicity and, in many cases, permanent damage or even death.