What Is a Sedative? Uses, Addiction, and Treatment

Common sedatives are a type of depressant that alters the body’s nervous system for a specific duration. Some examples include benzodiazepines, opioids, barbiturates, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), and sleep-inducing drugs like eszopiclone and zolpidem. The effects on the mind and body may vary depending on the potency of each medicine. Some of them come in the form of liquid while others in the form of a pill. 

What Is A Sedative | Care Plus NJ

Different Types of Sedatives

To give you a better idea of what type of drugs fall under the class of sedatives, let’s break down the common types and explain what they’re for. 


These are a type of sedative used to treat seizures, anxiety, panic disorders, sleep disorders, and muscle spasms. Common examples of benzodiazepines include Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Librium, Halcion, Serax, and Klonopin.


Barbiturates are often taken alone or with procedural sedation like anesthesia to treat seizures, insomnia, and neonatal withdrawal. In addition, they are also used to induce comas in patients with increased intracranial pressure. Some of the common examples of this type include Nembutal and Luminal.

Opioids and Narcotics

Opioids and narcotics are often prescribed to patients experiencing severe pain as a result of a physical accident or surgical procedure. The most common medicines that fall under this category include Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet.

Sleep Disorders: Sedative Hypnotics or Sleep Medications (Z Drugs)

Handling sleep disorders with sedative hypnotics or sleep medications targets a specific receptor in the body’s central nervous system known as the BZ1. It is a subunit of gamma-aminobutyric acid, which promotes better sleep. For this reason, z drugs and are recommended for those suffering from insomnia and other sleep conditions. Examples of this drug include Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata.  

Herbal sedatives and over the counter medications are often used for sleep problems.

While these sedatives should primarily be used for medicinal purposes, prescription sedative misuse can lead to sedative dependence. As such, sedatives in general are considered controlled substances. This means that the only way to obtain these medications legally is through a doctor’s prescription and like all medications, sedatives medically reviewed by your doctor should happen regularly.

The Use of Sedative Medications

Many doctors prescribe central nervous system depressants such as sedatives to treat conditions like anxiety, seizures, tension, sleep disorders, mental disorders, and panic attacks.

In addition, physicians use sedatives such as general anesthesia during surgical procedures to induce sleep among patients. Afterward, analgesics (another form of sedatives) are given to patients to provide pain relief. 

When a woman is having difficulty, distress, or restlessness during her labor, an obstetric anesthesiologist may induce a short acting sedative for mild sedation to reduce anxiety and offer calmness and relaxation. 

Doctors also prescribe these drugs to treat insomnia in sleep problems in hopes of inducing sleep while creating good sleep hygiene and pain management for muscle spasms. The tranquilizing effect and sedating properties often assist those with and bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

How Do Sedatives Work?

When taken, sedatives trigger the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter. This will slow brain activity to allow for relaxation and drowsiness.

Depending on the dose and the type of drug, the calming effects of the sedatives can last anywhere from a few hours to a little over one day. Within that time frame, the person may experience different adverse reactions that can impact not only neural activity but also the body’s normal functions. 

The Effects of Sedatives

Although sedatives offer beneficial clinical effects, they can also give rise to unwanted side effects like the following:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty with concentration and focus
  • Impaired distance and depth perception
  • Faulty pain receptors
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired judgment
  • Low blood pressure

Long-term Risks and Effects of sedatives

When consumed regularly over long periods, sedatives can cause long-term risk factors and adverse effects that include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Anxiety
  • Weight gain
  • Liver dysfunction
  • Drug dependence 

When taken with other medications or substances like alcohol, opiates, cold medicines, and other drugs, the effects of sedatives will only worsen to the point of it being a life-threatening situation. That’s why it’s important to recognize the importance of careful consumption. 

As much as possible, everyone who is prescribed to take sedative medicines should limit their intake to the recommended amount. Otherwise, it may lead to drug addiction and physical dependence and when stopping one can experience withdrawal symptoms. 

Addiction and Dependence

Drug addiction and dependence typically go hand-in-hand. This means that if a person develops an addiction to prescription medications like sedatives, they tend to be dependent on them to the point where their bodies and minds won’t be able to perform normally without them.

Signs of Drug Addiction and Physical Dependence

According to the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition) The DSM code for sedative, hypnotic and anxiolytic use disorder DSM-V is 304.1 and the ICD-10 code is F13. 1.

Sedative dependence does not only happen in people who misuse sedatives and addiction can manifest in two key areas: physically and psychologically. Usually, the vital signs will not appear simultaneously. Sometimes, a person may experience physical symptoms before psychological ones. Other times, it’s the other way around. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to be familiar with sedative use signs to determine if a person is suffering from physical dependence and addiction.

The physical symptoms include:

  • Impaired motor functions
  • Dizziness
  • Shaky muscles
  • Restlessness
  • Hallucinations
  • Profuse sweating
  • Delirium
  • Poor impulse control
  • Slowed or slurred speech
  • Sleep disorders
  • Mood changes
  • Respiratory depression

On the other hand, psychological symptoms include:

  • A need for a higher dose and more frequent doses to achieve the desired effect of sedative drugs
  • An overwhelming desire or craving to consume more sedatives
  • An inescapable urge to keep consuming even after experiencing acute withdrawal symptoms

More often than not, psychological symptoms play with the mind to communicate an overpowering need to obtain a certain type of drug or a combination of drugs to get the desired effect.

The intensity of both kinds of symptoms will vary depending on several factors, such as the type of sedative drugs being abused, the frequency, and the dosage. In some cases, sedatives can induce more severe symptoms like the inability to walk properly, irritability, and drowsiness. In other cases, sedatives can lead to violent behaviors and Alzheimer’s. 

Recognizing the Dependency and Addiction

While these symptoms may seem obvious on the surface, they’re often much harder to detect or accept. Perhaps some clear signs appear — rather than taking the necessary steps to prevent the progression of the addiction, many would rather ignore them. This is because they believe that the allure of sedative use has become too powerful to stop.

Once addiction occurs, it is more likely to increase risk factors such as severe sleep problems, seizure threshold and withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms occur when a person tries to stop taking sedative medications after becoming addicted and physically dependent. Most of the time, these can be incredibly uncomfortable and even painful. That’s why we strongly suggest that recovering addicts going through the withdrawal process seek professional help. 

While the withdrawal process will vary per person, some of the common symptoms that may appear can include:

  • Weakness
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Extremely high fevers
  • Convulsions
  • Agitation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures 
  • Abnormal blood pressure
  • Tremors 

When one experiences these withdrawal symptoms, they may feel the need to use street drugs just to take the discomfort and pain away. When a person seeking to just feel better ends up combining sedatives, opioids and benzodiazepines they have a higher risk of opioid overdose and ending up in an emergency department.

For this reason, the withdrawal stage is a vulnerable time in the journey to recovery.

Statistics of Sedative Addiction in America

There’s no doubt that drug addiction is a major problem in the United States. Based on the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, 50% of the population ages 12 and above have consumed illicit drugs at least once in their lives; the most used drug being marijuana, with opioids and prescription pain medication coming next.

Another data point from the same source shows that there have been over 700,000 people who have died as a result of a drug overdose in the United States since the year 2000. 

In terms of sedative addiction, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) estimates that 0.2% of the American population ages 18 and older will struggle with sedative medications, hypnotic drugs, and anxiolytic use disorder for one year. 

In addition, the data presented by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that approximately 5% of adult females and 3.1% of adult males in the United States have used sedatives as prescribed medication for specific health conditions. According to them, they project about 1.3 million of these numbers to abuse sedatives for an average of 12 months.

Cause of Sedative Addiction

To understand why people fall prey to substance abuse and addiction, we need to understand the root causes that trigger them. These are the following. 


If someone has a history of substance addiction in the family, they are more likely to become victim to a sedative use disorder. The APA reports that genetic factors play a direct and indirect role in prescription drug abuse. The impact of one’s genetic component only increases with maturation, puberty, and adulthood. Typically, those who inherit personality traits (like impulsivity and novelty seeking) from their immediate family have an increased risk of developing sedative abuse. 

Environmental Factors

Besides genetics, the environment in which people surround themselves also plays a significant role in triggering addiction. For instance, if a person is surrounded by peers who use drugs and drink alcohol regularly, they are more likely to fall prey to the same vices. That said, peer pressure and extreme societal expectations are significant causes of substance use.


While sedatives are considered controlled substances, people can still gain access to a supply through illegal sources. Likewise, since certain sedatives can be prescribed to treat alcohol-related conditions, people who have an alcohol problem can get their hands on this type of drug. 

Those who are in too deep will always find ways to get what they want. Sadly, this is a reality that we face, and we must face it head-on to help these people recover. 

Treatment Options for Sedative Addiction at CarePlus New Jersey

Withdrawal Symptoms From Sedative Medications | Care Plus NJ

For people seeking help for sedative addiction, opiate addiction, or alcoholism stopping can feel like an impossible feat. But there are effective methods to promote recovery. 

Based on the severity and frequency of drug use, the treatment that we will recommend will differ. For those who have not been taking drugs for a long time and have not succumbed to drug dependence, outpatient treatment is an option. CarePlus New Jersey offers treatment to adults and adolescents without invasive procedures. Calling to schedule an initial assessment is where to begin.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Those who need more addiction recovery services can utilize our Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), outpatient detoxification and intensive outpatient programs available at CarePlus New jersey. Our medical, clinical, and wellness professionals can will guide you and or your loved one to find recovery services that are the right fit. 

Groups and IOP Programs

CarePlus offers groups, individual therapy, and specialized programs called Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP’s). These services are covered by insurance and we are an in-network provider for most insurance companies and state funded insurance. Having a safe place to recover from drugs can relieve anxiety and offer hope.

Individuals suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms may need to be treated in an inpatient facility. Our team will assess the needs of each patient and gather information on all illicit drugs and other medications to determine the best level of care to insure there are no adverse reactions. 

Those who choose addiction recovery services change their lives and the the lives of the one who love them. The average length of stay in any of our programs is open ended based on the needs of each individual.

The healing process is life changing and addiction recovery services are available for those who need help.

Find Help Today at CarePlus New Jersey

If you are or a loved are suffering from prescription sedative misuse reach out to a CarePlus New Jersey our staff is ready to help you start your recovery process immediately. 

CarePlus is here to provide support and encouragement to ensure that every person seeking help for drug abuse, addiction, or alcoholism, finds the help they need and can gradually returns to a healthier life.