Many drugs fall under the category of depressants. Depressants work on the Central Nervous System in various ways, but essentially their purpose and function are for their relaxing, sedating, and calming effects. The side effects and dangers of depressants can vary fairly widely. Drugs like marijuana typically produce more mild effects and withdrawal symptoms, whereas benzodiazepines such as Xanax and alcohol can be psychologically and physically addicting leading to increased tolerance and severe, sometimes deadly, withdrawal symptoms. We’ll break down these different depressants into the following categories:
---Alcohol: Alcohol is the most commonly used drug in the world. Alcohol produces euphoria and a relaxed and somewhat sedated state.
---Cannabinoids: Cannabinoids would include all marijuana products, but would also include synthetic cannabinoids such as Spice.
---Benzodiazepines: Also known as ‘benzos’, benzodiazepines are prescription medications that are prescribed primarily for anxiety and sleep disorders.
---Inhalants/Solvents: There is a wide range of daily household and industrial products that are used to produce a high. Anything from magic markers to paint solvents can produce sedative and other effects including, euphoria, and hallucinations when inhaled.
---Sedatives: “Sedatives” is a broad category, and could include any drug that produces sedative-like depressant effects. Sedatives that are frequently abused would include GHB, Ketamine, and zolpidem (Ambien).
Depressant drugs are dangerous in any form, but the exact risks and effects will vary from drug-to-drug. Compounding the seriousness of these drugs on an individual basis is that often they are combined with alcohol use which can amplify the sedative effects substantially.
Alcohol is consumed in many forms; beer, wine, and distilled spirits (liquor) are all alcoholic beverages that are consumed regularly around the world. In the U.S. alone, is estimated that up to 14 million people suffer from alcohol use disorder. People typically consume alcohol for its euphoric and relaxing effects. Alcohol is frequently consumed at social gatherings, concerts, sporting events, and festivals making it prevalent in almost any cultural setting in America. Don’t let alcohol’s ubiquitous stature fool you; alcohol is a dangerous drug. In addition to being a known carcinogen, alcohol can cause psychological and physical dependence in people leading to severe, and deadly, withdrawal symptoms. Never attempt to detox from alcohol without medical supervision. Symptoms of withdrawal can include elevated blood pressure, shaking, nausea, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, depression, seizures, and delirium tremens.
Cannabinoids are any drugs that bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the body. The most common of which is Cannabis Sativa, or marijuana - the most widely used illicit drug in America. Marijuana can be smoked, vaporized and inhaled, or consumed via cannabis-infused foods/drinks known as “edibles”. Cannabis is legal in many states for medicinal purposes, and an increasing number of states have decriminalized recreational cannabis use. Marijuana products produce euphoria, relaxation, and mild hallucinations. Marijuana can be psychologically addicting. Withdrawal symptoms are mostly psychological and include anxiety, cravings for marijuana, and occasionally psychosis or psychotic episodes.
Synthetic cannabis such as “spice”, or “K2”, is considered to be much more dangerous than marijuana. Synthetic cannabis is chemically engineered to bind to cannabinoid receptors and to produce marijuana-like symptoms. Products like Spice are dried herbs or plants that have been sprayed with chemicals. As drug makers have increasingly altered their production methods and branding to evade regulation, the use effects and withdrawal symptoms have changed. The most frequent symptoms of use and withdrawal from synthetic cannabis are paranoia, psychosis, depression, and delirium. Because of these dangerous symptoms, it’s always recommended that detox from synthetic cannabis use be medically managed by qualified detox centers.
Benzodiazepines, or benzos, are prescription medications that are primarily used to treat anxiety and insomnia. Many drugs fall under this classification, but the most well-known are Xanax, Ativan, Klonipin, and Valium. Benzos come in a variety of strengths and lengths of action. Effects from benzo use include euphoria, sedation, relaxation, and a sense of calm. Overdose is possible, and the risks increase dramatically when combined with other depressants like alcohol. All benzos can be physically and psychologically addicting, even when taken as prescribed. Withdrawal from benzos can be deadly; cardiac arrest, seizures, hallucinations, muscle spasms, and psychological problems are all symptoms of withdrawal. Never attempt to detox from benzos on your own - medically supervised detox is always recommended.
Ambien is the brand name for the drug zolpidem, a commonly prescribed sleep aid. Zolpidem has achieved a certain level of notoriety for being involved in celebrity mishaps and the extremely odd behavior of airline passengers. When zolpidem is abused it can cause unusual behavior, hallucinations, euphoria, and abnormal thoughts. These side effects are worsened when zolpidem is combined with alcohol. It is possible to become psychologically and physically addicted to zolpidem, and withdrawal symptoms can be mild-to-severe depending on the level of addiction. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, sleep disturbances, muscle cramping, and seizures.
Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB, is a powerful sedative drug that has some very distinct characteristics that make it especially dangerous. Even small increases in dosages can cause dramatic changes in effect; it can be very easy to overdose on GHB. Overdose on GHB is so common, it has a phrase attributed to it: “G’d out”. When someone is “G’d out”, they lose complete consciousness and will have difficulty remembering what happened before and during their lack of consciousness. This dangerous effect has lead to GHB being used as a ‘date rape drug’. In some cases, “G’d out” users never regain consciousness, resulting in death. At low doses, GHB has very similar effects to alcohol, creating a sense of euphoria, calm, and relaxation. GHB is also known for lowering inhibitions and heightening sex drive, both of which have contributed to GHB’s popularity as a ‘club drug’. GHB can be both physically and psychologically addicting, and withdrawal can be deadly. Never attempt to detox from GHB without medical supervision. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, deep depression, feelings of isolation, muscle spasms, and risk of seizures.
“K”, “Special K”, or Ketamine is a powerful depressant that has dissociative properties. Ketamine has a history of clinical use as an anesthetic and is gaining popularity as a treatment option for depression. But when used recreationally, ketamine can be a deadly and dangerous drug. Ketamine can be injected, snorted, or taken orally. The effects of ketamine at small doses are euphoria, dissociation, and mild hallucinations. In larger doses, ketamine can cause out of body experiences, more extreme hallucinations, and a feeling of being completely detached from the body, also known as the “K hole”. People can become psychologically addicted to ketamine, and withdrawal symptoms are mostly psychological. Withdrawal symptoms will last 4-7 days and include agitation, anger/rage, depression, psychosis, and insomnia.
This is a broad category; the list of inhalants is too long to list them all here. The term ‘inhalant’ would encompass any household or industrial chemical that would be used by inhaling the fumes to produce a high. Common inhalants are markers, spraypaint, compressed air, glue, and gasoline. Because of their relative availability and seemingly innocuous nature, inhalants are primarily used by adolescents and teens. Inhalants act as a central nervous system depressant causing slowed or impaired speech, euphoria, lack of coordination, and dizziness. The high produced by inhalants lasts only minutes, leading to binges. Inhalants are extremely dangerous, and overdoes is possible. Inhalants cut off oxygen to the brain, can cause seizures, cardiac arrest, and coma. If highly concentrated chemicals are inhaled from a bag, suffocation can occur. Withdrawal symptoms include nausea, mood changes, and sleep disturbances.
Each mind-altering, chemical substance exists on a sort of spectrum. The spectrum itself is comprised of several different types of substances, but almost all of them can be broken down into one of two groups: stimulants and depressants. These two types of substances are essentially opposites in terms of their effects on the central nervous system; stimulants increase a person’s energy level and speeds up bodily functions while depressants cause drowsiness and a strong sense of relaxation.
Abusing a depressant involves taking a higher-than-necessary dose of a depressant, which causes some very specific changes in the body. The most notorious effects of depressants are their ability to inhibit or dramatic slow down the brain’s ability to function. The precise means by which this is achieved varies from one substance to the next, but in most cases the effects depend on the drug’s ability to alter the levels of certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Some of the most common neurotransmitters include dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. According to the simplest definition, neurotransmitters are often referred to as the “chemical messengers” of the brain, and their job is to relay communications such as modulations, boosts, and other messages from one part of the brain to another and from neurons to other cells located throughout the body.
More often than not, depressants cause a dramatic surge in the levels of neurochemicals that are associated with feelings of relaxation and calm such as one called GABA, which stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid. GABA—and other, similar neurotransmitters—cause drowsiness, relaxation, reduce motor coordination, and inhibit cognition. It’s this surge of neurochemicals that causes the euphoria and other enjoyable feelings that substance abusers seek. However, the body eventually adapts to this constant bombardment of depressants, which typically entails the brain significantly reducing its own, natural production of those neurochemicals; instead of producing these neurochemicals on its own, it relies on the individual’s frequent consumption of depressants to trigger a flood of neurochemicals that are now merely restoring the brain’s neurochemical balance.
But in the absence of depressants, the individual experiences a deficit of neurochemicals, which triggers a number of unpleasant or even painful symptoms that are collectively known as withdrawal. Withdrawal is a sign of physical dependence, and physical dependence is the component of addiction that’s addressed in a depressant detox program.
When in the throes of addiction to depressants, the majority of addicts will have experienced withdrawal symptoms during the times when they were unable to obtain their drugs of choice. During these instances, the withdrawal symptoms are at maximum intensity due to their not receiving any level of treatment to mitigate the symptoms or their severity. Therefore, people who are addicted to mind-altering, chemical substances often see recovery as being tantamount to inviting the withdrawal symptoms willingly. In fact, fear of withdrawal symptoms is one of the most common reasons why addicts either resist or outright reject the recovery process; unfortunately, they’re not aware that there is a form of treatment specifically for helping addicts to break their dependence on depressants or other types of drugs.
The process of depressant detoxification treatment begins with a consultation with an intake specialists. It’s during this time that the individual’s addiction is assessed in terms of its severity, which helps with determining a rough estimate of how long a person’s detoxification treatment will last and what specific types of treatment the addict needs to overcome his or her addiction. It’s also important for the incoming patient to be introduced to a lot of the staff with whom he or she will be interacting during detox treatment. After the intake process, the patient is shown to his or her accommodations, which is where he or she will be able to relax and focus on the recovery process during detoxification.
There are a number of benefits to depressant detox programs. For one thing, detoxing in an actual detox facility provides those suffering from addiction with an environment that’s completely removed from where they became addicted in the first place. In many cases, it’s a person’s home environment—particularly the people, places, things, and situations—that directly contribute to a person’s becoming addicted, and it would be extremely difficult to regain one’s sobriety while continuously confronted with the things that caused one’s addicted in the first place.
Moreover, there are no distractions; a person can focus on his or her recovery with little to no risk of relapse or distraction. But it’s the actual treatment that a person in a depressant detox program receives that is likely the most valuable feature of this type of program. Through a combination of treatments and therapies, detox programs offer people addicted to depressants or other substances a great degree of relief from the symptoms of depressant withdrawal; in turn, this treatment significantly increases a person’s potential for success in breaking free of the chains of physical addiction.
The continuous or habitual abuse of any chemical intoxicant—whether alcohol or one of the numerous drugs that exist—is going to result in the body becoming dependent on the substance. Whether the drug is a stimulant, a depressant, or otherwise, it will cause some level of change in the brain or elsewhere in the body. With the continuous consumption of such substances and, therefore, the continued unnatural trigger of abnormal bodily functions and process, the body reaches a point where these changes aren’t an isolated incident. This forces the body to adapt.
With depressants in particular, the body essentially accommodates the substance abuse by reducing its own, natural production of neurotransmitters associated with calm and relaxation.
Producing significantly less GABA and other calm-inducing neurochemicals, a person addicted to depressants must continue to abuse the depressants or the body’s neurochemical level will plummet. When this occurs, the individual experiences withdrawal symptoms. Unfortunately, there’s the potential for a person’s depressant withdrawal symptoms to become so severe as to put his or her life and well-being at risk. Much like alcohol, the strong physical dependence a person develops with most depressants—which, again, consist of substances like barbiturates, benzodiazepines, muscle relaxants, opioids, and so on—results in the brain’s neurochemical level being dramatically thrown off as the addict abruptly ceases intake of the substance at the start of detox. Therefore, it’s essential that people addicted to depressants seek inpatient, medical depressant detoxification treatment as the first part of his or her recovery journey.
The allure of depressants are their specific effects, which is why they’re often called “downers”. These drugs amplify the body’s natural ability to relax and overcome stress, but once the body becomes dependent on depressants, it’s almost as if the body can no longer calm itself without the depressants. Some of the most common depressant withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, and agitation. In effect, without the drugs to help the person achieve a state of calmness he or she feels on edge while the body is unable to produce enough GABA and other neurochemicals to produce drowsiness. Many people exhibit an elevated body temperature and increased blood pressure when experiencing depressant withdrawal symptoms, but there have even been instances of people reaching the point of suicidal ideations. The body becomes tense and it often becomes difficult to urinate as well. Overall, depressant withdrawals exceedingly unpleasant and the fact that the body can’t stabilize its own processes makes it a dangerous experience when facing withdrawal symptoms without medical detox treatment.
The purpose of detox treatment for depressant addiction is to prepare the addict for upcoming phases of the recovery process by cleansing his or her body, allowing the individual to break physical, chemical dependence on the depressant drug to which he or she has been addicted. This involves a number of different treatments and features, but the overall idea is that the addict is given a time during which to simply focus on his or her own recovery and relax, free from distraction and temptation. With a team of physicians, detox technicians, and other staff members, a person undergoing a depressant detox treatment regimen can be assured of his or her continuous safety and comfort.
While in active addiction to depressants, many addicts fail to address their more basic and essential human needs, particularly when it comes to diet and nutrition. Therefore, a depressant detox program often entails an emphasis on restoration of physical health via establishing a well-rounded, nutritional diet. The purpose of this focus on diet and nutrition is to ensure that the individual has all the vitamins and nutrients necessary to heal and achieve a state of optimal physical health. Similarly, hydration is extremely important during a depressant detoxification, especially since it’s by drinking water that the majority of toxins are released or expelled from the body; in other words, hydration is a significant part of the cleansing aspect of detoxification.
In terms of the withdrawal symptoms that most addicts associate with the absence of their substances of choice, there are a number of ways that depressant detox programs address and alleviate those symptoms, but those offerings tend to vary from one facility to the next. Some of the more holistic and luxurious detox programs offer such things as massage therapy, acupuncture, yoga, and biofeedback. If withdrawal symptoms were to become too uncomfortable or dangerous, many programs will offer medication-assisted detox that alleviates the severity of the symptoms and allows the person to essentially taper off the substance to which he or she is addicted rather than ceasing substance abuse abruptly. This is most often a consideration if the depressant to which the addict is addicted is a benzodiazepine or alcohol, which are the substances known to be the most potentially dangerous during detoxification; but, again, the danger is completely mitigated by detoxing in a depressant detox program.
As mentioned previously, one of the most common fears that addicts have with regard to the recovery process is detoxification, and that’s because of a deeper-rooted fear of depressant withdrawal symptoms. Having experienced untreated depressant withdrawal symptoms during times when they’re unable to obtain their desired substances, addicts end up trapping themselves in a state of continued addiction due to their aversion of detoxification since that would mean having to conquer withdrawal. For this reason—and because of the potential for a depressant detoxification to be dangerous and require medical, inpatient detox treatment—it’s not recommended for addicts to detox from depressants from home.
If someone addicted to depressants attempts to detox at home, there’s a much greater chance that he or she would return to substance abuse before completing the detoxification. Due to still being in his or her home environment—which, incidentally, is likely the place where he or she became addicted to depressants in the first place—the individual will be experiencing untreated withdrawal symptoms while also being confronted with the temptation to continue using in the form of people, places, things, and situations that he or she associates with substance abuse. In short, where a depressant detox program would separate a person from the environment that would interfere with progress on his or her sobriety.
It’s difficult to determine exactly how long a person’s depressant detox will take because there are many factors that are considered. During the intake process, the severity of a person’s addicted is assessed in order to provide a rough estimate of the length of time that would be required for his or her detox, but even this estimate is subject to some level of change. There could be unforeseen factors that change the timeline of detoxification, making the process either longer or shorter, so it’s important to be aware of some of the things that can affect the length of time that’s required for a depressant detoxification.
The length of time and “severity” of one’s addiction is a major factor in how long of a detox program is required to break one’s physical dependence on depressants. Additionally, the specific depressant to which the person is addicted is another important consideration since certain depressants—especially alcohol and benzodiazepines—are more addictive and known to be much more difficult to overcome in terms of physical dependence than many other types of depressants. It’s also important to know whether a person has had previous attempts at recovery since failed attempts at recovery in the past will indicate the need for a more intensive addiction treatment plan, which may start with a somewhat longer period of depressant detoxification treatment. However, the general amount of time that depressant detox treatment will require can range from one and two weeks.
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