Home » Drugs of Abuse » Depressants and Inhalants (Downers) – Understanding Addiction

Depressants and Inhalants (Downers) – Understanding Addiction


  • Most widely used and abused drugs in the U.S.
  • Popular for its stress and anxiety relieving properties as well as acceptably.

Before Barbiturates

  • Chloral Hydrate was first synthesized in 1832 but not used clinically until 1870.
  • Chloral Hydrate has a short onset (30 minutes) and 1g can induce sleep.
  • Chloral Hydrate abuse causes massive stomach pain.
  • Paraldehyde was first synthesized in 1829 but not used clinically until 1882.
  • Paraldehyde has a very large margin of safety and is a very effective CNS depressant.
  • Its negative point is that it has an awful taste and a bad smell that permeates the breath of the user.
  • Bromides salts were used to induce sleep in the 19th century and used until the 1960’s in OTC meds.
  • Bromides have serious toxic effects.


  • Barbiturates were first used clinically in 1903.
  • Barbiturates are very dangerous when combined with alcohol, however, they are still used for sleep.
  • Barbiturates are grouped into time of onset and duration of action.
  • Meprobamate was the first antianxiety agent, known as The Happy Pill of 1953.
  • Meprobamate can cause physical dependence with as little as twice the normal daily dose.
  • Methaqualone was mass marketed as a safe downer.
  • Physicians over prescribed Methaqualone and many problems, from suicides to overdoses, were seen.
  • Methaqualone is now listed as a schedule I drug.


  • Librium was the first benzodiazepines marketed as an anxiety reducer with a large safety margin. Others followed as did reports of psychological dependence.
  • Rohypnol is one version. It is legal in places other then the US. Here it is known as the “date rape” drug.
  • Benzodiazepines work by bonding with receptors. They enhance the normally inhibitory effects of GABA.

Sedatives and Hypnotics (Nonbenzodiazepines)

  • Nonbenzodiazepine hypnotics are the newest additions to the depressant drug class.
  • Nonbenzodiazepine are more selective for the GABA-A type of receptor
  • Sedatives cause mild depression of the CNS and are used to treat extreme anxiety referred to as anxiolytic.
  • Four top selling prescribed medications in the US are anxiolytic. They are the most widely prescribed drug class.
  • Many types of anxieties are treated with these antianxiety drugs.
  • Hypnotics are used to encourage sleep because of their amnesiac effects. They have, in the past, been liked to very harsh side effects.
  • Anticonvulsants are given at very low doses, chronically. For this reason a tolerance tends to develop. This lowers or stopping the desired effects.
  • Short-acting barbiturates are the benzodiazepines that are most likely to cause psychological dependence.
  • Chronic use of large doses can lead to withdraw syndromes from barbiturates that are similar to alcohol but longer lasting and more unpleasant.
  • Barbiturates can produce alcohol-like intoxication with impaired judgment and coordination. This can make it easier to cause harm to oneself while under the influence.
  • Depressed rate of respiration is the largest physiological concern. Especially when mixed with alcohol.


  • Gaseous anesthetics have been used for many years, with people misusing them for just as long. Nitrous oxide, laughing gas, is still used today as a light anesthesia.
  • Butyl nitrites cause rapid delegation of the arteries and can cause faintness or unconsciousness. It can help with high blood pressure. Sold as “Poppers” , they usual have a very unpleasant stench.
  • There are many types of volatile solvents. Most “huffers” are children that use household items to get high. Aerosols, toluene, gasoline, freon, butane and propane can all be used.
  • GHB – gamma hydroxybutyric acid is a CNS depressant that occurs natural in the body.
  • It has been taken as a dietary supplement to stimulate muscle growth.
  • It is listed as a schedule I drug except in one form that is used to help with cataplexy. In the form of Xyrem it is a schedule II.

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