Defined by chronic and uncontrollable intake, use, and abuse, substance use disorder (more commonly known as “addiction”) is a disease that affects a significant number of the American population. Over time, drug addiction affects a person more and more until it completely takes over their lives. With the millions of people affected by drug abuse disorders in the United States alone, drug treatment centers must constantly update their available forms of treatment to better treat the emergence of addiction to newer drugs.

Among these newer addictive substances, sedatives are some of the most commonly abused ones. When it comes to treating sedative addiction, it is necessary to engage in the proper steps of treatment. Sedatives can be extremely dangerous, especially when abused long-term. For this reason, the proper diagnosis, treatment, and aftercare are required to fully treat someone suffering from sedative addiction.

What are Sedatives?

Sedatives are a class of drugs and encompass many other specific drugs. Similar to opioids and hallucinogens, there are many drugs that make up the family of “sedatives.” Commonly abused sedatives can include alcohol, benzodiazepines (or “benzos”), and barbiturates.

Sedatives work by slowing down central nervous system function, resulting in a much slower body and brain function. Motor skills and decision-making become impaired, and a user will usually show signs of tiredness or fatigue.

By nature, sedatives have a highly addictive quality. A tolerance to sedatives forms very quickly and as a result, users and abusers will increase their doses and rate of use sometimes even during the first week of use. Not only do sedative addictions develop faster than you think, they are extremely dangerous. Sedative use and abuse rapidly alter the chemical functionality of the brain, and physical and psychological dependencies can form. Because of the potential dangers of sedative addiction and abuse, early detection is essential to preventing the initial development of addiction as well as preventing relapse.

What are the Signs of Sedative Addiction?

As stated above, early detection plays a huge role in treating an addiction. It is common knowledge that, generally, the longer someone waits before treating their addiction, the harder treatment will be. Fortunately, there are a number of different side effects and signs to look out for if you believe that you or someone you know may be developing a sedative addiction.

Because all drugs are different, it is important to not cut any corners when treating a substance abuse disorder. Although sedatives all have the same depressant properties, the side effects of each individual sedative drug may change. While this is true, there are a variety of physical and behavioral side effects that are common across the entire sedative class of drugs. They can include, but are not limited to:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lack of coordination
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Partaking in high-risk activities in order to get more of a substance
  • Memory problems
  • Aggression
  • Inability to keep work, family, or social obligations
  • Loss of interest in social activities
  • Preoccupation with acquiring sedatives
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drug cravings
  • Developing a tolerance to the drug
  • Continuous use and abuse despite negative drawbacks

Because many of the addiction symptoms are behavioral, they can vary from person to person. It is important to be on your toes and be on constant lookout for any of these common side effects. Time is valuable when it comes to addiction and treatment, so the quicker you identify an addiction, the easier it will be to treat in the long run.

Not only do sedatives have dangerous addiction symptoms, but they also occasionally have life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. For this reason, it is important to take on sedative addiction with the support of medical professionals, and doing otherwise may prove fatal.

What is Involved in Sedative Addiction Treatment?

If you or someone you know has successfully identified your addiction, the next step is engaging in the full continuum of treatment. Complete sedative addiction treatment requires following the full continuum of care, which maximizes success in long-term recovery.

The complete continuum of care involves the completion of every level of treatment, from detox to outpatient and aftercare. As a patient completes the entire continuum in order, they slowly gain more and more responsibility and freedom, which helps ease them back into everyday life after treatment. Hoisting too many responsibilities upon a patient can cause unnecessary stress and can be detrimental in the recovery process.


The first and arguably one of the most important steps in sedative addiction treatment is medical detoxification (detox for short). Detox is the stage in which all substance toxins and residue are removed from the body by tapering and/or use of medications to treat anxiety and other withdrawal symptoms. By undergoing medical detox in a controlled environment, you are exposed to the highest level of medical care, support, and supervision.

While in detox, patients will have access to doctors, nurses, and therapists 24-7 that will help ease withdrawals and ensure that you are on the right path to sobriety. It is important to be open about how you feel toward your doctors and nurses. If you are uncomfortable and are having negative thoughts during detox, it is imperative that you bring it to the staff member’s attention. Most relapses occur in the beginning stages of treatment, and if you ignore your discomfort and concerns, you put yourself at a much higher risk for relapse.


After the completion of medical detox, a patient will be given the opportunity to continue treatment. Depending on the severity of your past addiction and how successful detox was, you will continue treatment either through inpatient treatment or outpatient treatment. By the time you finish detox, you will be through the withdrawal symptoms and discomfort. However, this does not mean that treatment will simply “get easier.” Inpatient treatment is known to be the “heavy-lifting” and the “meat” of treatment, and all of your clinical aspects of addiction treatment will be taken care of.

At the inpatient level of care on the continuum, a patient will be subject to 24-7 surveillance by living on-site, but there will be little to no medical intervention at this point. Inpatient treatment primarily focuses on the psychological and therapeutic approaches to treatment.

Residential treatment is a form of inpatient treatment and similarly consists of a patient staying on-site during treatment. The difference between residential and normal (intensive) inpatient treatment is simply the intensity. Residential treatment is much more relaxed and laid back, and patients are treated more as guests or residents. For only three to five hours a week, a resident will participate in addiction therapy.


In outpatient care, a patient will undergo group and individual therapy sessions on-site but will be able to live at home while they are in recovery. Because outpatient care puts a large amount of responsibility on a patient, it is the perfect transition from recovery back to a sober life.

Outpatient treatment programs involve minimal medical intervention and are more used to simply keep patients on track in staying sober. Regular, scheduled drug tests are common to detect if someone is relapsing. If a patient is found to be using again or relapsing, they will undergo a more intensive treatment program such as an intensive outpatient program (IOP).

How Dangerous are Sedatives?

Because sedatives are highly addictive, they are considered to be one of the most dangerous types of drugs. Those that are prescribed sedative medication are at a high risk, and many addictions start from a prescribed patient increasing their dose without their doctor’s consent.

Many people will attempt to treat their own addiction by going “cold turkey.” The term “cold turkey” refers to the immediate cessation of a substance in an attempt at detoxing without having to go through the process of enrolling in professional treatment. Quitting cold turkey without doctor’s consent should never be done, and in the case of sedatives, the severity of the withdrawal effects exponentially increases. Psychosis, sweating, shaking, and even hallucinations and seizures are common sedative withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol, due to the fact that it is legal and sometimes glorified in society, accounts for tens of thousands of deaths per year by itself. As one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States, alcohol has become one of the most dangerous sedatives due to its accessibility.

The high accessibility of sedatives also contributes to the potential dangers of them. Benzodiazepines are the most frequently used sedative (apart from alcohol) and are commonly used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. For instance, there have been almost 50 million prescriptions of Xanax written each year. For this reason, doctor shopping and faking prescriptions are easy ways to illegally obtain sedatives.

Sedative Abuse Statistics

Some of the statistics surrounding sedative abuse may be surprising. Sedative abuse is a common form of addiction presenting itself across all age groups and other demographics in the United States. The number of people affected by sedative abuse and addiction continues to rise annually, making the need for proper sedative addiction treatment even greater.

According to a study published by CNN, benzodiazepines accounted for almost 30 percent of all overdoses in 2013. The other 70 percent is contributed by opioids.

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