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. Among the medications commonly prescribed for these purposes are Benzodiazepines, Non-benzodiazepine sleep medications and Barbiturates.
Despite their many beneficial effects, benzodiazepines and barbiturates have the potential for abuse and should be used only as prescribed. The use of non-benzodiazepine sleep aids is less well studied, but certain indicators have raised concern about their abuse liability as well. During the first few days of taking a prescribed CNS depressant, a person usually feels sleepy and uncoordinated, but as the body becomes accustomed to the effects of the drug and tolerance develops, these side effects begin to disappear. If one uses these drugs long term, larger doses may be needed to achieve the therapeutic effects. Continued use can also lead to physical dependence and withdrawal when use is abruptly reduced or stopped
Because all CNS depressants work by slowing the brain's activity, when an individual stops taking them, there can be a rebound effect, resulting in seizures or other harmful consequences. Although withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be problematic, it is rarely life threatening, whereas withdrawal from prolonged use of barbiturates can have life-threatening complications. Therefore, someone who is thinking about discontinuing CNS depressant therapy or who is suffering withdrawal from a CNS depressant should speak with a physician or seek immediate medical treatment.
Patients addicted to barbiturates and benzodiazepines should not attempt to stop taking them on their own. Withdrawal symptoms from these drugs can be problematic, and—in the case of certain CNS depressants— potentially life-threatening. Research on treating barbiturate and benzodiazepine addiction is sparse; however, addicted patients should undergo medically supervised detoxification because the dosage they take should be gradually tapered. Inpatient or outpatient counseling can help individuals through this process. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on modifying the patient's thinking, expectations, and behaviors while increasing skills for coping with various life stressors, also has been used successfully to help individuals adapt to discontinuing benzodiazepines.
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