Benefits of Depressants

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When hearing the term ‘depressants’, often the term ‘anti-depressants’ come to mind. Depressants however have the opposite effect as stimulants. The term refers to the effect they have on the central nervous system (CNS) and are called CNS depressants as they are used to slow or ‘depress’ activity in the brain, providing a calming effect. There are specific conditions or circumstances where depressants can be helpful for recreational and medicinal purposes. The benefits of their use are discussed below.

Reduces anxiety

The primary therapeutic use of depressants is for the treatment of anxiety disorders. Central nervous system depressants are a group of prescription medications used to treat a range of mental health disorders. It works by stimulating a neurotransmitter in the brain, called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), causing reduced brain activity, and consequently producing feelings of calm and relaxation. For this reason, it is beneficial for treating anxiety, panic disorders, and mania (such as bipolar disorder). 

Helps with sleep disorders

Central nervous system depressant medications are also called sedatives or hypnotics. Increased levels of GABA in the brain cause drowsiness, making it ideal for the treatment of sleep disorders and insomnia. 

Muscle relaxant properties

Tranquilizers are another group of central nervous system depressants, used for their muscle relaxant effects. These medications are used to treat epilepsy, muscle spasms, and involuntary movement disorders. 


What are the types of depressants?

Depressants fall under different categories of prescription medication. However, alcohol (ethyl-alcohol) is also classed as a CNS depressant.

Prescription medication CNS depressants:

  • Benzodiazepines (e.g., Diazepam, Clonazepam, Alprazolam, Triazolam, and Estazolam)
  • Non-Benzodiazepine Sedative Hypnotics (e.g., Zolpidem, Eszopiclone, Zaleplon)
  • Barbiturates (also referred to as ‘downers’). Examples of barbiturates are Mephobarbital, Phenobarbital, and Pentobarbital sodium.

Do depressants make you feel good?

Because of the effect on the brain, depressants provide a calming effect, that is aimed to make you feel relaxed. If the dosage is too high, then it may leave you feeling sleepy and cause problems in concentration and focus. Depressants should contribute to feelings of reduced anxiety, relaxation, and enhanced mood. In the case of alcohol, in small doses, it can contribute to a feeling of euphoria, ease, and reduced inhibitions which can leave you feeling good. 

When are depressants used?

Depressants can be used recreationally, such as in the case of alcohol, to support feelings of relaxation and usually in a celebratory context such as social gatherings. 

Depressant medication/ central nervous system depressants are used for:

– Mental health disorders

– Sleep disorders and insomnia

– Hospitalised medically ill patients 

– Alcohol withdrawal

– Pre-anaesthesia sedation

– Seizure prevention

– Agitation

Why do depressants make you happy?

Depressants work on the area of your brain to reduce stimulus and consequently elicit feelings of calmness and reduced stress. In turn, this can help to alleviate anxiety and leave a person feeling happier. 

How do depressants work?

Central nervous system depressants work on a therapeutic level by increasing a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, that consequently lowers arousal in the brain, producing a feeling of drowsiness.

Physical symptoms caused by depressants are reduced blood pressure, slowed breathing, and heart rate which can be useful to combat feelings of stress and anxiety.

By suppressing the central nervous system, the side effects of depressants when taken in larger doses can also cause dizziness, slurred speech, loss of coordination, poor memory, and confusion.

What mental illness is treated with depressants?

Depressants are used in various therapeutic conditions including:

– Anxiety disorders

– Anxious depression

– Mania (e.g., in bipolar disorder) 

– Catatonia (involuntary movement disorders)

– Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

– Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Central nervous system depressants such as alcohol and prescribed sedatives as mentioned above can be beneficial in a social and therapeutic setting when taken responsibly. Caution should however be taken when using these, even under medical supervision, as the feelings they elicit can contribute to dependence and habitual misuse.

Author: Leanie Huxham

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