What are Depressants?

Have you ever wondered why your body seems to relax after having a few drinks? Maybe you’ve wondered why people pass out after a night of heavy drinking? It’s because alcohol is a depressant. Some depressants, like alcohol, are used recreationally by people who want to relax. While depressants can be used safely, they are dangerous if used inappropriately, and many are available only by prescription or even illegal. So, what exactly are depressants?

At the root of the word ‘depressant’ is depress. When we’re talking about drugs, this doesn’t mean to feel sad or down. Instead, ‘depress’ means to reduce your level of activity – this is exactly what a depressant does. Depressants are drugs that slow down the activity of the central nervous system. By decreasing the electrical activity in the brain, depressants produce a calming effect in the body and slow down the brain’s normal functioning. Depressants can decrease your level of awareness, lower your pulse and heart rate, and reduce breathing. For these reasons, depressants are also referred to as ‘downers’.

Depressants can cause relaxation and calmness in smaller doses, which can result in a reduction in anxiety and lower inhibitions. Depressants taken in larger doses have some serious consequences, including complete loss of consciousness, loss of senses, slurred speech, respiratory depression, and even death.

Types of Depressants

You’ve probably used depressants in the past, maybe without realizing. For example, if you’ve ever had a prescription for insomnia or anxiety, you’ve likely used a depressant. Because of their calming properties, doctors prescribe depressants to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Depressants are useful in treating seizure disorders because they reduce the electrical activity in the brain. At higher doses, depressants can be used as general anesthetics.


Barbiturates are created from barbituric acid. Barbiturates have sedative and hypnotic properties, which means they reduce anxiety and induce sleep. Read more about barbiturates. Some common barbiturates are:

  • Amobarbital (Amytal Sodium): Downers, blue heavens, blue velvet, blue devils
  • Pentobarbital (Nembutal): Nembies, yellow jackets, abbots, Mexican yellows
  • Phenobarbital (Luminal): Purple hearts, goof balls
  • Secobarbital (Seconal): Reds, red birds, red devils, lilly, F-40s, pinks, pink ladies, seggy
  • Tuinal: Rainbows, reds and blues, tooies, double trouble, gorilla pills, F-66s ia


Like barbiturates, benzodiazepines have both sedative and hypnotic properties. Benzodiazepines also decrease muscle tone. You may have seen commercials for common benzodiazepines like Xanax. Read more about benzodiazepines. Some common benzodiazepines are:

  • Xanax (Alprazolam) – used to treat anxiety and panic disorder
  • Valium (Diazepam) – used to treat anxiety and panic disorder, seizures, and muscle spasms
  • Klonopin (Clonazepam) – used to prevent seizures
  • Ambien (Zolpidem)
  • Ativan (Lorazepam)
  • Mogadon (Nitraaepam)
  • Restoril (Temazepam)
  • Rivotril (Clonazepam)
  • Aprox (Alprazolam)

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