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Drugs & Health Blog

Word of the Day: Depressants

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “depressants?” Maybe “depressed” or “sad?” But the drugs called depressants aren’t called that because they’re depressing in the emotional sense.

Depressants slow down (or “depress”) the normal activity that goes on in the brain. Alcohol is a depressant.

Doctors often prescribe central nervous system (CNS) depressants to patients who are anxious or can’t sleep. When used as directed, CNS depressants are safe and helpful for people who need them.

Types of CNS Depressants

CNS depressants can be divided into three main groups:

  • Barbiturates, which are used to treat some forms of epilepsy
  • Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax), which can be used to treat severe stress, panic attacks, convulsions, and sleep disorders
  • Sleep medications (Ambien, Sonata, Lunesta), which, as the name suggests, are used to help people with diagnosed sleep problems

How They Work

Most CNS depressants affect the brain in the same way—they enhance the activity of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a neurotransmitter, one of the naturally occurring chemicals in the brain that sends messages between cells. GABA works by slowing down brain activity.

Although different classes of CNS depressants work in unique ways, they ultimately increase GABA activity, which produces a drowsy or calming effect.

Effects When Abused

CNS depressants can be addictive* and should be used only as prescribed. Otherwise, they can bring about major health problems, including addiction. Combining them with alcohol or other drugs like pain medications can lead to slowed breathing and heart rate, and even death.

Find out more about depressants from this NIDA fact sheet (PDF, 718kb).

(*Addiction is when a person compulsively seeks out the drug and cannot control their need for it, even in the face of negative consequences.)

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


Learning the facts about antidepressants and weighing the benefits against the risks can help you make an informed and personal decision about whether medication is right for you.
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Before using any types of depressant, there should always be a doctors approval to avoid any health problems or addictions.!

I second that because it is very easy to start a addiction without you knowing!!!!

Wow i didnt realize how bad these really were. I always thouhght it was just something they teach to pass the time. Good thing i dont take.

Depression is still so misunderstood by most doctors. They look for a quick fix with drugs which doesn't tackle the real symptoms

Barbiturates, which are used to treat some forms of epilepsy. [commercial link removed, per guidelines]

It is free and interesting

thanks! :)




im emotional :(

me to

This has touched me :)

The key to depression recovery is to start with a few small goals and slowly build from there. Draw upon whatever resources you have. You may not have much energy, but you probably have enough to take a short walk around the block or pick up the phone to call a loved one.

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wow every thing yall said has touched me and i never did drugs but my friends

well the way i look at it is if the doctors say you have to take medication for your problems then take them if they dont then why take them you dont wanna have a chnce of ruining your life and messin you relationships up with your friends and family. its a waist of time takin and injecting your body with fluids or pills that can kill you and i dont think anyone is ready to go on. but for the people who do, do that please have some since to talk to a doctor before you do it. cause there could be a chance that you may miss cause your injecting your body with that stuff. you could have a good life just dont let the pills and fluids get to you.....

this is pretty nice to know all these stuff in my health class we are learning this stuff!!

Depression is still so misunderstood by most doctors. They look for a quick fix with drugs which doesn’t tackle the real symptoms. [commercial link removed, per guidelines]

very intresting ...
hugs not drugs
make a better choice
the author's name is "Sara Bellum" is that her real name? or her pen name? haha is it supposed to sound like "cerebellum"? the part of the brain that controls balance and many other things? haha that's really awesome if that's your real name.

Sara Bellum is a penname :)

The Sara Bellum Blog is written by a team of NIDA scientists, science writers, educators, and teens. We connect you with the latest scientific research and news, so you can use that info to make healthy, smart decisions. Sometimes it can be hard to know where to go for the truth about drugs. Here at NIDA, we learn from science—not from rumors or gossip. We have thousands of researchers around the world who study drug addiction and come up with ways to help people recover and live healthy lives. Every day, scientists and physicians discover more about how drugs affect your brain and body. You owe it to yourself to ask the right questions, look for the facts, and think hard about what you find out and what it means for you. We're here to help you do that.

what are some examples of depressant drugs?

@moneykookoo, Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, and Sleep Medications are depressant drugs.  To learn more, check out Drug Facts CNS Depressants.

Thanks for summarizing ! Very informative.
How do the drugs enter the body?

Most of these medications are taken as pills. You can read more about depressants here:

this is a good website and very helpful