Prescription Sedatives and Tranquilizers: Side Effects, Detox, Withdrawal, and Treatment
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What Are Prescription Sedatives and Tranquilizers?
Prescription sedatives and tranquilizers are central nervous system depressants that can only be obtained with a prescription from a doctor. There are two primary types of tranquilizers and sedatives: benzodiazepines and barbiturates.
- Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed by doctors in the U.S. They are typically used to treat anxiety, seizures, insomnia, and panic attacks. Xanax and Valium are two common brands.
- Barbiturates are not prescribed as frequently as benzodiazepines, but they are still used in hospital and veterinary settings. They may also be prescribed to treat acute anxiety, tension, and sleep disorders. Examples of barbiturates include Phenobarbital and Mephobarbital.
Most prescription sedatives and tranquilizers are produced in tablet or capsule form, but sometimes they can be liquid. These drugs have a high risk for abuse because misusing them often results in pleasurable feelings of calmness and euphoria.
Sedative vs. Tranquilizer: What’s the Difference?
Although they are very similar, what’s the difference between sedatives and tranquilizers?
Essentially, prescription sedatives (barbiturates) are prescribed for acute anxiety, tension, and sleep disorders. On the other hand, prescription tranquilizers (benzodiazepines) are prescribed for anxiety, acute stress reactions, or panic attacks. Unlike sedatives, tranquilizers also work to stabilize mental health disorders like bipolar disorder.
Are Prescription Sedatives and Tranquilizers Addictive?
Although these substances are very effective in treating anxiety, sleep disorders, and other medical conditions, they are also very powerful and addictive. If a person misuses them on a long-term basis, he or she may suffer from dependence, addiction, and increased risk of mental problems.
Misuse and abuse of prescription sedatives and tranquilizers in the United States is rampant. According to a 2016 report from National Public Radio, one federal survey found that nearly half of all Americans over the age of 12 take prescription pain relievers, tranquilizers, sedatives, or stimulants, and 16 percent of the time, those drugs are misused by about 19 million Americans.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Sedative and Tranquilizer Abuse?
Although common, it may not always be obvious when a person is abusing prescription sedatives or tranquilizers. Some physical signs of sedative and tranquilizer abuse and misuse may include:
- Slurred speech
- Aggressive behavior
- Suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors
- Impaired memory, judgment, or coordination
- Dilated pupils
A few common behavioral signs of prescription sedative and tranquilizer abuse may include:
- Taking or buying prescriptions from a friend, family member, or stranger
- Taking a prescription in a way other than how it was prescribed
- Self-medicating with prescription sedatives and/or tranquilizers
- Taking a higher dose of the prescription than recommended
- Combining the prescription with other prescription drugs, illicit drugs, or alcohol
- Taking the prescription more frequently than recommended
- Stealing prescription sedatives or tranquilizers from a clinic, hospital, or medical facility
- Doctor shopping (visiting several different doctors to get prescriptions)
Just as illegal drug abuse comes with consequences, misusing prescription sedatives and tranquilizers does too.
- Driving under the influence – Misusing prescription drugs can severely reduce your ability to safely operate machinery or a vehicle. Just as driving under the influence of alcohol is punishable by fines and jail time, you can also be arrested and charged with driving under the influence of prescription sedatives and tranquilizers.
- Forging prescriptions – Forging prescriptions can land you in some serious trouble and you may even face jail time of anywhere from six to 12 months or more, depending on the situation.
- Sharing prescription medications with friends – In order to legally possess a prescription sedative or tranquilizer, it must be prescribed to you by the practitioner whose name is on the bottle. Sharing prescriptions with other people is punishable by felony.
If you are convicted of a felony as a result of prescription sedative and tranquilizer abuse, you may also have problems securing employment or getting into the college of your choice in the future.
What Are the Side Effects of Prescription Sedative and Tranquilizer Abuse?
Physical effects of prescription drug abuse will vary based on the type of drug(s) abused, the frequency of abuse, and the person’s drug abuse history. Typically, long-term misuse of benzodiazepines and barbiturates will result in some of the following physical problems:
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty breathing
- Lack of coordination
- Dependence and addiction
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Some of the most commonly abused prescription sedatives and tranquilizers include:
- Xanax (Alprazolam)
- Limbitrol (Chlordiazepoxide)
- Valium (Diazepam)
- Ativan (Lorazepam)
- Halcion (Triazolam)
- Lunesta (Eszopiclone)
- Sonata (Zaleplon)
- Ambien (Zolpidem)
What Are Prescription Sedative and Tranquilizer Withdrawal Symptoms?
If a person misuses prescription sedatives or tranquilizers, they are very likely to become physically dependent. This means they’ll experience sedative withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly stop using them or try to quit cold turkey.
Common sedative withdrawal symptoms include:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased body temperature
Prescription Sedative and Tranquilizer Withdrawal Timeline
The timeline for sedative withdrawal varies from person to person and symptoms may be more or less severe depending on individual circumstances. However, here is a general timeline for sedative withdrawal symptoms during detox.
- About 4 to 8 hours after the last dose: Early sedative withdrawal symptoms may begin to appear and may include increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Tremors and sweating are also common during this early stage of sedative detox.
- 1 to 10 days after the last dose: Sedative withdrawal symptoms can last up to 10 days and may be extremely uncomfortable, especially if they are left untreated. Without medical treatment during sedative detox, a person is at risk of experiencing severe sedative withdrawal symptoms such as delirium and psychosis (or a lost sense of reality). Very strong cravings are also common during sedative withdrawal.
Prescription Sedative and Tranquilizer Detox
Someone who misuses prescription sedatives or tranquilizers for a long time or in large amounts is more likely to experience severe sedative withdrawal symptoms during detox. People with mental health conditions are also at risk of experiencing severe sedative withdrawal symptoms. If the sedative withdrawal symptoms are severe, a person may need to complete a medical sedative detox program.
Medically-assisted detox for sedative addiction provides supervised treatment in a detox facility. Sedative detox treatment allows medical and clinical staff to closely monitor each patient’s health and progress, administer medications, and provide physical and psychological support to help them get through the most severe symptoms.
Sedative withdrawal symptoms can be highly uncomfortable and getting through it alone can be a challenge. A medically-assisted sedative detox program provides essential care and support throughout this difficult time. However, it’s important to know that medical detox is not a cure for sedative addiction and further treatment is necessary to modify harmful behavioral habits and sustain sobriety.
Treatment Options for Prescription Tranquilizer and Sedative Addiction
Detox and rehab treatment for the abuse of prescription sedatives and tranquilizers is most effective when it is tailored to meet the individual client’s needs. Sedative addiction treatment typically starts with medically-assisted detox and continues with an inpatient or outpatient rehab program. The basic goals of a sedative rehab program are to help people address the underlying causes of their addiction and make positive behavioral changes that last.
These objectives for a sedative treatment program are achieved with evidence-based treatment methods, including:
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- Educational lectures
- 12-Step Program participation
- Peer recovery support
- Specialized behavioral therapies (music therapy, art therapy, animal-assisted therapy, etc.)
Although sedative rehab programs have the same goal to help people achieve lasting sobriety, they are not all the same. Different types of sedative treatment programs provide varying levels of support and structure.
For example, residential rehab for sedative addiction offers inpatient treatment that requires clients to live on-site at the rehab center throughout treatment. While they can choose to leave at any time, this type of sedative treatment program is highly structured, with scheduled daily groups and activities, limited free time, and 24/7 access to medical and clinical care.
On the other hand, an outpatient rehab program for sedative addiction allows clients a bit more flexibility by giving them the freedom to live at home, work, or attend school while they complete their sedative treatment program. This type of sedative rehab program may be ideal for someone with a less severe addiction, although it may not provide enough structure for someone who is suffering from a severe addiction.
While inpatient and outpatient sedative rehab programs are two different types of treatment for sedative addiction, they are both great options for people in recovery. If you’re unsure which type of sedative treatment program is right for you, you can speak with your doctor or a Nova representative to receive a professional recommendation based on your treatment needs and circumstances.
If paying for a sedative treatment program is a roadblock for you, there may be several payment options that can help. Talk with your addiction treatment provider to explore options like:
- Health insurance benefits
- Financed healthcare loans
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
- HSA funds
- Scholarships or grants
- Medical credit cards
- Personal loans from family or friends
After you complete a formal sedative treatment program, you may also want to continue your recovery journey by enrolling in a sober living program. Sober living homes provide affordable, supportive, and substance-free housing for people in recovery. Residents must adhere to community rules, maintain their sobriety, and fulfill all program requirements (such as getting a job or attending local recovery support meetings) to continue living at the sober home. However, most sober living homes allow residents to stay as long as they need.
Many sober living homes also offer additional recovery support services to help residents thrive in recovery. These may include:
- Regular drug testing
- Peer monitored recovery support programs
- Employment assistance, resume help, and interview prep
- Volunteer placement
- Educational planning
Start Recovering From Prescription Tranquilizer and Sedative Addiction Today
If you or a loved one is suffering from a sedative addiction, you should seek help immediately and begin treatment with a medically-supervised detox program. Once the first phase of treatment is completed (sedative detox), your treatment team may provide recommended options for ongoing treatment, such as long-term inpatient or outpatient sedative rehab, behavioral therapy, and/or a sober living program.
Could you have an addiction to sedatives?
Take this confidential sedatives use disorder assessment.
Understand Sedatives and Tranquilizers
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