Central Nervous Systems (CNS) depressants are a class of drug that encompasses alcohol, barbiturates, and a wide variety of other medicines that affect gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. After taking depressants, a person will likely feel tired, sleepy, or display decreased inhibitions. Depressants have their positive uses, as they are crucial in treating insomnia, stress, anxiety, pain, and panic attacks.

Yet like every medicine, it is essential to note that they can be abused easily. The relaxation effect that comes with taking depressants can also bring euphoria, making these drugs dangerously addictive.

Classes of CNS Depressant Drugs

There are many subclasses of CNS depressants, each with its own function and side effects. However, taking them over a long time can lead a person to become dependent on the substance, eventually leading to full-blown addiction. Doctors are careful when prescribing these drugs, and many only use them over short periods to deal with a particular ailment.

Unfortunately, because CNS depressants are so easy to make, tons of illicit depressants are on the market, being sold cheaply to unsuspecting buyers. Some of these are made in illegal labs with no quality control, potentially leading to dangerous side effects if taken unsupervised. Before we can appreciate the impact of depressants on a person, we must first examine what they are in detail.

What Are Depressant Drugs?

While most people think depressants may have something to do with depression, the truth is that they don’t. CNS depressants cause the central nervous system (the brain and the spine) to slow down. When a person takes them, their body’s detection system (the CNS) starts to process things a lot slower because of how the drug interacts with a particular neurotransmitter.

Depressants were initially designed as a way to treat certain conditions. On the street, many individuals who use the drug refer to them as “downers” because they bring a person’s ability to feel anything down.

Typically, CNS depressant drugs are divided into three categories: hypnotics, tranquilizers, and sedatives. By attaching to a particular neurotransmitter (GABA in this case), they slow brain activity significantly. Among the most common CNS depressants a person may encounter are:

  • Alcohol: Ethyl Alcohol (the kind found in alcoholic drinks) can have a powerful CNS depressant effect.
  • Tranquilizers: The two most common classes are benzodiazepines and barbiturates.
  • Nonbenzodiazepine Sedatives: These are sedatives that don’t fall into the tranquilizer class of benzodiazepines.
  • Opioids: Opioids (and opiates, by extension) are drugs that come from or are artificially based on the extract of the opium plant.

As we can see here, depressant drugs deal with slowing down the central nervous system. They create a type of depression that increases the amount of time it takes for signals to cross pathways within the brain and the spine.

Depressant Drugs

How Does A CNS Depressant Work?

CNS depressants impact the body by affecting a particular type of neurotransmitter. As mentioned above, depressants interact with GABA, slowing down the body’s response to things. GABA is the body’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, and when a lot of it floods the system, it can slow down transmission times within the central nervous system.

It does this by slowing the rate at which synapses (the gaps between neurons in the brain) create neurotransmitters that carry those messages. As a result, it takes a bit longer for a signal to get from its source to the destination. This can be useful when there’s pain in a part of the body, but the person wants to manage how much they feel that pain.

GABA and Brain Chemistry

GABA also affects the synapses in the brain, causing them to fire slower and lead to more sluggish and lethargic thinking processes. Some people who take these drugs recreationally enjoy the feeling of slowed mental activity. In some of these individuals, their experience with anxiety could cause them to feel like there are too many thoughts in their heads.

The influx of GABA that they get from taking a CNS depressant will manage that feeling and cause them to relax. Unfortunately, this feeling of relaxation is habit-forming, and these individuals can get dependent on the drug, eventually devolving into addiction.

What Are the Types of Depressant Drugs?

As mentioned previously, there are several different classes of depressants. Among the ones most commonly used are:


Most people who use alcohol know how it can affect their thinking process. The level of CNS depression that alcohol can cause is directly related to the amount a person drinks and how fast they do so. Unfortunately, alcohol has the side effect of increasing stress and anxiety rather than reducing it. Eventually, a person may descend into aggression and anger, impacting their personal lives significantly.


Also called “benzos,” these drugs are commonly used to treat the symptoms of anxiety. Generally, when physicians prescribe benzos, they only do so for short-term treatment. Unfortunately, versions of these drugs are readily available on the street at a minimal cost. It’s not uncommon to have someone prescribed benzos and then end up using street versions to support their dependency.


Also commonly known as “downers,” barbiturates have been a mainstay of sedatives in the medical community for a long time. When they were first introduced, barbiturates were considered a safe depressant, but problems with patients becoming dependent or addicted arose and caused the medical fraternity to rethink this descriptor. Barbiturates have been shown to negatively affect sleep patterns, leading to insomnia and other problems for regular users.

What are some of the Typical Effects of Depressants?

While each depressant may have different specific symptoms, a few apply to most of those drugs overall. Among the most common effects of depressants are:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Loss of coordination
  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Slurred speech
  • Relaxation and euphoria
  • Slowed reaction times
  • Loss of memory
  • Extreme difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Problems urinating
  • Fatigue or sleepiness
  • Slowed pulse and breathing
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils

These are short-term effects of taking the drug, which are likely to dissipate over time. However, it’s not uncommon for individuals to become dependent on the substance. Dependency occurs when the brain requires itself to deal with the presence of a substance.

Long Term Effects of Depressant Drugs

The result is that the brain can’t function normally without the substance in the bloodstream. For individuals who have been using these drugs for a long time because of their dependence, long-term signs of usage may show up, including:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Depression
  • Breathing and sleep difficulties
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Hypersomnia
  • Weight Gain
  • Chronic fatigue

One of the less-discussed issues is overdose when people become dependent or addicted to CNS depressants. Taking depressants over the recommended dosage can lead to seizures, respiratory depression, and potentially death as a result. This risk becomes more pronounced when a person starts taking depressants alongside other drugs. Many casual users combine depressants with stimulants which may lead to overdose.

Depressant Drugs

Are Depressant Drugs Dangerous?

All drugs can be dangerous, depending on how they’re used. Taking CNS depressants over a short period shouldn’t cause any adverse effects, although individuals prescribed depressants are encouraged to report any problems to their physician. Over time, a person taking depressants may encounter severe CNS depression because of constant use.

While mild CNS depression is manageable, severe depression could lead to the body’s systems failing and shutting down. Taking a depressant in accordance with the doctor’s orders will help a person manage the effects of CNS depression. Unfortunately, if a person takes street versions of these drugs, there’s no supervision or guidance.

Withdrawal Symptoms and Depressant Drugs

Quitting depressants can also be a problem since withdrawal symptoms can be extreme. Detox for depressants can help to ease some of those symptoms, but they will still occur to some extent. Withdrawal symptoms come from the body’s battle to keep a person using the drug. This response stems from the body’s physical dependence on the substance. If the brain doesn’t get its daily dose, it starts developing issues, forcing the person to keep using the drug.

Withdrawal is the first step towards breaking dependence, and medical withdrawal is preferable since it can be supervised by detox center staff in case of complications. These complications rarely present when there’s a medical approach to detox, which may include reducing the dosage of the depressant to lower the impact and intensity of the withdrawal symptoms.

Taking Depressants with Stimulants

Many casual users of CNS depressants combine them with stimulants to mitigate the effects. For example, individuals who use alcohol may sometimes use cocaine, Adderall, or meth as a stimulant to keep their brains moving. Using stimulants with depressants has become quite popular with college students.

Unfortunately, mixing these two types of medication is a recipe for disaster. Users who combine both of them believe that taking one will cancel out the effects of the other. These drugs work on the body together, and they can stress out a person’s CNS and cause collapse.

Depressants will usually slow down a person’s heartbeat and ability to respond to stimuli. On the other hand, stimulants can speed up a person’s heartbeat and cause increased sensitivity to stimulation. By taking these drugs together, the brain’s attention is divided between both of them.

While it might feel as though the effects are balancing each other out, they’re actually taking a dangerous toll on the body’s ability to function. By doubling up these chemicals in the body, a person may feel the adverse effects of both of them. The risk of the body’s systems failing increases as a person uses these dangerous substances together.

Depressant Drugs and Clinical Depression

While many people believe that depressant drugs have something to do with clinical depression, that’s not strictly the case. CNS depressants slow down the central nervous system. Clinical depression, on the other hand, is a term referring to major depression or major depressive disorder.

Long-term use of CNS depressants can lead to a form of depression, but this condition is not the same as major depressive disorder and should not be confused for it. A person who uses a CNS depressant may develop mild depression as a side effect. This occurrence is normal, and a physician wouldn’t worry too much about it. However, continued long-term use will lead to mild to severe CNS depression.

Major Depression vs Dependence on CNS Depressant Substances

Major depressive disorder is a condition that lingers and may occur naturally over time. A person suffering from clinical depression can be treated with various medications to help them overcome their depressive episodes.

CNS depression, on the other hand, describes a slowing of the body’s systems that deal with signal transmission. The effect of this condition is distinctly different from clinical depression and can have a much more dangerous physical impact on a person’s brain and body. CNS depression can be slowed and reversed by stopping the medication, while clinical depression requires active treatment to overcome the effects.

Depressant Drugs

What Are the Signs of Depressant Misuse?

If a person is prescribed a medication, the medical practitioner expects them to use it as directed. Unfortunately, some people fall prey to temptation and start misusing the drug. When a person has a chronic pattern of misusing the substance, it is termed abuse. Eventually, a person who misuses a prescribed medication may become dependent on it.

Many times, dependence is the first step towards addiction. Addiction is a brain disease where a person makes illogical or dangerous choices in their search for a substance they are dependent on. When addiction spirals out of control, it can lead to irreparable damage to a person’s reputation and livelihood. In many cases, depressant abuse and addiction start with misuse. There are a few telltale signs when a person begins misusing a depressant, including:

  • Taking the medication to get high or casually, without following the doctor’s orders.
  • Taking medication prescribed for someone else.
  • Using medication in a way that isn’t prescribed. For example, crushing and snorting the drug instead of taking it at the times indicated by the doctor or pharmacist.
  • Buying drugs from street vendors or traffickers.
  • Obtaining drugs from unregistered doctors or shopping around for doctors that will give a prescription without asking too many questions.
  • Taking prescription meds in larger doses than recommended.

What are Withdrawal Symptoms for Depressant Drugs?

If a person is dependent on CNS depressants, they will likely encounter withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the substance. Withdrawal symptoms from depressants may include:

  • Aches and pains
  • Hypersensitivity to light and sound
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations
  • Changes in the perceptiveness of the individual
  • Stiff muscles or joints
  • Body tremors
  • Seizures
  • Mild depression
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Irritability
  • Hallucinations
  • Shaking
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting

It’s vital to remember that these withdrawal symptoms may not apply to everyone. Each person goes through withdrawal differently, and some symptoms may not even be present. Withdrawal is the first step in overcoming addiction to a substance like depressants. If someone is addicted to depressants, clinical detox allows a safe and controlled withdrawal method. Most facilities offer detox as a part of the treatment since it’s crucial to the success of long-term recovery. Medically supervised detox ensures that the person detoxing is safe throughout the process. Medical staff is on hand to deal with complications that may arise.

How Can I Detox from Depressant Drugs?

Detoxing from depressant drugs should always be done in a supervised environment. As mentioned before, medically supervised detox offers peace of mind to a person who wants to quit using a particular depressant. Detox can take as long as a week, but the symptoms tend to reach a peak at around the second or third day.

The intensity of symptoms also varies, based on how long the person has been using the substance and the amount of time since they stopped using it. Unfortunately, there have been cases where withdrawal symptoms have led to life-threatening conditions. These situations typically arise when a person attempts to detox on their own.

The Importance of Medically Supervised Depressant Detox

Detox is the first step in a long-term treatment regimen that will look at how to best help a person recover completely. Complete recovery only happens when the person no longer has any urges to use the substance. Detox deals with the physical symptoms of addiction and breaks that dependence the body has on the substance. It’s usually followed by intensive psychological treatment to deal with the mental impacts of addiction.

These treatments can be done as either inpatient or outpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment is more intensive and is better for individuals who may be tempted by their environment or don’t live in a place that’s conducive to rehabilitation. Outpatient treatment is a better option for those who don’t want to interrupt their daily lives. However, outpatient treatment requires a certain level of responsibility and isn’t a good fit for some recovering individuals.

Choosing A Rehab for Depressant Drugs

How do you choose a rehab for depressant drugs? The facility you select should have trained medical staff to help with your detox and a history of successful treatment for patients. Pathfinder Recovery is such a facility with a caring and understanding staff dedicated to giving you personalized care for your recovery.

If you’re interested in joining us at Pathfinders, contact us today and let us help you plan your road to recovery. We’ll be with you every step of the way!


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