Sedatives are central nervous system (CNS) depressants, a class of medications that slow down brain activity, resulting in feelings of drowsiness or relaxation. Though they're regularly used in medical settings or prescribed legally, many types have the potential for abuse. Misusing these drugs can lead to severe complications.
There are various kinds of CNS depressants, most of which act on the brain by affecting the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that conduct communication between brain cells; GABA works by decreasing brain activity. Although the different types of CNS depressants each work in their own way, ultimately it is through increased GABA activity that they produce a relaxing effect. This effect can be beneficial to those suffering from anxiety or sleep disorders. In higher doses, some CNS depressants can be used as general anesthetics.
Barbiturates, such as mephobarbital (Mebaral) and pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal), can be used to treat anxiety, tension, and sleep disorders.
Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium), chlordiazepoxide HCl (Librium), and alprazolam (Xanax), can be prescribed to treat anxiety, acute stress reactions, and panic attacks; triazolam (Halcion) and estazolam (ProSom) can be prescribed for short-term treatment of sleep disorders.