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What Are the Different Types of Tranquilizer Drugs?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Tranquilizer drugs help promote calm and alleviate anxiety. They are typically split into two groups of medications called minor and major tranquilizers. Drugs called anxiolytics belong to the minor group, while medications called antipsychotics are classed as major tranquilizers. Also, some herbal remedies and other substances outside of these two groups have noted tranquilizing effects.

The largest collection of minor tranquilizers is the benzodiazepines. Medications like alprazolam, diazepam, lorazepam, and clonazepam are commonly used as anti-anxiety medications. They act on GABA receptors in the brain and help promote calm.

Most of these drugs are relatively short-acting and clear the body within a day or two. This makes them appropriate for occasional use in small doses. They also may be used over the long term for certain conditions like bipolar disorder or unrelenting anxiety disorders. Benzodiazepines can create dependence and may require careful withdrawal strategies if a patient uses them consistently for over a month.

Other minor tranquilizer drugs that are also anxiolytics include some antidepressants. While these aren’t short-acting, they may provide better relief for anxiety disorders over the long term. Unlike the benzodiazepines, they are considered less likely to cause dependence or ongoing feelings of sedation, though some are now linked to antidepressant withdrawal syndrome. Additional minor tranquilizer drugs include antihistamines, which may have short-acting benefits like the benzodiazepines.

Major tranquilizers are the antipsychotics, which comprise a long list. Some common ones used today belong to a selected group of medicines called second generation or atypical antipsychotics. These include aripiprazole, quetiapine, risperidone, and ziprasidone. Typical antipsychotics that are often used are haloperidol, thioridazine, and chlorpromazine.

The major tranquilizer drugs are very strong and have a high potential for side effects. They are usually only used when minor tranquilizers are judged ineffective, such as in situations where a person’s behavior is psychotic. Antipsychotic drugs are part of long-term therapy for many schizophrenics, and they also may be necessary in treating manic phases of bipolar disorder. Usually, atypical antipsychotics are selected first because they may have slightly fewer side effects than typical ones.

Some other herbs or substances also seem to have sedating properties. One of these substances is alcohol, when used in small amounts. Alcohol consumed in larger amounts often has a paradoxical effect and produces greater anxiety levels. It’s not a first choice for anxiety treatment, and many times alcohol abuse and anxiety disorders occur together.

Herbal medicines like valerian, chamomile, and kava kava have been celebrated for their calming effects. Some herbalists also suggest St. John’s Wort, which has properties similar to monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) antidepressants. Another anxiety-alleviating drug, which is not available in all areas, is marijuana. Like alcohol, too much marijuana can result in paranoia and even hallucinations. Doses should be very small, and the drug should only be used if it can be legally obtained.

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.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon972007 — On Oct 01, 2014

@anon347597: What happened to you at the age of 13 that caused the insomnia?

By anon972006 — On Oct 01, 2014

Do the major tranquilizers help a person to sleep a full night?

By anon347597 — On Sep 08, 2013

I haven't slept a full night sleep since I was 13. I'm now 21 and I still get maybe an hour total a night. Sometimes I feel like I'm losing it, but I wish there were some things that just work. A drug that makes you sleep a full eight hours would be a godsend. If anyone can help, tell me. --sleepless in long island

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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