Depressants are drugs that inhibit and slow down neurotransmission, a process whereby neurotransmitters which are signaling coenzymes, are released by axon, which is a terminal of a neuron and set to act on the dendrites by reacting with the receptors over a short distance in the Central Nervous System (CNS). Depressants are the types of drugs that are most widely and commonly used in the world. A World Drug Report 2019 reviews the market for depressants that relaxes, calms, and slows down the action of the Central Nervous System (CNS). Depressants are primarily used for their psychoactive results and acts, but the research shows that most users are also addicts of other drugs. Most users use depressants sequentially and synchronously with other drugs like stimulants to control the side effects of the other drugs, increase their tolerance, or deal with adverse and severe withdrawal symptoms.
They work in a way that they depress stimulation in various parts of the brain. Unlike Stimulants which increase physical and mental action, depressants are “downers” as they lower the reaction levels. Depressants are used as prescription medicine as they also produce anesthesia. Depressants increase gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) activity, a substance decelerates brain functions, causing drowsy and calming effects. Some examples of depressants include alcohol, cannabis, Xanax (benzodiazepine), barbiturates, and several opiates. Alcohol and cannabis are the commonly used depressants and are a big problem among teenagers and young adults.
Depressants work to decrease the activity of neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers in the human body that transfer neurologic information from one cell to another. Neurotransmitters constantly work to keep our brains and minds functioning, managing, and controlling everything in our bodies, from breathing, learning, and our concentration to walking. Neurotransmitters also affect a diverse of psychological functions such as mood, pleasure, and fear. When depressants are taken in small quantities, they ease the body’s action making one feel more relaxed, but they are very addictive. When abused in large amounts, it may lead to vomiting, unconsciousness, or even death. In 1955, Leo Sternbach accidentally discovered the first such drug, chlordiazepoxide, and was made available by Hoffmann-La Roche in 1960 (Balon et al., 2018). This has hence marketed the benzodiazepine diazepam (valium) from 1963.
Mostly Used Depressants
Alcohol is the most used depressant. It contains ethanol, and it is among the first recreational drugs used by humans, and it is legally consumed in almost every country in the world. Alcoholic drinks are divided into three classes as taxation is concerned, which are wines, spirits, and beers. Alcohol use is a widespread and thriving problem in teenagers and young adults. Barbiturates are another depressant that is used as it relieves insomnia and seizures. In the 1950s, concerns about the social cost of barbiturates outweighing the medical use led to research on a replacement drug as they were commonly used for unapproved reasons and are highly addictive. Barbiturates are still used today as they prevent seizures and relieve migraines.
A benzodiazepine (BZN), also referred to as “benzo,” is also a depressant that was uncovered unintentionally by Leo Sternbach in 1955. When used, it increases the action of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and the GABA receptor leads to hypnotic, anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, and muscle relaxing properties. These effects and properties make it efficient for treating insomnia, muscle spasms, anxiety, agitation, alcohol withdrawal, and seizures. Benzodiazepine is also used as a premedication before dental, surgery, or other medical procedures. When used in the short term, benzodiazepines are effective and safe. Long-term use of benzodiazepine can lead to adverse psychological, physical, and mental complications (Weyandt et al., 2016). Cannabis, a depressant, contains a chemical compound called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which causes sedation, muscle relaxation, less tiredness, and decreased alertness. Opioids which include; morphine, heroin, codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and methadone, are also depressants.
Effects of depressants on individuals and the society
Depressants, when abused, can significantly affect the human body. Alcohol being the most used depressant increases stress and anxiety, which leads to anger, depression, and aggression. Alcohol affects people differently based on the strength of the drink, amount drunk, their alcohol tolerance, among others (Chauhan et al., 2020). Long-term use of alcohol leads to addiction characterized by withdrawal symptoms and leads to liver and lung diseases. There are also chances that the victim may have throat cancer, high blood pressure, and heart diseases. Alcohol impairs judgment; in a case where the victim is operating a machine, they may hurt themselves or even make a big mistake.
Tolerance often develops, and the victim may need to increase the dosage to achieve the feeling, which primarily causes overdose, leading to death. Withdrawal symptoms include convulsions, body weakness, nausea, insomnia, and hallucinations may be experienced, which can be life-threatening. Benzodiazepine is mainly injected into the body through veins. It can lead to vein scarring and damage, such as hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS, as most victims share the injecting materials. Long-term and heavy use of benzodiazepine can cause brain tumors, epilepsy, and stroke. Excessive use of cannabis exposes the brain to THC, which results in a decline in IQ, impaired thinking, and addiction.
The use of depressants affects not only the user but also the community at large. Prolonged use of depressants leads to addiction, which might lead to financial straining as the victim has to supplement their urge for the drugs and might opt to crime, leading to an increased crime rate in society. Violence, financial problems, homelessness, poverty, and mental disorders are some of the many effects of depressants in society.
How to Curb the Use of Depressants through Psychology
Psychological approaches are based on the interaction between the user and the specialist. They help people with drug issues change their drug abuse behaviors (Lucke et al., 2018). CBT, Contingency Management Treatments, motivational approaches, social systems intervention, interpersonal therapy, and family-based interventions are some of the psychological interventions used over the recent years. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques and policies help the dependent by teaching them to recognize and agree to change their behaviors. Contingency Management (CM) is another psychological approach that tends to treat several drugs and substance abuse. CM, either way, has significant benefits and advantages as it dramatically reduces dropping out and relapse. Motivational Interviewing (MI) is facilitated by a therapist and those under-recovery plans for a change in the course of their recovery. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) has its base in the idea that logical thinking comes from the inside.
The matrix model is also another psychological approach to depressants. These treatments can also address anxiety and depression in people who misuse drugs to deal with them. Behavioral models of dependence and addiction primarily focus and aims at analyzing the victim’s observable behavior. At the same time, cognitive theories explain and elaborate more on drugs addiction and dependence through the mental side of view. Cognitive models rely on self-regulation as a module that helps the victims change their behavior as it involves planning and taking control of physical and social factors and one’s goals and dealing with them appropriately. Rational choice theories are centered on the mental ability to make a sound decision on the abuse and misuse of substances. Socioenvirommental and socio-cultural background of a user is also likely to affect their substance abuse. The research shows that introverted people or are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have problems with substance abuse.
Barbiturates and benzodiazepines are prescribed to treat insomnia, anxiety, seizures, and even panic attacks as they are very fast-acting. Benzodiazepine makes the brain’s cells less sensitive as it changes the voltage in the brain to negative. Barbiturates are more harmful than benzodiazepines as one was replaced by the other. Both drugs are very addictive and can lead to overdose, which leads to death.
War on Drugs
As far as the war on drugs is concerned, the cons outweigh the pros. Although we can create drug-free communities and lessen drug-related crimes, there are a growing number of people who don’t see the benefit. Corruption, increased racial tension, a never-ending cycle, increased risk for police officers and military on the front lines of the drug war face are among the cons of the war on drugs (Gonzalez III & McGee, 2019). The disparity in sentencing is also another problem as the system dealing with drug-related crimes is very flawed. Through psychological treatments, we can curb the issue of depressants and drugs with minor damage.
The war on the use of psychoactive drugs is yet to take off as the pills are very addictive, and their pleasurable effects are hard to overcome and are well affected by social influences. Effects of various drugs vary adversely and are determined by factors like the type of drug used and how it is used, and the call out should be proportionally the same as the harm it causes. To curb the use of depressants, public health programs and policies, and psychological practices that deal with the addiction of drugs and other harmful effects of drugs and substance abuse should be emphasized. They will reduce the dependence on depressants and other drugs. Most of the users end up getting addicted to drugs and are a mental disorder. Not lack of determination and strength of character and integrating research, assessments, and treatments for the diseases will significantly help the victims. Treatment, management, and proper handling of drug dependence can save lives substantially, reduce costs and crimes in society because of the behavioral change of the users. To curb the issue of drugs dependence and drugs abuse, treatment must be accessible to everyone in need of it, and the most cost-efficient therapies must be provided.
Young people who depended on drugs occasionally don’t seek help due to fear of discrimination and prejudice. The people living with the dependent should co-exist with them and support them as addicts need robust support systems. The government and non-governmental organizations should invest time and resources in institutions that conduct brain research on drug dependence. The study should also expound and diversify to cover policy research, social science, prevention, and drug and substance abuse treatment. Due to new and emerging therapies and technologies, treating addiction and dependence is complicated because of ethical issues. From individuals to the government, every community member has a big part to play to curb addiction and support, and practicing all these recommendations can significantly help in mobilizing action.
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Weyandt, L. L., Oster, D. R., Marraccini, M. E., Gudmundsdottir, B. G., Munro, B. A., Rathke, E. S., & McCallum, A. (2016). Prescription stimulant medication misuse: Where are we? And where do we go from here? Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology, 24(5), 400–414.