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Sedatives Addiction

Sedatives Addiction, Most Commonly Used Sedative, Symptoms of Drug Abuse, Effects, Overdose, Withdrawal Treatment Options

What are Sedatives?

Sedative drugs include benzodiazepines, selective benzodiazepine receptor subtype agonists (z-drugs), barbiturates, and other sleeping pills. These are commonly prescribed for insomnia and other sleep problems and are also used for anxiety disorders, either generalized or panic attacks.

These sedatives are controlled substances due to their potential for misuse and substance abuse. Misuse is often self-medication (chemical coping) of psychological symptoms in ways unauthorized by the prescriber, usually as dose escalation leading to requests for early refills. Sedatives are abused for euphoric effects, which may have dangerous consequences.

Are All Sedatives Addictive?

Misuse of prescription psychotherapeutic drugs, including sedatives, is second only to marijuana as the nation’s most prevalent illicit drug use issue. All sedative and hypnotic drugs pose a significant risk of physical and psychological dependence. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2015, an estimated 119.0 million Americans aged 12 or older used prescription psychotherapeutic drugs in the past year, representing 44.5 percent of the population. About 18.6 million of them used sedatives (6.9%).

Sedatives Addiction
Controlling anxiety and stress is the main reason or cause of sedative addiction.

Of the 18.6 million past year users of prescription sedatives, 0.6 million were youths aged 12 to 17 (2.4% of youths), 1.3 million were young adults aged 18 to 25 (3.8% of young adults), and 16.6 million were older adults aged 26 or older (8.0% of older adults). Thus, the overall estimate of 6.9% of people aged 12 or older who used sedatives in the past years was driven by use among adults aged 26 or older. [1]

What are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are classified as sedatives due to their central nervous system depressant and sleep-inducing effects. Primary therapeutic uses of barbiturates are as anesthetic and anticonvulsant medications. Barbiturate abuse — both prescription and illicit — peaked in the 1970s, but by the late 1980s, barbiturates had been largely replaced by benzodiazepine medications for the treatment of anxiety and insomnia due to safety issues.

As the rate of barbiturate prescribing decreased dramatically, so did abuse of barbiturates. Butalbital is a short-acting barbiturate that is combined with caffeine and aspirin (Fiorinal) or acetaminophen (Fioricet) and is commonly prescribed for the treatment of headaches. However, regular use of butalbital can lead to physical dependence and a withdrawal syndrome that starts with headaches, resulting in a vicious cycle of recurrent headaches (medication-rebound headaches) that are only relieved by frequent re-administration of butalbital.

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Most of those who abuse barbiturates will also have experience with other sedatives. It is rare for a patient to develop sedatives addiction to barbiturates alone. Abusers will take a variety of available sedatives to treat the unpleasant effects of illicit stimulants, reduce anxiety, or induce euphoric effects. [2]

What are Benzodiazepines?

The most commonly prescribed sedatives are benzodiazepines, which are similar to alcohol in that they facilitate the inhibitory effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) at the GABA-A receptor complex, primarily by binding non-selectively to the benzodiazepine subtype 1 (BZ1) and BZ2 receptors.  Benzodiazepines are depressants that produce sedation and hypnosis, relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, and reduce seizures. In addition to reducing anxiety and inducing sleep, benzodiazepines can cause euphoria and, therefore, are subject to abuse as recreational drugs.

The most common benzodiazepines are the prescription drugs:

  • Valium
  • Xanax
  • Halcion
  • Ativan
  • Klonopin

Tolerance can develop, although at variable rates and to different degrees. Shorter-acting benzodiazepines used to manage insomnia include:

Midazolam (Versed®), a short-acting benzodiazepine is utilized for sedation, anxiety, and amnesia in critical care settings and prior to anesthesia. It is available in the United States as an injectable preparation and as a syrup (primarily for pediatric patients). Benzodiazepines with a longer duration of
action are utilized to treat insomnia in patients with daytime anxiety. These benzodiazepines include:

Many different benzodiazepines are prescribed, with different durations of action, rates of onset, and intensities of euphoria.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a chemical that is made in the brain and is also found in some foods. In the brain, GABA has anti-seizure and anti-anxiety effects. GABA works by blocking brain signals (neurotransmissions).

Z-Drugs (Sleeping Medication)

There are three non-benzodiazepine drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of insomnia:

These sedatives are often called “z-drugs.” They are agonists that bind to the same binding site as benzodiazepines at the GABA-A receptor, but they only act on the BZ1 subtype receptor and, thus, are similar to typical benzodiazepines (i.e., diazepam, alprazolam, and others), even though they are more selective receptor subtype agonists. They possess a shorter duration of action and half-life, do not disturb overall sleep architecture, and cause less residual effects during daytime hours, making them more clinically attractive than benzodiazepines.

However, adverse effects such as hallucinations and psychosis have been reported, particularly with zolpidem. Increasing reports of bizarre and complex behavioral effects from z-drugs have prompted regulatory agencies to issue warnings and restrictions on prescribing, dispensing, and using z-drugs.

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Most Commonly Used Sedative

Other medications slow brain activity and have sedating effects using different mechanisms than those that sedatives utilize. These include:

Some examples of these prescription medications include:

Sedative Side Effects

Although sedatives have intended clinical effects, they may also cause some adverse short-term side effects, including:

  • Difficulties with focus and concentration
  • Memory loss
  • Slow reaction times
  • Impaired depth and distance perception
  • An inability to feel pain
  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment
  • Slurred speech
  • Low blood pressure

Long Term Sedation Side Effects

  • Anxiety
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Thoughts of suicide
Sedatives Addiction
A large number of drugs are associated with sedatives addiction after chronic exposure, although the risk varies among them.

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects

Can Long-Term Sedation Cause Brain Damage?

Yes. According to one study, sedation was associated with in-hospital death. The patients who had received sedation had a longer duration of ventilation, a longer stay in the intensive care unit and in the hospital, and an increased in-hospital mortality rate compared with the patients who did not receive sedation. Compared with daily interruption or light sedation, deep sedation increased the in-hospital mortality and decreased the 60-month survival for patients who had received sedation. [3]

Sedation is the administering of a sedative drug to produce a state of calm or sleep. As the amount consumed increases, especially beyond the established tolerance of an individual, progressively more impairment occurs in judgment and brain function. Initial signs include slurred speech, followed by nystagmus, incoordination (especially in complex tasks such as driving), ataxia, and memory impairment (“blackout”). Severe sedative overdose may lead to stupor, and high levels result in suppression of the autonomic respiratory drive and may result in coma or death from anoxic brain injury. 

Addiction to Sedatives

The “high” from sedative medications is described as being very similar to alcohol intoxication. Tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal are all reported with sedatives, though these appear to be less severe and with lower incidence for z-drugs than for benzodiazepines or barbiturates. Problems from misuse and abuse of sedatives have continued to grow with time.

Sedatives Addiction Signs

According to Healthline, Sedatives are a type of prescription medication that slows down your brain activity but it comes with the risk of dependency. Dependency develops when your body becomes physically dependent on the sedative and can’t function normally without it. Dependence can be hard to recognize. The clearest symptom is that you can’t stop thinking about taking the drug.

Sedcatives addiction is a brain disorder. Your doctor may also be able to recommend an addiction counselor, therapist, or a treatment center that can address both the medical and psychiatric effects of addiction.

Sedatives Addiction Symptoms

Substance use disorders are defined as a pattern of use that results in marked distress and/or impairment, with two or more of the following symptoms over the course of a 12-month period:

  1. Using the substance in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than intended
  2. Unsuccessful attempts or persistent desire to reduce the use
  3. Too much time spent on obtaining, using, and/or recovering from the effects of the substance
  4. A strong craving for the substance
  5. Significant interference with roles at work, school, or home
  6. Continued use despite recurrent social or interpersonal consequences
  7. Reducing or giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of the substance use
  8. Substance use in situations in which it may be physically hazardous
  9. Substance use despite recurrent or persistent physical or psychological consequences
  10. Tolerance of the substance
  11. Withdrawal from the substance [4]

Psychological Symptoms of Sedatives Addiction

  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Paranoia

Physical Symptoms of Sedatives Addiction

  • Slurring speech
  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Depressed pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Diminished coordination

Non-medical use of sedatives is common. Furthermore, nearly 10% of those with non-medical use meet the criteria for abuse/dependence. Anxiety symptoms associated with non-medical use (panic symptoms) and abuse/dependence (agoraphobia) should alert clinicians to screen for these problems and consider alternate treatment or referral.

People who are suffering from sedatives addiction or develop sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder may be at risk for co-occurring disorders. Clinical professionals use the term dual diagnosis to describe the simultaneous presence of more than one disorder. Sedatives addiction has been associated with the following disorders:

Failing to receive dual diagnosis treatment can undermine your recovery efforts. 

Can You Overdose on Sedatives?

Yes. Long-term use of benzodiazepines can worsen underlying depression and anxiety. A recent study showed that benzodiazepines accounted for nearly 30% of deaths from pharmaceutical agents, and 75% of overdose deaths were unintentional. Another study of zolpidem misuse showed that hospital admission was common when zolpidem was ingested with other medications and resulted in intensive care unit admission in nearly half of cases for hemodynamic instability or prolonged altered mental status.

Sedatives Addiction
Withdrawal from sedatives addiction poses a risk of seizures, which can be very dangerous if not treated immediately.

Sedative Overdose Symptoms

  • Changes in alertness
  • Coma
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Drowsiness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Staggering
  • Memory loss
  • Poor judgment
  • Slow breathing
  • Sluggishness
  • Slurred speech

Overdose may lead to death and should be treated as a medical emergency. If a person shows any overdose symptoms, 911 should be contacted immediately.

Sedative Withdrawal

Patients who chronically take sedative medications, whether prescribed by a physician or bought on the black market, are at risk for an acute withdrawal syndrome that is clinically indistinguishable from alcohol withdrawal. The severity of withdrawal is affected by concurrent medical illness. Risk factors for severe withdrawal (delirium tremens) include larger amounts of sedatives taken chronically, longer time of use, older age, and comorbid medical or psychiatric problems.

Misuse or abuse of sedatives may lead to intoxication or a withdrawal syndrome, either of which may be fatal.  Sedative withdrawal syndrome can be avoided by slowly tapering down the dose of the sedative over several weeks. More serious withdrawal is treated by substitution with a long-acting sedative and requires close medical supervision in the outpatient or inpatient setting. After treatment of these consequences, the substance use disorder should be addressed with long-term treatment that involves individual and/or group counseling with the help of sedatives addiction treatment professional.

Sedatives Addiction Treatment

Receive treatment for co-occurring disorders today.

We Level Up treatment center can help with inpatient therapy programs exclusively. Because each client is different and requires unique, comprehensive care according to their situation, our staff of well-trained physicians and nurses first begin the client relationship with a detailed one-on-one assessment.

We Level Up is a multi-faceted primary drug and alcohol dual diagnosis program treating secondary co-occurring mental health conditions and polysubstance abuse. We Level Up team uses evidence-based proven methods to generate cutting-edge solutions to substance abuse and behavioral health challenges. With support programs targeted towards families and individuals. We work to improve the health of the public and of individuals from every behavioral and related integrated addiction primary and mental health secondary treatment option. This includes constant research and innovation on substance abuse and integrated co-occurring mental health treatment models paired with individuals in a conducive environment.

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Residential inpatient programs vary. Call to learn more.

Detox for Sedatives Withdrawal

Withdrawal from substances of abuse is an important first step to overcoming your sedatives addiction or drug dependency. However, withdrawal isn’t an effective treatment by itself. You’ll need further treatment and support to help you in the long term.  [5]

Often, sedatives can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms. However, proper care and medical supervision will greatly reduce the chances of developing these symptoms and ensure a safe detox process. This means that the individual detoxing will be weaned off of the substance slowly and carefully. Depending on their biology, dosage, and frequency of use, the time it takes to taper off varies but is usually achieved within a few weeks.

The longer and heavier the drinking, the more prolonged and more severe detox will be.  For this reason, going through the process sooner than later, and getting help, is critical to recovery.

Once fully admitted and evaluated, the 2nd stage of detox gets underway:  stabilization.  Based on the data provided during the admissions process, patient feedback, and the symptoms observed;  our experienced team of medical addiction professionals will provide care to keep the patient stable and as comfortable as possible. [6]

Programs, services, and treatments vary. We Level Up rehab center offers inpatient substance abuse treatment. Offering co-occurring treatments. We treat the entirety of sedatives addiction and behavioral health disorders including their secondary corresponding illnesses to improve long-term recovery outcomes. Get a free health assessment and find out what treatment options are most suitable for you. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely used treatment for drug abuse and dependence to help individuals identify negative thought patterns, emotions, and problematic behaviors and learn how to make healthy lifestyle changes that decrease the urges to abuse sedatives and use other substances; paying particular attention to symptoms of psychosis, depression, and other co-existing mental health-related problems or dual diagnosis that are exacerbated by stress.

Counseling Services

Individual, group and family counseling services are offered in the majority of mental health and substance abuse treatment programs to “get to the root of the problems”, improve communications and relationships, and motivate the abuser toward positive changes. . The structured guidance of a counselor helps the patient stay on track and in the right perspectives as they strive to achieve their potentials and goals of recovery.

Sedatives Addiction
Attempting to detox from sedatives alone and without medical support can be a deadly mistake. Contact We Level Up now if you or a loved one is struggling with sedatives addiction.

Increasing awareness of high-risk situations and warning signs and developing avoidance strategies and coping skills for handling those situations is an important part of treatment known as relapse prevention and knowing what to do should relapse occur is equally important to ensure any long-term recovery success.

Our FREE 24-hour Hotline can help you with the resources about treatment options for sedatives addiction. Get a free consultation now for your best-fitting treatment programs along with free rehab insurance verification. Call We Level Up today and speak with one of our addiction specialists to check your rehab insurance coverage and benefits.

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When you feel ready or just want someone to speak to about therapy alternatives to change your life call us. Even if we cannot assist you, we will lead you to wherever you can get support. There is no obligation. Call our hotline today.

As the sedatives addiction treatment community begins to realize that addiction is itself a mental disorder, the relationship between substance abuse and mental disorders becomes more complicated. The greater treatment community largely lacks a proper understanding of dually diagnosed conditions, so these conditions are still treated separately, or worse–not treated or diagnosed at all. We Level Up dual diagnosis treatment centers in Florida, California, Texas, and New Jersey are some of the facilities that have professionals trained to help treat co-occurring disorders concurrently. This type of tandem treatment provides some of the best success rates.

Get dual diagnosis treatment for individuals struggling with substance abuse and mental health disorders. We Level Up addiction counselors will discuss the average cost of the program based on the personalized treatment that works best for you.


[1] Prescription Drug Use and Misuse in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration
[2] Prescription Sedative Misuse and Abuse – National Center for Biotechnology Information
[3] Effect of sedation on short-term and long-term outcomes of critically ill patients with acute respiratory insufficiency – National Center for Biotechnology Information
[4] Sedatives Addiction Signs – Adapted from American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5®). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2013.
[5] Alcohol Misuse –
[6] Stabilization Treatment Program – We Level Up New Jersey