Aiding to Epidemic – The Growing Menace of Sedatives


Americans have been flirting with various prescription drugs – opioids, stimulants and depressants – for quite long. As a result, the nation has been paying in the form of a drug epidemic that claims thousands of lives every year. Ironically, the number is only growing despite several measures by the authorities.

While opioids are largely blamed for this public health crisis, sedatives or tranquilizers also play a key role. Because of the way depressants impact the central nervous system and cause it to slow down, use of sedatives leads to a sense of calm, sleepiness, and serenity. Some popular sedatives across the age-groups are barbiturates, benzodiazepines, alcohol and even opiates to some extent.

While people have been consuming alcohol since time immemorial, drugs like barbiturates emerged as a result of the backlash against common opioids, including opium, morphine and heroin, in the 1910s and the 1920s. As these drugs were associated with a particular race and ethnicity, these were looked at with suspicion.

This phenomenon has been explained in detail in “Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac,” by David Herzberg, associate professor of history at the State University of New York at Buffalo. As a result of the widespread hostility, doctors who had previously been prescribing morphine for insomnia and anxiety started prescribing barbiturates to patients.

Barbiturates, unfortunately – as was discovered later – were as risky as opioids. It was then that benzodiazepines came into existence. The first benzodiazepine was introduced in the 1960s. By then it was apparent that barbiturates were harmful, and raised the risks for overdosing, addiction and death, and thereafter their use for medical purposes declined.

Benzos replacement for barbiturates

Once considered as a surefire cure for a number of psychological disorders, such as insomnia, anxiety and panic disorders, it soon emerged that benzos too had side effects. It became evident that these drugs also involved the risks of abuse and addiction. Worse, these drugs sometimes worsened the disorder it was meant to cure.

Currently, the number of drug overdose deaths that could be attributed to benzos is on the rise. America, some reports point out, could be facing a benzo epidemic next. It is estimated that between 1999 and 2015, the number of people who died due to a benzo overdose rose significantly. From nearly 1,000 in 1999 to more than 8,000 in 2015.

Graded as a Schedule IV controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), benzos like Xanax, Klonopin, Restoril, Ativan and Valium are hard to quit because of the pain and the discomfort experienced by the person during withdrawal.


It is for this reason, for a person who has been addicted to benzos, going cold turkey can be a risky proposition. Furthermore, in case someone has decided to quit the drug, it is necessary for them to realize the following:

  • Withdrawal will never be a quickie. It will be a long process, sometimes stretching to even months and years.
  • Withdrawal can never be a painless affair. Depression, anxiety and physiological symptoms like palpitations will be common during a withdrawal.
  • Usually, tapering off slowly is advisable. For example, a person who is addicted to Xanax and Ativan could be put on a long acting benzo like Valium.
  • Certain medications, like antidepressants and antipsychotics, will make the detoxification process painful.
  • As foods containing caffeine and additives such as MSG may make the withdrawal pangs more discomforting and painful, it is better to avoid these during they detox.

Quitting addiction

Abuse of any sedative, whether alcohol, barbiturate or benzos, is dangerous. It impacts the brain chemicals, so it is often difficult to kick the habit without external help. Though the severity of withdrawal is one of the predominant reasons why a person is not keen to enter detox rehab centers, some affordable detox centers that use medically supervised detoxification can help achieve lifelong sobriety.

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Barbara Odozi


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