Depressants: Types, Examples & Facts

Depressants: Types, Examples & Facts
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  • 0:01 What are Depressants?
  • 1:30 Types of Depressants
  • 5:34 Important Facts
  • 5:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Explore the class of drugs known as depressants in this lesson. Learn more about the different kinds of depressants, how they are used in the medical field, and how they influence the central nervous system.

What are Depressants?

Have you ever wondered why your body seems to relax after having a few drinks? Maybe you've wondered why people pass out after a night of heavy drinking? It's because alcohol is a depressant. Some depressants, like alcohol, are used recreationally by people who want to relax. While depressants can be used safely, they are dangerous if used inappropriately, and many are available only by prescription or even illegal. So, what exactly are depressants?

At the root of the word 'depressant' is depress. When we're talking about drugs, this doesn't mean to feel sad or down. Instead, 'depress' means to reduce your level of activity - this is exactly what a depressant does. Depressants are drugs that slow down the activity of the central nervous system. By decreasing the electrical activity in the brain, depressants produce a calming effect in the body and slow down the brain's normal functioning. Depressants can decrease your level of awareness, lower your pulse and heart rate, and reduce breathing. For these reasons, depressants are also referred to as 'downers'.

Depressants can cause relaxation and calmness in smaller doses, which can result in a reduction in anxiety and lower inhibitions. Depressants taken in larger doses have some serious consequences, including complete loss of consciousness, loss of senses, slurred speech, respiratory depression, and even death.

Types of Depressants

You've probably used depressants in the past, maybe without realizing. For example, if you've ever had a prescription for insomnia or anxiety, you've likely used a depressant. Because of their calming properties, doctors prescribe depressants to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Depressants are useful in treating seizure disorders because they reduce the electrical activity in the brain. At higher doses, depressants can be used as general anesthetics.

Let's look at some of the more common type of depressant drugs, including barbiturates, benzodiazepines, ethanol, opioids, cannabis, and flunitrazepam:

1. Barbiturates:

Barbiturates are created from barbituric acid. Barbiturates have sedative and hypnotic properties, which means they reduce anxiety and induce sleep. Some common barbiturates are:

  • Luminal (phenobarbital) - used to prevent seizures
  • Amytal sodium (amobarbital) - used to treat sleep problems
  • Seconal (secobarbital) - short-term treatment for insomnia

2. Benzodiazepines:

Like barbiturates, benzodiazepines have both sedative and hypnotic properties. Benzodiazepines also decrease muscle tone. You may have seen commercials for common benzodiazepines like Xanax. Some common benzodiazepines are:

  • Xanax (alprazolam) - used to treat anxiety and panic disorder
  • Valium (diazepam) - used to treat anxiety and panic disorder, seizures, and muscle spasms
  • Klonopin (clonazepam) - used to prevent seizures

3. Ethanol:

You probably know ethanol by a different name: alcohol. Chances are that you are familiar with the effects of alcohol. After a few drinks, alcohol reduces inhibition, impairs judgment, and impairs coordination. After many drinks, alcohol can lead to loss of memory, loss of consciousness, and even death. The effects of alcohol are dependent on the amount of alcohol that is present in the bloodstream. This is known as blood-alcohol content. So the more alcohol you have present in your blood, the more dangerous the effects and the more strongly it reduces the electrical activity in your brain.

4. Opioids:

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