Also known as depressants and sleeping pills, sedatives are a group of drugs that slow brain activity. This results in a relaxed effect that can influence sleep, but it can lead to addiction.

The sedative definition is: “tending to calm or soothe,” and “allaying irritability or excitement; assuaging pain; lowering functional activity.” Sedatives are often given to treat anxiety due to its calming effect.

How Do Sedatives Work?

Sedatives work by calming the central nervous system (CNS). They work on the brain by affecting the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which decreases brain activity. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that manage the communication between the brain cells, so when a sedative affects the brain’s natural process by slowing it down, calmness occurs.

What Are the Types of Sedatives?

There are three main types of sedatives: barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and “z-drug” sleep medications. Each of these three categories works to calm the body in different ways.

  • Barbiturates are sedatives that can be taken independently or together with anesthesia. Typical examples of barbiturates include Nembutal (pentobarbital) and phenobarbital. These sedatives can be used to treat seizures and seizure disorders.
  • Benzodiazepines are sedatives prescribed to treat muscle spasms, anxiety before surgeries, seizures, and seizure-related disorders. Examples of these would include Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Librium, Halcyon, Klonopin, and Serax. (Rohypnol is another benzodiazepine that is ten times stronger than Valium, but it is no longer legal in the United States because it was used as a “date rape” drug.)
  • “Z-drugs” are sleep medications including Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata what act on BZ1, a receptor in the central nervous system. This makes their target very precise and results in being a strong sleep aid. They aren’t purposed for continued use. Hallucinations are one side effect of Z-drugs.

Do Sedatives Have Side Effects?

Like all drugs, sedative drugs can have side effects. According to, “Thesedatives addiction effects of using sedatives can resemble those of alcohol.”

Some side effects of sedatives may include:

  • Confusion and memory problems
  • Depression/anxiety and worsening of symptoms increased risk of injury
  • Impaired judgement
  • Blurred vision
  • Mood swings
  • Drowsiness and dizziness
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Decreased breathing and heart rate (worsened with alcohol)
  • The risk of addiction
  • The risk of overdose and death

According to an article from, “During the first few days after taking a prescribed CNS depressant, a person usually feels drowsy and uncoordinated, however, this will diminish.

  • If one uses these drugs long term, the body will develop tolerance, and larger doses will be required to achieve the same initial effects. In addition, continued use can lead to physical dependence and—when use is lessened or stopped—withdrawal.”
  • Large doses of sedatives may result in coma, unconsciousness, or death. This is most likely to occur when children get a hold of the pills or adults begins taking the wrong dosage.

Can You Become Addicted to Sedatives?

When you consume any substance that is naturally foreign to the body, there is a chance that you could become addicted or dependent on it — there is a difference.

Becoming addicted to a drug means that you have a “compulsive desire” to use the drug. Your body craves it and you physically need it so you won’t experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms may be physical or psychological effects that you’ll experience when you abruptly stop a drug.

Developing a dependence to a drug means that your body begins to depend on it. For example, if you take a “z-drug” like Lunesta every night to go to sleep, you won’t be able to sleep until you take it from then on.

Your body depends on a drug to complete a specific function when you develop a drug dependence. This causes your body to need a higher dose of the drug to get the effect, a phenomenon known as tolerance.

How Can You Prevent Sedatives Addiction?

You can prevent sedatives addiction by…

  • Providing a medical history and description of the problem when talking to your doctor so they can prescribe the appropriate medication for you.
  • Follow the sedative directions when you do receive the prescription to ensure that you are taking it correctly. Educate yourself on the possible side effects.
  • Keep checking in with your doctor!

Do You Have a Sedatives Addiction?

You may have a sedatives addiction or dependence if you…

  • take then in large doses
  • continue to take them for a long period of time
  • fail to attempt to get off sedatives
  • take a while to recover from the drug
  • have mental and physical cravings
  • your life begins to revolve around the drug
  • relationship qualities begin decreasing
  • It becomes hazardous to your health

Make sure that you are using sedatives properly, and if you feel that you are developing an addiction, get help right away.