In Alcohol Abuse, Benzo Abuse, Clearbrook Treatment Centers Massachusetts, Family Resources, Opioid Addiction, Personal Resources, Prescription Drug Abuse

Sedative and hypnotic drugs are among the most commonly abused substances in the United States. Both may include prescription drugs (in which they act together to create sedative-hypnotics) as well as illicit drugs. While some people develop addictions because they misuse or abuse their medications, others unknowingly began their addictions by experimenting. Our rehab in Massachusetts is sharing the difference between hypnotics and sedatives and why they’re dangerous when abused.

What Are Sedatives & Hypnotics?


Sedatives are a group of prescription drugs that are used to relax the central nervous system (CNS) and treat conditions like anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and sleep disorders. Also known as tranquilizers or CNS depressants, sedatives include drug classes like benzodiazepines, barbiturates, non-benzo sedative-hypnotics, antihistamines, anesthetics, opioids, and even herbs. Common types of sedatives include alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), and diazepam (Valium). The original sedative before these medications were created was alcohol, which continues to be one of the most commonly abused substances of all time. The first medical sedatives were bromides, which were discovered in 1826 by Antoine-Jérôme Balard and Carl Löwig.1 Although they were effective in producing relaxation and calm, the toxicity of bromides was eventually discovered, and they were replaced with barbiturates instead.

However, barbiturates were also discovered to produce harmful side effects including physical and psychological dependence, contributing to another hunt for a safer sedative. Benzodiazepines were eventually marketed in the 1950s as medications that were entirely safe and did not cause the same side effects as their predecessors. However, it’s now clear that these drugs are also habit-forming and can cause addiction in long-time users.

Long-term abuse of sedatives can lead to a variety of problems. Some common side effects of sedatives include:

  • Sleepiness and drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Impaired depth or distance perception
  • Slowed reaction time and impaired reflexes
  • Slowed breathing
  • Decreased sense of or ability to feel pain
  • Difficulties concentrating or thinking
  • Slurred speed or difficulties speaking

Because sedatives are addictive, many people are unable to stop using them on their own. Users may continue to abuse sedatives, increasing their risk of experiencing long-term effects like memory loss, depression, anxiety, liver failure, and addiction. Clearbrook Massachusetts offers a medically monitored detox that slowly weans patients off of these drugs and safely gets them through the withdrawal process. This is a beneficial form of treatment that can make the recovery process much smoother and safer.



Hypnotics include prescription and over-the-counter medications that promote sleep. These drugs are used to treat insomnia and other sleeping disorders, and the over-the-counter versions are often used to help people with colds or other conditions fall asleep. Hypnotics include drug classes like benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine receptor agonists, melatonin receptor agonists, antidepressants, and orexin receptor agonists. Common prescription sleeping pills include Lunesta, Sonata, Ambien, Rozerem, and Halcion. Medications like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and doxylamine (Unisom) are also commonly used over-the-counter hypnotics.

The first hypnotic was chloral hydrate, and it was synthesized in 1832 by German chemist Justus von Liebig but wasn’t categorized as a hypnotic until 1869 by German pharmacologist Oskar Liebreich.2 Despite their pros, hypnotics also have a potential for abuse and can cause dependence and addiction. Recently, more people have been abusing over-the-counter hypnotics like Benadryl by purposely overdosing on it or mixing it with alcohol or soda to create a drink called “lean.” Even a new trend on the social media app TikTok involved purposely drinking large doses of Benadryl to experience hallucinations.

Hypnotics can be extremely dangerous and can cause addiction. Some common side effects of hypnotics include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Rebound insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion

More serious side effects like sleep paralysis, suicidal thoughts, and falling asleep during activities like driving can occur in people who abuse hypnotics. Our prescription drug treatment can help individuals who have become addicted to these drugs recover and learn how to live a life without them.


What’s The Difference Between Hypnotics and Sedatives?

The main difference between sedative and hypnotic drugs is that sedatives decrease activity, moderate excitement, and calm the person, whereas hypnotics produce drowsiness and promote and maintain sleep. Hypnotics are used to specifically treat sleep disorders, while sedatives can be used to treat anxiety and panic disorders in addition to sleep disorders. Also, most sedatives are prescription medications that people can only legally take if their doctor prescribes them. There are many over-the-counter hypnotic drugs, like Benadryl, that can cause dependence and side effects but are not as strictly regulated.

Regardless of their differences, both sedatives and hypnotics have a high potential for abuse and can cause addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with drug abuse and needs help, call us now at 570-536-9621 to learn more about the addiction services offered at Clearbrook Treatment Centers.

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