Types of Sedatives and Their Risks

Types of Sedatives and Their Risks

Published on January 29, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

Sleep issues are some of the most common health problems faced by American adults. Sleep issues may occur on their own, or as a symptom of an ongoing physical or mental health disorder. A lack of quality sleep can lead to many unpleasant symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and poor work performance.

Many people seek to remedy sleep issues with various sedatives, many of which carry a high potential for abuse. Additionally, many of these same drugs are used to treat those with anxiety and panic disorders. They are meant to be taken only when experiencing an attack.

Understanding the types of sedatives commonly prescribed, as well as what signs may indicate a dependency, can be helpful. If you suffer from sleep or anxiety issues, make sure you take the proper precautions and seek professional help for addiction if necessary.  


These drugs are commonly prescribed for anxiety, panic disorders, and sleep disorders. Benzodiazepines include the drugs Xanax, Ativan, and Valium. They work by enhancing the effect of the neurotransmitter known as GABA. GABA is a naturally occurring chemical that is meant to slow the brain’s function and induce sleep.

This sedative effect results in muscle relaxation, drowsiness, and a general sense of calm. Tolerance to benzodiazepines builds reasonably quickly, meaning they carry a high risk of dependency. For regular users, more of the drug may soon be required to achieve the same effect.

Additionally, benzodiazepines are associated with a higher chance of developing dementia as well as an increased risk of suicide. When taken in excess, benzodiazepines can lead to overdose. The potential for a fatal overdose increases when users of these drugs take them alongside alcohol or other drugs, such as opioids.

This combination commonly occurs as an attempt to intensify the experience of one or both drugs. Xanax is especially popular among teenagers and young adults as a way to enhance the effects of alcohol.

Non-Benzodiazepine Hypnotics

Non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics are a class of drugs usually prescribed to treat insomnia. This class includes Ambien and Lunesta. They work similarly to benzodiazepines, by activating GABA and slowing down the central nervous system.

Drugs such as Ambien were created to offer an insomnia drug with fewer risks and a lower potential for abuse than popular benzodiazepines. While it usually takes longer to develop an addiction to Ambien than it does Xanax, drugs in this class are still considered addictive.

Ambien creates a tolerance within a couple of weeks, and many users begin to feel as if they can’t sleep at all without the drug. In addition to the potential for addiction, these drugs include dangerous side effects like memory loss and hallucinations. Although Ambien is meant to be taken right before bed, many people begin taking the pill earlier in the evening to experience a euphoric effect.

These users may act erratically while under the influence and have no memory of their actions the next morning. Like benzodiazepines, sedative-hypnotics can be taken to the point of overdose. This risk is increased when mixed with other drugs or alcohol.


Narcotic medications, also known as opioids, are commonly prescribed to treat pain, but may also be used as a sedative. This group of drugs includes Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet. These drugs are considered extremely addictive and may even lead to the use of illegal drugs such as heroin.

Many people who develop an opioid addiction began taking the drugs to relieve pain. After a while, they found that they could alter their mood or induce sleep with these medications as well. These drugs also carry a high potential for overdose, possibly stopping critical bodily functions altogether when taken in excess.

Mixing opioids with other drugs or alcohol increases the potential for overdose. 


Sleep and anxiety issues can often be treated without sedative medications. Still, unfortunately, many people receive a prescription before they exhaust other methods. Most people can significantly benefit from a holistic approach to these issues by establishing a healthy routine of physical activity, meditation, and proper nutrition.

Additionally, anxiety and insomnia are often a sign of an underlying psychological problem such as a mental health disorder or unresolved trauma. Seeking therapy for these issues can help manage symptoms, possibly even eradicating them for good. If you believe you may have developed an addiction to sedatives, it is essential to reach out for professional help as soon as possible.

A quality treatment program can help you to leave substance abuse behind while also working through underlying issues.

The First Responders Treatment Program at Simple Recovery uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses. We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers. Existing stigmas may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially tricky.

Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career. Nor do you have to resign yourself to a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships. At Simple Recovery, we take a holistic approach to treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction. This approach makes it possible for first responders to regain control of every aspect of their wellbeing.

First responders dedicate their lives to protecting their community. At Simple Recovery’s First Responder Treatment Program, we dedicate our time to helping these compassionate individuals find a path to lasting sobriety and mental wellness.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us now at 888-743-0490