Barbiturates and benzodiazepines belong to the family of drugs that are frequently called the Sedative/Hypnotics or Tranquilizers, due to the fact they reduce anxiety and cause sleep as well. The “major tranquilizers” are used to treat schizophrenia and the severely mentally ill (by reducing delusions, hallucinations, agitation and aggressiveness), while the “minor tranquilizers” are primarily used to treat anxiety, restlessness and insomnia. As these drugs are often combined with other drugs to achieve a high (alcohol), these drugs could result in death due to causing Central Nervous System depression. These drugs are either ingested or injected.

Slang/Street Names

Barbiturates: Barbs, beans, black beauties, blue angels, candy, downers, nebbies, reds, sleepers, yellows, yellow jackets. Benzodiazepines: Downers.


Sedative-hypnotics depress the Central Nervous System (CNS) and in the process, decrease awareness of external stimuli, shorten the attention span and decrease intellectual ability. These effects are experienced due to the drugs having an effect on the neurotransmitter GABA, which is the natural “slow down” neurotransmitter in the body. As a result, regular sleep patterns are changed in addition to the loss of rapid eye movement.

Symptoms and Side Effects of Abuse/Dependence

Acute effects of the Sedative-hypnotics cause the person to display an unsteady gait, slurred speech in addition to a “bouncing” motion of the eyes (nystagmus). Abuse of the drugs may create a “paradoxical agitation” in which the person experiences insomnia, hallucinations, nightmares, euphoria, rage reactions and violent behavior (most likely in people who have a history of aggressive or unstable emotional behavior).

Use of sedative-hypnotics may also cause confusion and disorientation in addition to dizziness and headaches. Excessive and chronic use of Sedative-hypnotics could cause apnea (the absence of breathing) in addition to muscle weakness, sexual dysfunction and respiratory depression.

Withdrawal and Overdose

Symptoms of withdrawal from Barbiturates are severe and could cause death and usually begin 8 – 12 hours after the last dose is taken. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, muscle twitching, tremors, progressive weakness, dizziness, distorted visual perception, nausea, vomiting and insomnia.

Although Barbiturates can be lethal in overdose, benzodiazepines are not. Benzodiazepines have a large “LD” or lethal dose plateau, however, overdose with both types of drugs could be fatal if combined with another CNS depressant (alcohol, etc.).

Tolerance to Barbiturates also carries a steep LD, however, the tolerance to respiratory depression is more gradual. Eventually, the abuser of Barbiturates reaches a point where the amount of drug needed to feel good is not much less than the amount needed to kill. Withdrawal from the Sedative-hypnotics should always involve the care and attention of a Medical Doctor.

If you are struggling and abusing sedative/hypnotics, please consider asking others for help, by clicking here.

Other HEAD GAMES Drugs of Abuse:




Hallucinogens (Marijuana and LSD)


TeleHealth/Video counseling sessions are available for those who prefer to meet online – Dr. McGill

Businesswoman presses button psychological counseling online on virtual screens. technology, internet and networking concept.

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About Dr Ken McGill

Dr. Ken McGill is an ordained minister and has been involved in counseling for more than 25 years. Dr. McGill holds a Bachelor's degree in Religion from Pacific Christian College (now Hope International University), a Certificate of Completion in the Alcohol and Drug Studies/Counseling Program from the University of California at Los Angeles and a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University. Dr. McGill received his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Family Psychology from Azusa Pacific University in May, 2003. Dr. McGill's dissertation focused on the development of an integrated treatment program for the sexually addicted homeless population, and Ken was "personally mentored" by dissertation committee member Dr. Patrick Carnes, a pioneer in the field of sex addiction work. Dr. McGill authored a chapter in the text The Clinical Management of Sex Addiction, with his chapter addressing the homeless and sex addiction. Dr. McGill is also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the States of Texas and California and Mississippi, and is a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, through the International Institute for Trauma and Addictive Professionals (IITAP). Dr. McGill had a private practice in Glendora, CA (Aspen Counseling Center), Inglewood, CA (Faithful Central Bible Church), and Hattiesburg, MS (River of Life Church), specializing in the following areas with individuals, couples, families, groups and psychoeducational training: addictions and recovery, pre-marital, marital and family counseling, issues related to traumatization and abuse, as well as depression, grief, loss, anger management and men's and women's issues. Dr. McGill also provided psychotherapeutic treatment with Student-Athletes on the University of Southern Mississippi Football and Men's Basketball teams. Dr. McGill served as the Director of the Gentle Path Program, which is a seven-week residential program, for people who are challenged with sexual addiction, sexual anorexia, and relationship issues. Dr. McGill also supervised Doctoral students in the Southern Mississippi Psychology Internship Consortium with the University of Southern Mississippi. Dr. McGill was inducted into the Azusa Pacific University Academic Hall of Honor, School of Behavioral and Applied Sciences, in October, 2010. Dr. McGill currently works as a Private practice clinician with an office in Plano, Texas, providing treatment with people who are challenged in the areas mentioned above.




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