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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 these pharmaceutical drugs: 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.

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.

Prescription Sedative and Tranquilizer Abuse

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.

Although common, it may not always be obvious when a person is abusing prescription sedatives or tranquilizers. Some physical signs of abuse and misuse may include:

  • Disorientation
  • Depression
  • Slurred speech
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors
  • Impaired memory, judgment, or coordination
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dizziness

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)

Legal and Physical Consequences of Prescription Sedative and Tranquilizer Abuse

Just as illicit drug abuse come 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.

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:

  • Drowsiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Weakness
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lack of coordination
  • Confusion
  • Coma
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Dependence and addiction

Commonly Abused Prescription Sedatives and Tranquilizers

Some of the most commonly abused prescription sedatives and tranquilizers include:

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. If you or a loved one is addicted to benzodiazepines or barbiturates, you should seek help immediately and begin treatment with a medically-supervised detox program. Once the first phase of treatment is completed (detox), your treatment team may provide recommended options for ongoing treatment, such as long-term inpatient or outpatient rehab, behavioral therapy, and/or a sober living program.

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