Depressants are types of drugs that people take in an attempt to alter their current emotional state, especially in cases of extreme pain or emotional distress. The immediate short-term effects of the drug are what tempt many to use them; these include relief from anxiety, stress, and a feeling of relaxation and increased calmness. Alcohol is the most common depressant in the world and is the substance of choice for those looking to relax and relieve stress. There are other more potent forms of the drug used for medical purposes, and different depressants can have varying effects on people. Some may have immediate effects, while some may have effects that take a longer time to manifest. Different people can have different reactions to a drug, and it is vital in addiction treatment to recognize the type of depressants and the duration of their use.

Depressants work by slowing down the central nervous system, consequently calming an individual. It is usually prescribed for use in psychotherapy and as a sedative or anesthetic, but has a high risk for abuse due to its psychedelic effects. The use of depressants can cause reduced heart rate, decreased blood pressure, muscle relaxation, unconsciousness, and a sense of euphoria. Although similar in their effects, depressants or “downers” are divided into three main categories.


Barbiturates were drugs used as anesthesia for surgery and as a treatment for insomnia. They are derived from barbituric acid and were also commonly used for psychotherapy as a sedative or hypnotic drug. Currently, the use of barbiturates has been discontinued and it is currently being replaced with benzodiazepine or “benzos.” Common barbiturates include phenobarbital, pentobarbital, and thiopental. GHB is also a barbiturate that has made its way into the club scene, with youths mixing it with alcohol to achieve a feeling of extreme calm and euphoria. GHB, however, is very dangerous and excessive use can induce a coma. The usual side effects of barbiturate use also include bleeding sores on the lips and mouth, light-headedness, fever, muscle pain, and depression.


This type of depressant is used clinically to treat epilepsy, convuslions, and anxiety. Similar in effect to barbiturates, benzodiazepine is used as a muscle relaxant and sleep aid. Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin are the most well-known types and are more commonly referred to as tranquilizers. Mostly indicated for insomnia and anxiety, chronic users can experience disorientation, mood swings, muscle weakness, memory impairment, and depression.


Opioids are drugs derived from opium and are commonly prescribed as a painkiller, cough suppressor, and anesthetic. Ironically, methadone, a synthetic opioid, is used to aid in the detox process of opioid addiction treatment. Other common opioids include morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and heroin. Heroin is the most common and most abused opioid, and can cause liver and kidney disease, heart problems, pulmonary disease, vomiting, and skin infections.