What are they prescribed for?

Sedatives and tranquilizers are depressants. There are two major types of depressants that are legally prescribed in the United States.

Benzodiazepines are generally prescribed to treat anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, and seizures. Some of the most commonly prescribed drugs of this type include Lorazepam (Ativan), Diazepam (Valium), Clonazepam (Klonopin), and Alprazolam (Xanax), but at least fifteen Benzodiazepenes are legally prescribed in the United States.

Though there are many Benzodiazepines on the market, almost all of them contain the letters "aze" or "azo" in the middle of the generic name.

Barbiturates were once commonly prescribed for anxiety and sleeplessness, but they have been largely replaced by the Benzodiazepines. Today they are used primarily in hospital and veterinary settings. Barbiturates include Phenobarbital (Nembutal), Secobarbital (Seconal, Tuinal) and Mephobarbital (Mebaral). While less common than benzodiazepines, these drugs are still available, and old prescriptions may be found in a medicine cabinet.

Rohypnol or Flunitrazepam is not legally prescribed in the United States, but is available by prescription in other countries. Illegal shipments from Mexico are smuggled into the United States where it is sold illegally and known as a "date rape" drug. Pills are often referred to as "roofies."

Misusing sedatives and tranquilizers

Sedatives and tranquilizers are central nervous system depressants which means that they slow normal brain function. They can cause lower blood pressure and slower breathing. Misusing sedatives and tranquilizers can also lead to tolerance and dependence.

  • Repeated uses can lead to addiction, overdose, and death.
  • Abruptly stopping these drugs can cause a seizure.

Mixing them with alcohol is extremely dangerous and can even cause death.

Detecting sedative or tranquilizer misuse

Some signs of tranquilizer and sedative abuse include:

  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech and a lack of coordination, which may disappear as tolerance to the drug increases
  • Dilated pupils
  • Paranoia and suicidal thoughts
  • Aggression or agitation
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Depression and fatigue


(1) Partnership for a Drug-Free America. (2010). Drug guide by name. Retrieved February, 2010 from www.drugfree.org

(2) National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2011, March). Commonly Abused Drug Chart. Retrieved September 10, 2012 from www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/commonly-abused-drugs/commonly-abused-drugs-chart

(3) National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2007, February 28). Prescription drug abuse chart. Retrieved July 10, 2007 from www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/commonly-abused-drugs/commonly-abused-prescription-drugs-chart

This information is provided by the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services within the Department of Public Health.