How Do Tranquilizers Affect the Brain?

How Do Tranquilizers Affect the Brain?

Sedatives and tranquilizers are medicines that have a calming, relaxing effect. They achieve this by slowing down certain body functions to reduce anxiety and promote sleep. Doctors are aware of the pros and cons of tranquilizers and don’t readily prescribe them without a clear clinical reason. However, sometimes these medications are necessary to calm the nerves and help people sleep, but how do tranquilizers work on the brain exactly?

Tranquilizers are controlled substances, which means their production and sales are regulated by the DEA. The reason for this is because tranquilizers can be habit forming. Taking these prescription medications as prescribed is important, but even then, you can still develop a tolerance. It’s also possible that you may experience withdrawal symptoms if you try to quit. 

Knowing how intense tranquilizers and sedatives can be, it’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendations and only take these medications as a last resort. Some people do very well taking alternatives instead, which we’ll also cover in this post. 

What are Tranquilizers? Why Do Doctors Prescribe Them? 

Tranquilizers work on your central nervous system and brain. They slow down brain activity and promote a state of relaxation and calm. Specifically, sedatives produce a neurotransmitter called GABA, which is responsible for slowing down the brain. However, they can also cause a euphoric feeling in some people, which is why they can be addictive.

Here are the most common types of tranquilizers that doctors prescribe: 

  • Benzodiazepines like Xanax, Ativan and Valium used to treat anxiety, panic disorders and sleep disorders.
  • Barbiturates such as Nembutal and Luminal used for anesthesia.
  • Antidepressants to regulate neurochemicals (serotonin) in the brain. Sedating antidepressants include Elavil and Desyrel. 
  • Opioids and narcotics like Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet used to treat pain. 
  • Antipsychotic agents, or neuroleptics, that alter chemicals in the brain. These drugs include Seroquel, Abilify and Risperdal.

How Do Tranquilizers Work on the Brain? 

When people suffer from anxiety, it’s usually because parts of their brain (amygdala) are hyperactive. Tranquilizers depress the central nervous system and reduce excess brain activity, helping people lead more productive days. However, tranquilizers have come a long way. They are not the same today as they once were. 

In the past, doctors would prescribe barbiturates to manage anxiety and insomnia. The molecules of the barbiturates would pass through the membranes of the cells in the brain and then block nerve signals. This would inhibit the production and transfer of chemical neurotransmitters between the cells, calming the brain. 

However, doctors rarely prescribe barbiturates anymore because of their addictive potential. The newer benzodiazepine tranquilizers target specific areas in the brain. They produce the desired calming effects but without all the unwanted side effects like sedation, sleepiness and weight gain. 

brain scans

Why Do People Become Dependent on Tranquilizers? 

Because tranquilizers work on the GABA receptors within the brain, they can cause users to feel “free” and “high.” The behavioral effect is to increase the drug to get more of the same effects. If the drug is being taken for its euphoric effect, more and more of it is needed to produce this feeling. Drugs that stimulate the brain reward centers also prevent other types of reward sensations from things like food and sex. 

Some signs and symptoms of a potential tranquilizer addiction are: 

  • Taking larger doses than your doctor has prescribed
  • Taking more frequent doses than your doctor has prescribed 
  • Visiting multiple doctors to obtain more pills
  • Buying pills from street dealers 
  • Lying about or downplaying your substance abuse
  • Using pills in dangerous situations like driving 

Is it Possible to Treat an Addiction to Tranquilizers? 

Most outpatient drug rehabs in Phoenix treat addictions to tranquilizers. Detox is the first step, and it involves flushing out the toxins in your body. Withdrawal can be unpleasant, but as long as you detox in a medically supervised facility, these symptoms can be managed. Common withdrawal symptoms include increased anxiety, insomnia, depression, shakiness and sweating.

Once you are clean, you can start therapy. During this part of holistic outpatient addiction treatment in Phoenix, you’ll learn how to better manage your anxiety without drugs and alcohol, resolve conflicts with family and connect with others who are facing similar struggles. Treatment centers like Continuum Recovery Center offer holistic care that addresses the mind, body and spirit. 

A comprehensive approach to healing is critical, as many people with addiction are also battling mental illness. Without treatment, you will be at a higher risk for relapse. By addressing any mental health disorders, practicing spirituality and recognizing your need to self-medicate, you’ll have a strong foundation for long-lasting recovery. 

Are there Safer Alternatives to Sedatives?

If you struggle with insomnia or anxiety, talk to your doctor about alternative ways to treat your symptoms. In severe cases, you may need a stronger medication, but there are plenty of natural remedies that are safe and effective. For example: 

  • Exercise. Exercise diverts your attention away from the things you’re worried about. It also decreases muscle tension, helping the body feel less anxious. 
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). This stress and anxiety management technique works on relaxing all of the muscles in the body, starting with your feet. 
  • Yoga. Aside from the physical benefits, yoga also incorporates meditation, visualization and deep breathing to give the mind and body a sense of calm. 
  • Cognitive behavioral training. With this type of training, clients record, examine and analyze their thoughts and feelings to understand what causes them anxiety. 

Heal at Continuum Recovery Outpatient of Phoenix, AZ

Continuum Recovery Center in Phoenix offers a full continuum of care that includes medication-assisted treatment (MAT), outpatient therapy and holistic therapies like yoga, meditation and nutritional counseling. Not only can we treat your addiction to tranquilizers, but also we’ll get to the root of your anxiety while offering helpful strategies for managing these symptoms. Contact our outpatient treatment center in Phoenix to start your path to healing.