Sedatives or tranquillisers, work by reducing anxiety or stress

Zaleplon (Sonata) |  Eszopiclone (Lunesta) |  Zolpidem (Ambien)

Physical dependence and eventually addiction to sedatives can occur when these medications are taken for long periods of time, or in higher quantities than prescribed.

Sedative Addiction

Typically prescribed for anxiety and sleep disorders, sedatives work by increasing the activity of one of the brain’s naturally occurring chemicals, Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA). Increased GABA in the brain slows down general brain activity, causing a person to feel calm or drowsy. These sedatives are controlled substances due to their potential for misuse which could lead to sedative addiction.

What are Sedatives?

Sedatives are drugs that work to slow down activity in the brain. They’re typically used to make you feel more relaxed. Doctors commonly prescribe sedatives to treat conditions like anxiety and sleep disorders. They also use them as general anaesthetics.

Problems can arise with addiction due to the tolerance that is built up by the body toward the drug, and after a few weeks of usage, the body and brain often become reliant on taking the substance to sustain its feelings. When this happens, it can result in addiction, which can be debilitating for the user.

Types of Sedatives

There are many types of sedatives, and the most common categories are Benzodiazepines (Benzos), Barbiturates, and Z-drugs. They are prescribed according to different patient needs, but have similar effects, relaxing the body and inducing a strong sense of calm.

Benzos

Benzodiazepines are a group of medicines that are typically used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Common prescriptions include Diazepam, Lorazepam and Chlordiazepoxide.  

Benzos work by inhibiting the excitability of many brain cells, by affecting how neurotransmitters send messages to the brain. In turn, this results in feelings of calm, relaxation, and can result in sleep. Due to these calming qualities, benzos are at risk of being abused, particularly as tolerance builds towards the drug.

Barbiturates

A type of sedative-hypnotic, Barbiturates target the central nervous system and act as a depressant. They are used to manage anxiety and induce sleep; they’re also used to treat seizures and headaches.

An effective hypnotic, Barbiturates can induce sleep relatively quickly, however, this type of drug is at high risk of psychological and physical addiction, as well as adverse physiological effects, including overdose.

They are especially dangerous as predicting the correct dosage is tough, and even a slight overdose can result in coma or death.

Z-drugs

Z-Drugs are a range of non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, including Sonata, Lunesta, and Ambien. They work to combat insomnia and are a fairly recent addition to the world of pharmaceuticals, being introduced in the 1990s, whilst their popularity is rapidly increasing.

They act in a similar way to benzodiazepines, and both have similar long-term usage problems.

How do Sedatives Work?

While different sedatives act on the brain in different ways, they all increase GABA and cause feelings of calm, relaxation, and sleepiness. If a person takes sedatives as directed by a doctor or physician, the drugs will likely be effective for treating disorders like insomnia, seizures, and panic attacks. However, many people use sedatives for recreational purposes, because of the euphoric effects the drugs incite, which can have dangerous consequences.

Signs and Symptoms of Sedative Addiction

The strongest indicator of a sedative addiction is the inability to stop thinking about the drug. However, a range of behavioural, physical, and psychological symptoms may also present themselves.

Behavioural symptoms:

  • Taking higher dosages of the medication, or using it for a longer duration than prescribed
  • Using sedatives alongside other drugs, such as alcohol
  • Attempting to borrow or steal prescriptions
  • Attempting to acquire multiple prescriptions for sedatives
  • Lying about your sedative use
  • Increased aggression  

Physical symptoms:

  • Slurred speech
  • Slow, or shallow breathing
  • Lowered pulse
  • A marked drop in blood pressure
  • Reduced coordination

 Psychological symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Cognitive deficiencies
  • Inability to focus and/or concentrate
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impaired memory
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Paranoia

The Dangers of Sedative Addiction

Sedatives can be incredibly dangerous, particularly when taken above the prescribed dose, or taken illegally. Because of the depressant nature of sedatives, they pose significant harm when taken alongside other drugs, especially alongside a fellow depressant such as alcohol.

Signs of a Sedative Overdose

A sedative overdose can be incredibly dangerous, and due to the relaxing effects caused by the drug, many overdose symptoms can be initially overlooked.

Signs of overdose to look out for include:

  • Slowed or stunted breathing
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Small pupils
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of ability to control balance
  • Loss of control over movements
  • Drop-in body temperature
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Internal bleeding
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Coma

Treatment Options for Sedative Addictions

There are multiple treatment options for sedative addictions, and the best fit for an individual depends on the intensity, and duration of addiction.

A mild addiction often caught early may be effectively treated by an outpatient facility, whereby the patient can go about parts of their daily life, whilst receiving daily clinical care for some time.  

More substantial addictions, which may have developed over a longer period will require inpatient treatment at a registered rehab facility. This is so that withdrawal symptoms can be managed and treated to avoid patients coming to harm during the detox process. 

Detox and Withdrawal

If you stop taking sedatives suddenly, and in the absence of supervised detox, you may experience some uncomfortable symptoms. It’s typically evident that a dependency exists if you experience withdrawal symptoms after taking the drug. 

These withdrawal symptoms can occur for several days, or even weeks after stopping use. Symptoms can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Racing heart rate
  • Tinnitus
  • Muscle pain
  • Tremors
  • Suicidal thoughts

Inpatient vs Outpatient Care

Inpatient vs outpatient care is a frequently discussed topic, and it all depends on the individual’s circumstance. However, inpatient care tends to be a more effective solution in the long run, as it gives the individual an extended period to fully immerse themselves in the rehabilitation process, away from daily life.

Outpatient Care

Outpatient care is a great option, however, as the individual can maintain a level of normalcy, going about their daily lives, so they can start to weave recovery into their new normal.

There is, however, a higher threat of relapse, due to being around potential triggers or social groups, and an easier immediacy to obtaining the drug.

Inpatient Care

Inpatient care tends to be the most effective when treating a sustained addiction that is severely impairing someone’s life.

Types of treatment for sedative addiction include group therapy, individual counselling and

Group therapy can make you feel less alone, as addiction can be incredibly isolating. Group therapy tends to address issues such as self-awareness, relapse prevention, acceptance and mindfulness, essential pillars in the recovery process.

Castle Craig offers a safe, serene, and stable environment that is conducive to recovery, and our team’s primary aim is to help you reach your treatment goals, which we work on together with a personalised treatment programme.

Castle Craig and You: Beginning Your Journey to Recovery

Sedative addiction can be hard to recognise and accept and beginning your journey to recovery can be one of the hardest parts. Castle Craig recognises how scary it can be to seek help and we pride ourselves on providing an entirely non-judgemental environment and have successfully treated addiction for over 30 years. 

Our staff provide a superior level of support and care, and they are trained and equipped to focus on more than just the addiction, providing a holistic approach to your recovery and aftercare.

If you’re ready to seek support, do contact us to begin your road recovery. We’re here to help.

FAQs

Can you become addicted to sedatives?

Sedatives are considered highly addictive drugs, with tolerance building within days of use.

What happens when you abuse sedatives?

Sedatives work by slowing down or depressing the body’s central nervous system. This results in the brain and the body functioning at a much slower rate than they normally would.

What are the most common sedative drugs?

Barbiturates, benzodiazepines and Z drugs are the most common types of sedative drugs.

How do you come off sedatives?

Coming off sedatives can be extremely dangerous and requires a medical detox in order to ensure a person’s safety and wellbeing. Attempting to detox from sedatives alone is never advised and you should always seek help from a registered rehab facility if you wish to stop using sedative drugs.

free addiction assessment