How they work
Depressants are substances that can slow the normal brain function. They are often referred to as sedatives and tranquilizers. Depressants are prescribed by doctors to treat a variety of health conditions including anxiety and panic attacks, tension, acute stress reactions, and sleep disorders. When given in high doses, depressants might act as anesthesia.

While different depressants work in unique ways, they produce a drowsy or calming effect that can help those suffering from anxiety or sleep disorders. Because they can produce a state of intoxication, they have a high potential for abuse. Teens abuse depressants in order to feel calmer and sleep better.

Physical side effects might include

  • Dilated pupils, slurred speech, relaxed muscles, loss of motor coordination
  • Intoxication, sensory alteration, fatigue
  • Respiratory depression, lowered blood pressure
  • Poor concentration, confusion, impaired judgment, lowered inhibitions
  • Barbiturates: slurred speech, dizziness, drowsiness, fever, depression, confusion and irritability

Withdrawal symptoms might include anxiety, insomnia, muscle tremors and loss of appetite. Going cold turkey can cause life-threatening complications such convulsions, delirium, and death in rare instances.

Common depressants

Drug Uses Commercial
and street names


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Used in the past as hypnotics and anti-seizure drugs, Barbiturates are highly addictive and have the worst withdrawal symptoms
Amytal, Nembutal, Seconal, Phenobarbital, Membaral; barbs, reds, red birds, phennies, tooies, yellows, yellow jackets


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Used primarily to treat anxiety and sleep disorders
Ativan, Halcion, Librium, Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, Restoril; candy, downers, sleeping pills, tranks

Sleep medications

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Used to treat sleep disorders, these medications mimic the effects of Benzodiazepines in the body
Ambien (zolpidem), Sonata (zaleplon), Lunesta (eszopiclone); forget-me pill, Mexican Valium, R2, Roche, roofies, roofinol, rope, rophies