We have all heard the word Sedatives; however, many of us don’t know what it means or its functions. The purpose of this article is to give you an in-depth understanding of sedatives. Broadly, sedatives are drugs that at often prescribed in order to help slow down your brain activity and keep you relaxed.

In simpler terms, sedatives are substances that help calm your nerves down as well as slow down your brain functions in order to help you rest and relax. Often, doctors prescribe sedatives to help treat certain conditions such as sleep disorders, anxieties, and so on.

Also, in surgery, sedatives are commonly used as general anesthetics in order to help the patient relax as well as sleep.

In order for sedatives to be made, their components have to be produced in a controlled manner. Also, sedatives are known to be controlled substances, and this means that their production, sales, and usage are mostly regulated.

In the United States of America (USA), the Drug Enforcement Administration(DEA) is responsible for regulating the production of these sedatives as well as their distribution. They are also responsible for creating rules and regulations that help in the control and administration of these drugs.

Anyone who sells or uses sedatives without the proper notification of the DEA or without regulations becomes a federal criminal. One of the major reasons why these drugs are so highly regulated is because they can be quite addictive. It is highly possible for one to depend so much on them and, as such, abuse them.

It is important to note that these drugs aren’t to be taken without the doctor’s prescription. This is because using them uncontrollably can lead to dependency as well as addiction.

Let’s go into details about how their functions, precautions to take when you make use of these medications, as well as other alternatives to use in place of these sedatives.

Mode of action

Sedatives have a unique way of functioning. They work by modifying the communications in the Central Nervous System (mostly in the brain). What sedatives do is that they slow down the rate at which nerves send signals out, effectively slowing down the entire body.

Specifically, sedatives induce the over-production and the Overworking of a neurotransmitter known as Gamma Amino-Butyric Acid (GABA). GABA s what causes your brain function to slow down.

Once the level of GABA is increased in the brain, sedatives cause GABA to have a stronger effect on the brain.

Types of Sedatives

There are many sedatives in the market; however, for the purpose of this article, here are a few of them. It is important to note that these sedatives are controlled substances and must not be used without a doctor’s prescription. These sedatives include:

1. Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are a unique class of drugs that treat anxiety and panic attacks, sleep disorders, and specific phobias. Examples of Sedatives found in this class include Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), Valium (diazepam), and so on.

2. Barbiturates

Barbiturates are those sedatives that are mostly used for anesthesia during surgical procedures. Examples of these sedatives include Nembutal (Pentobarbital Sodium), Luminal (phenobarbital), and so on.

3. Hypnotics

Hypnotics, otherwise known as non-benzodiazepines, are sedatives that are often given to help treat sleep disorders. Examples of hypnotic include Ambien (Zolpidem) and so on.

4. Opioids

Opioids, which are generally known as narcotics, are examples of drugs that are often used to treat severe pain. Examples of these sedatives include Vicodin (acetaminophen/hydrocodone), Oxycontin (Oxycodone/Oxy), Percocet (oxycodone/acetaminophen), and so on.

Mentioned above are the four major classes of Sedatives that we have. Although, there are several other classes, however, most sedatives that tend to be prescribed by doctors and sadly, are usually abused by most patients belong to the four categories listed above.

Side effects of Sedatives


Sedatives, when controlled, poses minimal side effects. Some of these effects may be long term, while others may be short-term.

Some of the short-term or immediate side effects that you may experience include;

  • Dizziness
  • Sleepiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Impaired perception: Impaired perception is said to occur when a person is not able to see distance or depth as well as one normally should. This can result in uncoordinated movements.
  • Impaired Reflexes: This condition is said to occur when the patient experiences a slower rate of response to actions that are happening around them.
  • Breathing comes slower or shallow.
  • Inability to feel pain or excess pain inflicted on the patient. No matter how sharp or intense the pain is, the patient will likely not feel anything.
  • Impaired Cognition: This is said to occur when a person feels like he/she has lost control and finds it difficult to think or concentrate.
  • Slurring: Slurring of words occurs when a person loses control of his talking abilities and starts speaking slowly.

The long- term effects of Sedatives include;

  1. Amnesia: Amnesia is said to occur when a person is always forgetting or frequently losing your memory.
  2. Depression: A patient may experience symptoms of depression. These signs include feeling fatigued, having suicidal thoughts as well as feelings of hopelessness.
  3. Anxiety and panic attacks: Being sedated can result in certain long term effects such as anxiety and in some worse cases, result in panic attacks.
  4. Excessive sedation or overdose can also lead to damage to the tissues in the liver resulting in liver damage or liver dysfunction.
  5. Sedatives can be quite addictive, and dependency on them will result in irreversible conditions and, in some cases, withdrawal symptoms that can occur once you suddenly stop using the drugs.

We have already established that sedatives are addictive, and over time, one may develop a condition known as dependency. Dependency is said to occur when your body can’t physically function without the drugs.

For example, if you are dependent on Vicodin, there comes a time when you may not be able to function without the drug. There are certain signs you will experience if you are dependent on sedatives.

They include;

  • You take this drug regularly, and you feel you can’t go through the day without you taking them. Usually, this is evident when you start taking doses that are higher than your prescribed amount.
  • You take twice the dosage of drugs to cure the same ailment. For example, if you are to take two tablets to help resolve your pain, you end up taking four tablets. This doesn’t mean that your pain has increased. It merely means that your body has become so used to the drug that two tablets can’t handle the pain anymore; your body needs more.

Once you see these signs, you may be well on your way to becoming addicted to them. If you notice these symptoms, then you may want to stop taking these drugs, and as such, you go into withdrawal.

Basically, in withdrawal, your body starts to respond to the absence of these sedatives with several uncomfortable and painful mental and physical symptoms.

If you are in withdrawal, you will experience certain signs such as;

  • Irritability
  • Inability to sleep
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Panic attacks

In extreme cases, you may experience other symptoms such as

  • Bouts of psychotic breakouts
  • Seizures
  • Fainting
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea
  • Getting lost in space

It is important to note that your body develops dependence based on how tolerant your body was to it in the first place. Sometimes, some people may develop addiction over a few months or a few years.

Some may develop dependence in a few weeks or even less. This difference in time frame makes it more difficult for people to know who when they initially became addicted.

Research has it that the older you get, the more susceptible you are to becoming addicted to certain sedatives such as benzodiazepines.

Precautionary measures when using sedatives


When taking sedatives like Opioids, there are certain precautions you must make sure you adhere to so that you don’t develop a dependency on them. These measures include:

  1. Never take them except prescribed by your doctor.
  2. Avoid taking alcohol: Alcohol, on its own works as a sedative, as such mix in alcohol alongside other sedatives, can multiply its effects and, as such, lead to certain dangerous and life-threatening situations and may even result in death.
  3. Never mix sedatives: Many people have the habit of taking several drugs together. Never try mixing several sedatives. Also, never take sedatives alongside other drugs like antihistamines because they can result in dangerous side effects.
  4. If you are pregnant, never take sedatives: If you must take sedatives, ensure that you consult your doctor and gynecologists. This is because sedatives when they are taken in high doses, are strong enough to harm your growing baby and also, put your life at risk.
  5. Don’t smoke marijuana: The major effect of cannabis on sedatives is to minimize its effects. According to research done in 2019, they found that those who smoked marijuana needed an equally higher dose of sedative for anesthesia than those who have never smoked before.

If you are concerned about the effects of Sedatives or worried about being overly dependent on them, then you can consider other alternatives. However, you must ensure that you discuss it with your doctors and get their medical opinions.

In conclusion, sedatives are highly potent drugs. They relax your mind while reducing brain activities. They are usually effective for certain medical conditions, and they are mostly used for surgery. We can’t underestimate their use.

However, no matter how useful they are, once you become overly dependent on them, they can become very addictive. Ensure you consult with your doctors before using them.


  • Everything you want to know about sedatives; Healthline