Central Nervous System Depressants
CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM DEPRESSANTS – A PRIMER
The category of Central Nervous System Depressants includes some of the most commonly abused drugs. Alcohol – the most familiar drug of all – is abused by an estimated 40-50 million Americans. Central nervous system agents are drugs that affect the central nervous system i.e. the brain and the spinal cord, and produce a response that could be used to alleviate or treat a particular medical condition. Central nervous system agents can be used as analgesics, anesthetics, anti-emetics, anti-convulsants, and have many more therapeutic uses.
- Slightly more than half of Americans age 12 or older reported being current drinkers of alcohol in 2014 (52.7% of the population). This translates to an estimated 139 million people. Source: Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH, September 2015)
- Depressant drugs consistently rank among the most widely used and abused drugs in the U.S. and Canada. Over the past decade, an estimated 60 million prescriptions were processed for minor tranquilizers in U.S. pharmacies. Source: Downers: A New Look at Depressant DrugsDepressants slow down the operation of the central nervous system (i.e., the brain, brain stem and spinal cord).
- Cause the user to react more slowly.
- Cause the user to process information more slowly.
- Relieve anxiety and tension.
- Induce sedation, drowsiness and sleep.
- In high enough doses, CNS Depressants will produce general anesthesia, i.e. depress the brain’s ability to sense pain, and in very high doses, they can induce coma and death.
CNS depressants, sometimes referred to as sedatives and tranquilizers, are substances that can slow brain activity. This property makes them useful for treating anxiety and sleep disorders.
- Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax), are sometimes prescribed to treat anxiety, acute stress reactions, and panic attacks. The more sedating benzodiazepines, such as triazolam (Halcion) and estazolam (ProSom) are prescribed for short-term treatment of sleep disorders. Usually, benzodiazepines are not prescribed for longterm use because of the risk for developing tolerance, dependence, or addiction.
- Non-benzodiazepine sleep medications, such as zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and zalepon (Sonata), have a different chemical structure, but act on some of the same brain receptors as benzodiazepines. They are thought to have fewer side effects and less risk of dependence than benzodiazepines.
- Barbiturates, such as mephobarbital (Mebaral), phenobarbital (Luminal Sodium), and pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal), are used less frequently to reduce anxiety or to help with sleep problems because of their higher risk of overdose compared to benzodiazepines. However, they are still used in surgical procedures and for seizure disorders.
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