Central Nervous System (CNS) depressants, a category that includes tranquilizers, sedatives, and hypnotics, are substances that can slow brain activity. This property makes them useful for treating anxiety and sleep disorders. The following are among the medications commonly prescribed for these purposes.
- Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), and alprazolam (Xanax), are sometimes prescribed to treat anxiety, acute stress reactions, and panic attacks. Clonazepam may also be prescribed to treat seizure disorders and insomnia. The more sedating benzodiazepines, such as triazolam (Halcion) and estazolam (Prosom) are prescribed for short-term treatment of sleep disorders. Usually, benzodiazepines are not prescribed for long-term use because of the high risk for developing tolerance, dependence, or addiction.
- Non-benzodiazepine sleep medications, such as zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and zaleplon (Sonata), known as z-drugs, have a different chemical structure but act on the same receptors in the brain as benzodiazepines. They are thought to have fewer side effects and less risk of dependence than benzodiazepines.
- Barbiturates, such as mephobarbital (Mebaral), phenobarbital (Luminal), and pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal), are used less frequently to reduce anxiety or to help with sleep problems because of their higher risk of overdose compared to benzodiazepines. However, they are still used in surgical procedures and to treat seizure disorders.