What are Depressants?

Many people feel relaxed after a few drinks. This is because alcohol is a depressant. Drink too much alcohol and you may well pass out for the same reason!

Depressants are one of the three main categories of drugs. A few depressants, like alcohol, are taken recreationally by individuals who are looking to relax. In many scenarios, depressants can be used safely. However they can also be dangerous if used inappropriately. Many depressants are available only by prescription or are even illegal. So, what exactly are depressants?

What are Depressants?

The word ‘depressant’ comes from the root word depress. In relation to drugs, this term has nothing to do with feeling down or sad. In this context, ‘depress’ means to lower your level of activity and this is what a depressant drug does.

Depressants slow down the activity of the central nervous system (CNS) and the messages that are sent between the body and the brain. Alcohol is the most widely used legal depressant. Commonly used illegal depressants in the UK are cannabis and heroin. Many prescription drugs are also depressants, these include barbiturates and benzodiazepines (e.g. valium, temazepam).

Depressants can lower your level of awareness, decrease your heart rate, and slow down breathing. For these reasons, depressants are also known as ‘downers’.

The effects of depressants can change depending on the amount taken. Cannabis, for example, is normally considered a depressant, but when used in greater quantities it can act like a hallucinogen.

The Effects of Depressants

In smaller doses, depressants can cause calmness and relaxation. This can reduce anxiety and lower inhibitions.In larger doses, depressants can be quite dangerous. In worst cases they can cause slurred speech, respiratory depression, total loss of consciousness, loss of senses, and sometimes death.

Medical Uses of Depressants

Doctors will often prescribe depressants drugs to relieve symptoms associated with a variety of different disorders, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures

Photo Credit: Miran Rijavec on Flickr

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This post was originally published in December 2014.

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