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Topic 2 – Depressants

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Depressants are a category of drug which depress the overall functioning of the Central Nervous System (CNS). These substances cause sedation, muscle relaxation, drowsiness, and if used to excess, coma and death. When taken, some depressants include a rush or high and often disinhibit impulse control and emotions.


These are drugs that are refined from or are synthetic versions of the opium poppy’s active ingredients. These include: opium, morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, heroin and fentanyl. Fentanyl is a particularly powerful form of Opioid due to its chemical composition, which more quickly crosses the blood brain barrier giving it a faster and stronger high.

Opiates refer to substances extracted from the opium poppy (e.g. opium, morphine, codeine), while Opioids (e.g. methadone, fentanyl) refers to synthetic opiates as well as a generic term for all drugs in this category. They were developed mainly for the treatment of pain, diarrhea, and coughing. Common over the counter items such as cough suppressants, hand sanitizer and alcohol swabs can be desirable as intoxicants.

General Effects:
Most illicit users take these opiates/opioids drugs to avoid emotional and physical pain, to experience the high or euphoria, and to suppress withdrawal symptoms. Active opioid users often experience decreased anxiety, a sense of detachment, drowsiness, and a numbing of difficult feelings and physical pain.

Withdrawal from Opiates can be very painful and includes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, runny nose, anxiety, panic and an inability to sleep.

Extended use of opioids increases sensitivity to emotional distress, which makes them particularly difficult to withdraw from.

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Did you know:

Naloxone temporarily reverses Opiate overdoses and as of March, 2016 is available without a prescription from pharmacies across the province.

Sedative Hypnotics:

Sedatives are calming drugs. They are also called minor tranquilizers. One class of Sedatives is called Benzodiazepines and includes Ativan, Clonazepam, Valium and Xanax.

Hypnotics are sleep inducers. They depress most bodily functions, including breathing and muscular coordination. Some examples are Zopiclone and Ambien.

General Effects:
The effects of Sedative Hypnotics are similar to those of alcohol:

  • lowered inhibitions;
  • physical depression;
  • sedation; and
  • muscular relaxation.

They also can cause memory loss, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms and addiction.

Benzodiazepines are the most prescribed sedatives and though less toxic than other sedatives, can be very addictive and have dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

When used properly, sedative hypnotics can be beneficial therapeutic adjuncts for the treatment of a variety of psychological and physical conditions. They are not indicated for long term use because tolerance to them can build quickly. Over or prolonged use can cause undesirable side effects including dependence, abuse, addiction and even death.


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Alcohol is one of the oldest psychoactive drugs in the world. At low to moderate doses, it lowers inhibitions, increases self-confidence, decreases anxiety and promotes sociability. At higher doses, alcohol can lead to intoxication. Intoxication is the result of a combination of factors: mood, expectations, mental/physical tolerance, and past drinking experience as well as the physiological changes caused by elevated blood alcohol levels.


Did you know:

Women have less water in their systems to dilute alcohol, meaning a woman who drinks the same amount as a man of similar size and weight will feel the effects of alcohol faster and more intensely.

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During a blackout a person appears normal and is awake and conscious but afterwards cannot recall anything that was said or done. If a drinker has only partial recall of events that occurred, they have experienced a brownout.

Alcohol poisoning occurs when large amounts of alcohol are consumed over a short period of time. Drinking too much too quickly can affect your breathing, heart rate, body temperature and gag reflex and potentially lead to a coma and death.

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The effects of long term alcohol use on physical health, neurochemistry, and cellular function are more wide-ranging and profound than those of most other psychoactive drugs. It can harm many organs and systems in the body, such as the liver, pancreas, heart, brain, and nervous system. It also contributes to the development of some cancers, such as cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast.

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Strong links have been found between alcohol use and the occurrence of intimate partner violence. Evidence suggests that alcohol use increases the occurrence and severity of domestic violence. Furthermore, children who witnesses violence or threats of violence between parents are more likely to display harmful drinking patterns later in life.

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Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks in one sitting for males and four or more for females at least once during the previous two weeks.

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Heavy Drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks in one sitting at least five times a month.

Did you know:

It is estimated that the cost of substance misuse totalled almost $40 billion in Canada in 2002 or $1,267 per capita. Alcohol accounted for approximately $14.6 billion of the total costs.

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What is a standard drink? Click on the following image for more details.

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