Sedative-hypnotic (sleep-inducing) and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) drugs include variety of drugs used in the treatment of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and epilepsy. They include sedatives, hypnotics, anxiolytics, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines. These drugs slow the central nervous system and, in mild intoxication, create a euphoric state, often accompanied by slurred speech and loss of coordination. They reduce tension and induce relaxation, drowsiness, and sleep while decreasing alertness. They are usually taken orally in tablet, capsule, or liquid form.

Risks of abusing sedative-hypnotics and anxiolytics include:
bulletDependence (within two to four weeks)
bulletFatal overdose
bulletFatal Reaction to sudden withdrawal
bulletPotentially lethal when used with alcohol
bulletInfants born to women who used these drugs during pregnancy may:
bullethave birth defects
bullethave behavioral problems
bulletbe born addicted to these drugs

Common symptoms of sedative-hypnotic and anxiolytic drug abusers are:
bulletRapid mood changes
bulletimpaired judgment
bulletimpaired social or occupational functioning
bulletslurred speech


These drugs should be tapered gradually as opposed to quitting "cold turkey" because sudden withdrawal can lead to seizures or, in rare cases, death. Physicians may prescribe a longer-acting, less addictive drug to decrease withdrawal symptoms. Doses of this substitute drug will be decreased gradually as well. If a patient has a strong dependence on these drugs, it may be recommended that initial detoxification take place in a hospital under the supervision of a medical staff.

Abusers of these drugs respond most successfully to these drugs in a residential treatment program that emphasize intense group therapy. Twelve-step programs can be helpful for people of all ages and all addictions. For those who also have mental disorders, such as depression, additional therapy and medication when appropriate.


Depending on the degree of dependence, symptoms may include:

bulletphysical and psychological discomfort
bulletrapid pulse
bullettremors of the hands, tongue, and eyelids
bulletnausea or vomiting
bullethallucinations or illusions
bulletin rare cases of abrupt detoxification, death


The length of time it takes to experience withdrawal depends on if the withdrawn drug was a short- or long-acting drug. It may begin is as short as two to three days for drugs that go through the body rapidly. For drugs that take longer for the body to process, it may take a few more days. Because detoxification can put people at risk for seizures, and even death, it should be done gradually.