Sedatives are a class of drugs that sedate or induce sleep. Doctors commonly prescribe them to treat conditions, such as anxiety, panic disorders, and sleep disorders, or as general anesthetics. The drugs act on the central nervous system (CNS) and produce the desired effect by slowing down brain activity. While sedatives can be helpful when used correctly, they can also be dangerously addictive.
Prescription sedatives are dispensed as a liquid or pills and are generally safe when used as directed. Misuse can lead to dependency. A common example of misuse is taking larger doses than prescribed, using the medications for their psychotropic effects, or for coping. Addiction happens when you become physically and psychologically dependent on the medication to feel normal and cannot control use. Alcohol is an addictive substance that is also classed as a sedative because of its depressant effects on the CNS.
If you or a loved one has developed an addiction to sedatives, drug rehab can help break the habit.
Classes and Types of Sedatives
Sedatives are controlled substances because of the potential for abuse or addiction. The three main classes are tranquilizers, depressants, and a new class known as non-benzodiazepines (hypnotics). The classes are further broken down into the following common types of sedatives:
- Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam, diazepam, and lorazepam are used for treating anxiety disorders and sleep disorders, such as insomnia.
- Barbiturates such as pentobarbital sodium and phenobarbital are used in anesthetics.
- Hypnotics (non-benzodiazepines) such as zolpidem are prescribed for sleep disorders.
How Sedatives Work
Depressants and tranquilizers generally work by acting on a brain neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is responsible for slowing down brain activity and producing a relaxation or drowsy effect. Sedatives depress most body functions, relax the muscles, and interfere with coordination. Because of this, their use is potentially hazardous in situations where the individual has to drive or operate machinery.
Signs of Sedative Misuse, Abuse, and Dependence
Misuse and abuse involve using sedatives to self-medicate (coping) and for their euphoric effects (recreational use). These practices may show up as the following behaviors:
- Taking larger doses and/or taking the drugs for longer than prescribed
- Requesting refills ahead of schedule
- Increased tolerance for the medication (needing larger doses to get the desired effect)
- Overpowering urges to use sedative drugs
- Taking the drugs in ways other than prescribed, e.g., crushing the tablets for snorting or making a solution for injection
- Continued drug use despite social/interpersonal problems that are caused or made worse by drug use
- Inability to reduce or control sedative use or unsuccessful attempts to do so
- Spending a lot of time thinking of ways to get more sedatives or illegally procuring or using the drugs
- Trouble fulfilling obligations such as going to work or school or caring for family members
- Making drug use a priority over work, family, or social activities
- Disregard for the dangers of using the drug in situations that are physically hazardous, e.g., driving or operating heavy machinery
- Continued use despite the harmful physical and psychological risks/effects
- Withdrawal symptoms, such as restlessness, anxiety, or insomnia
Effects of Sedatives
The effects of sedatives will depend on the class or type used and the dosage. Effects can kick in within 30 minutes and last for a couple of hours to more than a day. Here are some common effects:
- Drowsiness or dizziness
- Reduced anxiety symptoms
- Slowed heart rate
- Shallow breathing
- Lowered inhibitions
- Slowed reaction time
- Slurred speech
- Trouble with muscle coordination
- Impaired memory or cognition (thinking or concentration)
- Inappropriate behavior or unstable moods
Mixing prescription sedatives with other depressants, such as alcohol, will increase the effects on the central nervous system. These effects, which are similar to extreme alcohol intoxication, include hallucinations, delusions, blackouts, delirium, and seizures.
Long-Term Effects of Sedative Addiction
Those dependent on depressants, tranquilizers, or hypnotics are at risk of developing the following medical conditions:
- Chronic insomnia
- Chronic fatigue
- High blood sugar or diabetes
- Cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure or heart disease
Sedative Dependence and Addiction
If you’ve developed a sedative dependency, your body relies on the chemicals in those drugs to function normally. That’s because your brain is now used to their effects. Another major sign of addiction is compulsive use and loss of control over usage or dosage.
Uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms also show up if you miss a dose or stop using the drugs. Some individuals continue drug use in order to avoid these symptoms, which only makes the addiction worse. Individuals with moderate to severe addiction need to taper off sedative drugs to avoid health complications.
The Dangers of Sedative Addiction
Sedative drugs can have serious or life-threatening effects on the body or lethal consequences when taken in ways that were not intended. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines rose by the thousands between 1999 and 2017.
Mixing sedatives with alcohol or other drugs (such as opioids) that affect GABA can lead to dangerous outcomes, including overdose or fatality. The rate of overdose deaths involving a combination of sedatives and opioids doubled from 2002 to 2015, according to NIDA.
Signs of Sedative Overdose
It’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible if you notice the effects or realize someone you love shows signs of sedative abuse or overdose symptoms. Symptoms depend on the type of drug involved but are similar to signs of alcohol overdose. They can include:
- Slurred speech
- Slowed respiration
- Difficulty breathing
- Fainting spells
- Trouble thinking or responding normally
- Slowed respiration
- Slowed heart rate
- Cold or clammy skin
- Bluish lips, fingers, and skin
Some overdoses can be treated with flumazenil, a benzodiazepine antagonist that acts as a reversal agent. Other medical measures can help the patient recover. Long-term treatment for sedative addiction usually involves withdrawal, behavioral therapy, counseling, and aftercare.
Sedative Detox and Withdrawal
Detox is an initial step toward recovery from addiction and is safer when carried out within a medical setting, such as a detox clinic or rehab center. You will get the clinical support you need and increase your chance of completing detox. Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency.
Detox involves the removal of drugs from the body by safely discontinuing use. Many rehab programs prefer to taper the client off the drug to prevent withdrawal syndromes, such as seizures or delirium. Tapering means gradually reducing the dose over a period of time until it’s safe to stop. This allows your body to adjust to receiving less of the drug and helps minimize the risk of withdrawal syndrome.
Each sedative has a different “half-life,” or the time it takes to break down in the body. The onset of withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on the sedative involved. Symptoms for short-acting sedatives, such as alprazolam, typically begin within 1-2 days after the last dose and peak around day three. Symptoms should resolve by days five to seven.
The timeline for the onset of symptoms for long-acting sedatives, such as diazepam and phenobarbital, may not peak until seven to 14 days after the last dose. It can take another two weeks before they resolve.
Sedative Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms are usually similar whether short-acting or long-acting sedatives play a part. Typical symptoms include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Restlessness or irritability
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- Blurred vision
- Excessive sweating
- Lack of coordination
Doctors supervising medical detox and withdrawal may replace short-acting sedatives with long-acting ones, such as diazepam, to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Medical professionals may also prescribe medications to treat certain withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety or sleeplessness.
Treatment for Sedative Addiction
There is hope for recovery for anyone who has an addiction to sedatives, whether this is you or a family member. The first step toward treatment is accepting addiction as a problem.
Rehabilitation centers are located throughout the United States. You may even find one in your city. They offer different treatment programs and therapies to help individuals recover from sedative dependence. Treatment occurs in an inpatient or outpatient setting, depending on your needs. Medical professionals determine your needs via a clinical evaluation done before admissions to the program.
One type of treatment called Inpatient Rehab involves staying at a residential facility and receiving a continuum of comprehensive treatment all in one place. Some facilities have a sedative detox program to assist clients with safe or medication-assisted withdrawal. Inpatient treatment is particularly suitable for individuals with moderate to severe addiction who need a safe and structured clinical setting for recovery.
While some patients may not need detox, recovery in an inpatient setting may be necessary if they have a co-occurring disorder such as depression. Individuals can also benefit immensely from the 24-hour supervision and support provided at inpatient drug rehab centers.
Residential treatment for sedative addiction can be completed within 30-90 days but can continue longer.
Another option is called Outpatient Rehab, which means you remain at home during rehabilitation. Outpatient treatment is designed for clients with mild addiction or who do not require or already completed detox. They can manage drug use triggers on their own, have a social support system, and can commit to attending therapy as scheduled. Individuals who do not have depression or other co-occurring disorders also make good candidates for outpatient rehabilitation.
Intensive-Outpatient (IOP) Program
This is a more intensive type of outpatient treatment. Clients need to meet with their doctor and therapist at least three times a week for two to four hours. The intensive outpatient program is designed as a form of primary care or for those transitioning from an inpatient program.
Treatment typically lasts for 12 to 16 weeks before the client enters the maintenance phase. This phase varies but can last for months. IOP best suits individuals who have a stable home life, strong family support, and a low risk of relapse.
With standard outpatient and IOP programs, clients can attend treatment based on their personal schedules. This allows them to maintain their lives and stay connected to loved ones during the program. Although various programs offer different levels of care, treatment involves similar evidence-based approaches that are as effective as the modalities used for clients in a residential setting.
Types of Evidenced-Based Treatments
Sedative addiction treatment is not a one-size-fits-all. Your rehab specialist will tailor your treatment to include a combination of these programs and therapies based on your needs.
- Detox program for sedative or alcohol addiction
- Medication-assisted therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT)
- Medication management
- Individual and group therapy
- Aftercare program
- Relapse prevention
- Family therapy
- 12 step programs and workshops
Mental health treatment and behavioral therapies are intended to help clients develop healthy coping skills. The risk of relapse is lower when clients use those skills to manage drug use tendencies and triggers. Relapse prevention involves monitoring thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and environments that lead to sedative use.
Necessary supportive life adjustments can also include changing your social circles or setting up a support network of people you can lean on.
Transitional living and sober living programs are also considered aspects of aftercare and relapse prevention. Aftercare is an extension of formal treatment and can begin immediately after leaving rehab.
Start Your Journey Toward Sobriety at Granite Recovery Centers
With multiple treatment facilities located throughout New Hampshire, we provide comprehensive care to men and women from all walks of life. Some of our programs are designed for individuals seeking to recover from addiction to sedatives such as benzodiazepines or sleeping pills. We provide a continuum of care within a residential and outpatient program setting. Our staff consists of certified drug rehabilitation specialists who have a passion for helping people like you return to a life free of addiction.
Find out how Granite Recovery Centers can help you or your loved one. Call 855-712-7784 to speak with an admissions counselor.