There are more than 70 different types of sleep disorders ranging from lack of sleep, disturbed sleep, and excessive sleep, according to HealthCommunities.com. In part, sleep disorders can be easily managed after the initial diagnosis by a medical professional.
The most common sleep disorder is insomnia, and it affects about 60 million people nationwide. Statistics show that women and senior adults (age 65-plus) are among the hardest-hit populations. Scientists haven’t been able to find a link as to why it disproportionately affects these groups more than others.
With such a staggering number of Americans suffering from sleep deprivation, it is no wonder why sedatives, Ambien specifically, are so widely prescribed.
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Sleep is the fuel for life, and those who are unable to achieve the recommended eight hours per night will be unable to perform routine functions; this can have potential health problems down the road.
Sedatives are not just prescribed for sleep, though, and those who suffer from anxiety are another group that consumes sedatives. These can range from benzodiazepines like Xanax or barbiturates like Amytal.
Anxiety is a crippling disorder that can remove people from society. While the aforementioned drugs can have positive effects and help individuals manage their medical problems, the dark side of their use is that the euphoria provided by these medications disappear as tolerance builds. Sedative users will take more of the drugs to mimic the same effects that were achieved when use began. This is where dependency and addiction become a problem.
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What Are Sedatives?
According to the site News-Medical, “Sedatives are a diverse group of drugs manufactured for medical purposes to relax the central nervous system.” The purpose of these drugs is to slow normal brain function. In some cases, people who have an anxiety attack experience a pounding heart, accelerated heart rate, trembling, and shaking. A drug like Xanax slows this high function of the body and returns it to feeling normal. The problem is that instead of trying to find alternative and natural solutions, anytime people feel the slightest bit of anxiety, they reach for a pill.
The same can be said for sleeping problems. Once an individual seeks out sleep medication for immediate relief, they forget how to fall asleep on their own. Once it becomes a crutch, dependency issues begin to arise. Instead of using it for medical purposes, an individual may begin to use it to experience euphoria. As a result, tolerance develops quickly, and to achieve the same results, more and more will need to be consumed.
Several types of sedatives make their way through pharmacies and onto the streets. They include:
- (Ambien): Slang names include Ambo, no-go pills, tic-tacs, zombies. Ambien is used specifically to treat insomnia. Its primary objective is to help you fall asleep faster to achieve the recommended hours of sleep. It produces a calming effect on your brain that enables you to sleep. With the high levels of sleep issues plaguing Americans, this has become a popular medicine. It carries a high risk of dependency and can be dangerous when misused.
- (Xanax): Slang names are bars and school bus. Xanax is a powerful benzo used to treat anxiety disorders. Xanax produces calming effects by reducing brain activity. Xanax can be extremely dangerous when used with other drugs like alcohol or heroin. As it depresses breathing, this combination can cause imminent death.
- (Amytal): Slang names are downers and blue heaven. Amytal is a barbiturate known as a hypnotic-sedative. These are used in cases of anticonvulsants for seizures, and before the discovery of drugs such as Ambien and Xanax, they were used as sleeping pills and anti-anxiety pills. Due to the highly addictive nature of barbiturates, substitutes were created as an alternative.
- (Ativan): Slang names are candy’s, downers, sleeping pills, tranks, sleeping heaven. Ativan, which also goes by its generic name lorazepam, is a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety. Ativan is an intermediate-acting benzodiazepine with a duration of action of 11 to 20 hours. It is highly sought by drug users but can be deadly when abused. If you are prescribed Ativan, you should use the drug as intended to avoid adverse side effects. Due to how long it lasts in the body, higher doses can lead to an overdose.
How Sedatives Work
Sedatives such as benzos and sleeping pills work in the brain by affecting emotional reactions, memory, control of consciousness, and coordination.
According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), sedatives, like benzos, work by enhancing the action of the neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). Neurotransmitters are chemicals that enable brain cells to transmit pulses from one to another. They are released from brain cells by electric signals, and once released, the neurotransmitters signal inhibition or excitation of neighboring brain cells.
The problem with sedatives is that the body becomes dependent on the creation of GABA stimulation from sedatives, and withdrawal symptoms are different than other drugs. When users cannot obtain the drug, they run the risk of severe withdrawals up to grand mal seizures. The withdrawal process from sedatives has three stages.
The first stage is only a minor withdrawal phase that can include anxiety, tremors, and sleep problems. The second phase can include hallucinations, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, and vomiting. Delirium tremens occurs in the third stage.
With such severe withdrawals, quitting “cold turkey” is not recommended. Sedatives, in particular, are drugs that should be treated by medical professionals to protect clients. One thing to keep in mind is that treatment has the client’s best interests in mind and should be considered if someone has become dependent on any of the drugs listed above, or any in the same classification.
Side Effects of Sedative Abuse
When taken at their recommended doses, sedatives can provide the relief that clients need. The problem comes in when a person begins to exceed the prescribed dosage. That’s when the effects of misuse and abuse will become evident. These effects can range anywhere from moderate to severe, all dependent on the dose. Here are some signs to pay attention to:
- An inability to remember things
- Impaired attention and judgment
- Mood swings
- Inappropriate behavior
The long-term effects associated with sedatives can range from addiction to death if misused. When drug abuse becomes prevalent, the user participates in normal functions such as driving. Driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of any drug is not recommended. Due to the intensity of sedatives, it is often recommended to operate a motor vehicle the following day after use.
Signs of Sedative Abuse
Being able to detect warning signs of you or someone abusing sedatives can help make the step toward recovery. Here are warning signs to look for if you suspect sedative addiction:
- Unusual risk-taking behaviors
- Slurred speech
- Slowed speech
- Poor control over actions
- Coordination problems
Typically, a user will have intense and uncontrollable cravings to reach a sedative state.
This is a reliable indicator that they have lost control of their use and should seek treatment immediately before inflicting any further damage.
Early detection is the key to saving someone’s life.
Sedative Risk Factors
Overdoses from sedatives will occur when there is enough barbiturates or benzodiazepines in your bloodstream to depress the central nervous system. When it reaches a point below its minimum sustainability threshold, catastrophic failures can occur in the body. Some signs that you should look out for in the event of an overdose can include:
- Feeling lightheaded
- Extreme or excessive sleepiness
- Unable to think clearly
- Unable to form sentences, slurred speech
- Sensory hallucinations
- An involuntary movement of the eyes, which is known as nystagmus
- Slowed lung functioning, shallow or irregular breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Kidney failure
- Hypovolemic shock
The potential for severe consequences of sedative overdose will increase exponentially if they are mixed with other depressants like opioids. It can include coma, brain damage, and death.
Of the sedatives we’ve mentioned, barbiturates pose the highest risk of triggering an overdose. It’s true because of the small difference in therapeutic doses of these medicines and the dosage necessary to shut down the central nervous system. Barbiturates are responsible for more deaths than benzodiazepines.
Unfortunately, however, in the United States, many people use benzodiazepines in conjunction with opioids. Due to opioids ability to depress the central nervous system, the consumption boosts overdose chances and increases the likelihood of death significantly.
Sedative Rehab Process
If you or a loved one has taken the step to a better life, it is now time to decide which treatment center will be the most beneficial. Once the decision to attend treatment is made, it’s best to prepare by knowing what to expect.
Once a substance abuse problem has been identified, the first step is to enter medical detox. This step is vital in ensuring the success of one’s time in treatment. Stopping the use of sedatives can be dangerous and potentially lethal, depending on the length of time sedatives have been used and the dosage of the drug(s). After a successful detox, there are a few options for treatments for sedative addiction. They include:
- Residential therapy: After detox, clients who need extended time in treatment will enter a 30-to 90-day residential therapy program. This is where you or the substance user in recovery will get to the root of their substance abuse issues. Intense therapy sessions focus on the reasons for use, what contributed to continued use, and teach recovering users healthy behaviors, including how to recognize and avoid triggers that can lead them back to using.
- Outpatient therapy: This type of program is beneficial for recovering substance users who have professional obligations to attend to when they are not receiving treatment. Outpatient clients will visit the facility three to four times a week for two to four hours a day to understand what led to their destructive behaviors.
- Counseling: Counseling allows recovering users to meet with the medical and mental health professionals who are monitoring their recovery and be present in the day-to-day portion of their lives. Counseling helps aid in the continued recovery and long days ahead that former substance users will face as they work to rebuild their lives after dependence and addiction.
- More than 10% of high school students have used sedatives for a nonmedical reason at least once
- 47,000 emergency room visits are caused as a result of sedative overdose
- Barbiturates are a factor in about one-third of all reported drug-related deaths
- The FDA estimates that more than 60 million people are prescribed a type of sedative each year
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Meštrović, T. (2018, August 23). What are Sedatives? Retrieved from from https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-Sedatives.aspx
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, March 6). Prescription CNS Depressants. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-cns-depressants
(n.d.). CDC - Sleep Home Page - Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Retrieved from from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html
Weaver, M. F. (2015, September 3). Prescription Sedative Misuse and Abuse. Retrieved from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4553644/