Prescription sedatives are pharmaceutical drugs that treat a host of disorders, including anxiety, panic attacks and tension. They affect the central nervous system similarly to alcohol, except with different effects. Also known as tranquilizers, sedatives are also used to treat sleeping disorders. However, these drugs also diminish, if not outright, prevent REM sleep, prohibiting quality sleep and suppressing the user’s ability to dream.
There are two main types of sedatives: benzodiazepines (“benzos”) and barbiturates (“barbs” or “downers”). Both of them have unique properties and prescribed in different scenarios.
Benzodiazepines are a type of drug commonly prescribed by doctors in the United States to treat anxiety, seizures, insomnia, and panic attacks. The most commonly used brands are Xanax and Valium.
Barbiturates, on the other hand, aren’t nearly prescribed as frequently as benzodiazepines. They have hospital, veterinary and triage applications, and treat disorders such as acute anxiety and sleep disorders. The most well-known barbiturates in the industry are Phenobarbital and Mephobarbital.
Since sedatives are depressants, some people become addicted to the bodily feel they provide, as they induce relaxation by slowing down the brain’s activity. Xanax (alprazolam), or “xannies,” is one such sedative that is widely abused. Popularized by music and pop culture, it is the single-most prescribed benzodiazepine in America, where abuse runs rampant among youth either in pill or liquid form.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 6.6 percent of young and adult persons abused prescriptions like sedatives in a recent report. Out of the different types of sedatives, Xanax accounts for huge chunk.
Common Effects of Benzodiazepine Abuse
The earliest signs of benzodiazepine addiction, like many other drug misuse, start with social behavior. People who abuse benzos like Xanax exhibit unexpected mood swings which include anxiety, lethargy, and even spontaneous anger. Another warning sign is foregoing major responsibilities such as work, school, appointments and other important engagements.
Secretive behavior is another alarm. If you notice your normally outgoing loved one compulsively hiding things or vigorously restricting access to their quarters, this is an obvious sign of addiction. Quickly retreating to bathrooms or other private rooms for sudden, unexplained reasons is a common tip-off.
Prescription Sedative Abuse
Drug abuse can begin in a number of ways; peer pressure, self-medication, or just plain curiosity. Whatever the case, people looking to fulfill their needs with prescription drugs easily fall into the wiles of addiction in search of a what is essentially a momentary solution.
Sedative addiction falls directly into this paradigm because it provides a numbing effect on the body. Teens and college students are the most likely demographic to abuse Xanax or a similar sedative, typically during parties. In other cases, it is used to buffer the negative effects or withdrawals of a more potent narcotic.
For those with legal prescriptions, sedative abuse comes from taking the drug outside of the doctor’s directions. This often translates into doubling up on doses, then seeking out others with a similar prescription once they’ve run out and do not have any pills left.
There was a time in 1978 where the Food & Drug Administration sought to outright ban sedatives, and heavily restricted marketing any kind of medication that contains the additive. Of course, that was for over-the-counter drugs, and it was because the agency believed it was it may have caused cancer in animals.
It may seem unrelated to the modern sedative crisis, but that push from the FDA set a precedent for future proceedings. Today, the key initiative the FDA employs to combat drug abuse is education. Healthcare professionals are constantly informed of the latest trends in the pharmaceutical industry and its market, as well as with strict drug labels, medication guides, etc.
Specifically for sedatives like Xanax, the FDA has specific warning labels that explicitly state that it has a high propensity for addiction when taken at high dosages for more than 12 weeks.
According to a SAMHSA 2017 report, persons aged 18 to 25 account for the the bulk of sedative abuse. These people reported misusing sedatives within the past month.
Prescription Sedatives Side Effects & Dangers
Long-term effects may include cognitive and motor function disorders. Regarding acute overdoses, emergency rooms and paramedics resort to using Flumazenil, which is a drug primarily used to wake you up after you you undergo surgery. Much in the same way it reverses the effects of heavy sedation, it is also used to treat overdoses as it is a selective benzodiazepine receptor antagonist. It is used in combination with intravenous sodium bicarbonate injections, which relieve acidosis caused by medication overdose.
Detox and Withdrawals
Prescription sedative withdrawals can take place for days, months, even years. The length of time varies depending on the type of drug used. Xanax is ia a short-acting benzodiazepine, so it has a brief withdrawal phase; typical duration lasts around seven days or less.
Long-acting sedatives, such as Valium, can have withdrawals that can last three months or more. In some cases, the symptoms may last indefinitely.
Because of this, many physicians and experts agree that rehab facilities must adopt a “slow-taper” detox program. It is a detox regimen that involves taking incremental amounts of the same sedative, or a less potent version, over a set period of time.
Here a list of the withdrawals symptoms prescription sedative abuse entail:
- Memory & coordination impairment
- Blurry vision
- Involuntary movements, muscle twitches & cramps
- Reduced sex drive
- Abnormal dreaming
- Chest pain
- Diarrhea & constipation
- Abnormalities in appetite & weight
There are two types of rehab programs: residential and outpatient. Residential facilities are live-in facilities for people who need intensive care and round-the-clock medical staff, as well as extensive emotional support. You may spend up to six months in in recovery, with routine schedules tailor specifically with you in mind.
Outpatient treatment facilities handle sedative addiction differently. Patients are required to attend their hospital of choice for 10-12 hours per week for sessions. These programs hone in on educating you about the dangers of sedative abuse, as well as ways to cope with everyday triggers. These programs typically last three to six months on average, and are great options for those who cannot commit to a live-in facility because of work or other responsibilities