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What Are Nervous System Depressants?

Daniel Liden
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Nervous system depressants are substances that decrease, or depress, the function of the nervous system. There is an expansive variety of prescription and recreational drugs that act as central nervous system depressants. Depression of the central nervous system, which includes the brain, results in a decreased rate of breathing and a decreased heart rate, and if the depression is substantial, can lead to unconsciousness, coma, or death. Decreased function of the peripheral nervous system tends to lead to loss of sensation, pain, or lack of muscular control throughout the body. Loss of function in the peripheral nervous system, however, is seldom referred to as nervous system depression — nervous system depressants almost always refer to substances that depress the central nervous system.

Many different types of central nervous system depressants are prescribed to treat conditions such as anxiety, sleep disorders, and acute stress disorder. Some are also used as anesthetics, tranquillizers, sedatives, and anticonvulsants. Common drugs that depress the central nervous system include barbiturates, which are used for treating anxiety, sleep disorders, and other conditions, and benzodiazepines, which are used for similar purposes and are also useful as muscle relaxants. While depressants can work through a variety of different mechanisms, many tend to increase the activity of the neurotransmitter gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA. GABA inhibits nervous system activity, so increased expression of GABA depresses the nervous system.

One of the most common nervous system depressants is ethanol, the alcohol that is contained in alcoholic beverages. The depressant effects of alcohol tend to manifest in the form of sluggish response time, clumsiness, and slurred speech. Highly excessive alcohol consumption can also cause blackouts, unconsciousness, and death. Alcohol consumption is culturally and socially significant in many different parts of the world, and many people find it to be quite pleasant, but it is not without its risks. It can be particularly dangerous when consumed in conjunction with other nervous system depressants, as this can result in dangerously low nervous system activity.

Mixing different nervous system depressants, alcohol or otherwise, is generally considered to be an inadvisable practice. The central nervous system controls many important bodily functions, including the maintenance and regulation of heart rate. Excessive use of nervous system depressants can, therefore, cause the heart to stop, leading to death. People who do overdose on such depressants require rapid care to maintain circulation. Health professionals must often artificially maintain both the heart rate and breathing of an individual who has overdosed on drugs that depress the central nervous system.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Daniel Liden
By Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden, a talented writer with a passion for cutting-edge topics and data analysis, brings a unique perspective to his work. With a diverse academic background, he crafts compelling content on complex subjects, showcasing his ability to effectively communicate intricate ideas. He is skilled at understanding and connecting with target audiences, making him a valuable contributor.
Discussion Comments
By JohnAngelo — On Jan 04, 2016

Depressants, sometimes referred to as central nervous system (CNS) depressants or tranquilizers, slow down (or “depress”) the normal activity that goes on in the brain and spinal cord. Doctors often prescribe them for people who are anxious or can't sleep. Nice to read such informative post. Well try to share more post on such health care.

By OeKc05 — On Feb 09, 2013

Some drugs carry CNS depression too far. I took just a fourth of a muscle relaxant when I was having tightness and pain in my lower back, and it knocked me out.

I could not stay awake. My body started to go limp, and I absolutely had to take a nap. I was a little afraid I wouldn't wake up, but I did, and I will never take another one of those pills again!

By wavy58 — On Feb 08, 2013

@feasting – True, but some CNS depressants are very helpful. You shouldn't take any in excess, but if you take the right dosage for your problem, then good things happen.

I was on a depressant drug when I was having problems with panic attacks and anxiety. The drug calmed my nerves enough to stop the attacks and allow me to function in daily life. I could actually talk to my coworkers without sweating and shaking.

Some people really do need their nervous system depressed a little. Life was really rough before I started taking this drug, and now, it is bearable.

I don't plan to depend on it all my life, though. I am in therapy, and the drug is just helping me until I learn to think differently.

By feasting — On Feb 07, 2013

Depressant drugs affect all your bodily systems. That's because all of them depend on the nervous system for instructions on how to react to everything, and if the nervous system is down, all systems go down with it.

By seag47 — On Feb 07, 2013

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that just about anyone can get their hands on. Even minors find ways of sneaking it out of their parents' liquor cabinets.

I think that the first time using alcohol is a fun experience. You feel sort of high on life and you don't feel uptight or in physical pain at all.

Since it's so easily attainable, it is addictive. I believe that young people are particularly prone to becoming addicted, because they don't realize the dangers of it. They only concentrate on how relaxed and wonderful it makes them feel.

Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden
Daniel Liden, a talented writer with a passion for cutting-edge topics and data analysis, brings a unique perspective to...
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