Prescription Depressant Medications

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the word 'depressants' highlighted on a textbook page

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Also known as: A-minus, Barbs, Candy, Downers, Phennies, Red Birds, Reds, Sleeping Pills, Tooies, Tranks, Yellows, Yellow Jackets, and Zombie Pills

What are prescription depressants?

Depressants, sometimes referred to as central nervous system (CNS) depressants or tranquilizers, slow down (or “depress”) the normal activity that goes on in the brain and spinal cord. Doctors often prescribe them for people who are anxious or can't sleep.

When prescription depressants are taken as prescribed by a doctor, they can be relatively safe and helpful. However, it is considered misuse when they are taken not as prescribed, to get "high," or when you take some prescribed for someone else. This can lead to dependence and addiction are still potential risks. Addiction means you continue to seek out and take the drug despite negative consequences. 

Depressants can be divided into three primary groups: barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and sleep medications.

Depressants
Type Conditions They Treat
Barbiturates
  • mephobarbital (Mebaral®)
  • phenobarbital (Luminal®)
  • sodium pentobarbital (Nembutal®)
  • Seizure disorders
  • Anxiety and tension
Benzodiazepines
  • alprazolam (Xanax®)
  • clonazepam (Klonopin®)
  • diazepam (Valium®)
  • estazolam (ProSom®)
  • lorazepam (Ativan®)
  • Acute stress reactions
  • Panic attacks
  • Convulsions
  • Sleep disorders
Sleep Medications
  • eszopiclone (Lunesta®)
  • zolpidem (Ambien®)
  • zaleplon (Sonata®)
  • Sleep disorders

How Prescription Depressants Are Misused

Depressants usually come in pill or capsule form. People misuse depressants by taking them in a way that is not intended, such as:

  • Taking someone else’s prescription depressant medication, even if it is for a medical reason like sleep problems.
  • Taking a depressant medication in a way other than prescribed—for instance, taking more than the prescribed dose or taking it more often, or crushing pills into powder or opening capsules to snort or inject the drug.
  • Taking a depressant to get "high."
  • Taking a depressant with other drugs or to counteract the effects of other drugs, such as stimulants.
  • Mixing them with other substances, like alcohol or prescription opioids.

Read more about prescription drugs and what happens to the brain and body when someone misuses them.

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