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A tranquilizer is a commonly prescribed sedative drug used to treat anxiety, fear, tension, agitation, and disturbances of the mind. The term tranquilizer was first used by F.F. Yonkman in 1953 during a study with reserpine. The drug showed it had a calming effect on all animals and the word directly refers to the state of tranquility in a person and other animals. Today, the term is generally used as a synonym for a sedative. However, there are prescription minor tranquilizers and prescription major tranquilizers. A minor tranquilizer is an anxiolytic, which is a medication used to reduce anxiety. A major tranquilizer is an antipsychotic or also known as a neuroleptic. These are a class of medications used to manage psychosis and psychotic disorders.

The largest collection of minor tranquillizers is the benzodiazepines—drugs like alprazolam, diazepam, lorazepam, and clonazepam. Most minor tranquilizers are short-acting and clear the body within a day or two. Major tranquilizers comprise a long list of drugs, such as aripiprazole, quetiapine, risperidone, and ziprasidone. Major tranquilizers are very strong and have a high potential for side effects. Unfortunately, minor tranquilizers like barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and sleep aids are commonly abused for the sedating effects. All of these drugs are addictive and lead to physical and psychological dependence. Tranquilizers are abused by taking a prescription more frequently than prescribed or using another person's prescription. Most tranquilizers are sold in pill form, and some are injected. Unfortunately, self-medication with sedatives occurs frequently, whether prescribed or not.

Tranquilizers are also commonly abused with other drugs like alcohol, stimulants, and depressants. The drugs cause a slight euphoria and lessen a person's inhibitions. Abusing these drugs places the individual in significant harm's way and causes dangerous drug addiction.

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How do Tranquilizers Affect the Mind and Body?

Tranquilizers slow down brain activity and are used to make a person feel more relaxed. Tranquilizers are controlled substances in Canada and affect the mind and body in different ways. Tranquilizers are central nervous system depressants and slow down brain activity, causing relaxation or drowsiness. Tranquilizers affect the neurotransmitters in the brain, decreasing brain activity. They work by modifying certain nerve communications in the central nervous system to the brain. Specifically, these drugs make the neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA work overtime. GABA is responsible for slowing down brain activity. By upping its level of activity in the Central Nervous System, sedatives allow GABA to produce a much stronger effect on brain activity.

Some of the common side effects impacting the body include sleepiness, dizziness, blurred vision, not being able to see depth or distance, as well as usual. Also, it causes slower reaction time, slowed breathing, not feeling as much pain, having trouble focusing, and speaking more slowly. Over a prolonged time, tranquilizers can cause amnesia, symptoms of depression, fatigue, suicidal thoughts, mental health conditions, liver dysfunction, liver failure, and physical or psychological dependence. Different tranquilizers impact the body in different ways. Major and minor tranquilizers create different effects, and most are a form of a central nervous system depressant. Physically, these drugs cause irregular sleep patterns, disorientation, confusion, and restlessness. Physiologically, these drugs cause mental and emotional disturbances, mood disorders, personality shifts, feelings of rage or aggressiveness, and dulled emotional responses.

Street names for tranquilizers vary, and it depends on the region and city, yet there are many common street names for tranquilizer drugs. Some of the common street names are Z-Bars, Bars, K-Pins, Super Valium, Benzos, Bars, Chill Pills, Tranks, Downers, Nerve Pills, Jellies, Vallies, and Eggs. Other street names include Barbs, Nembies, Angels, Blue Heavens, and Rophies. Within Canada, tranquilizers are usually taken in pill form or administered by injection. Most prescription tranquilizers are classified as Schedule IV drugs under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The use of tranquilizers is legal when they are prescribed by specific licensed practitioners and should only be used by the person they were prescribed to. The possession of sedatives is not, in itself, illegal. However, doctor shopping can result in 18 months imprisonment. The trafficking, importing, exporting, or production of sedatives can result in three years imprisonment. Unfortunately, tranquilizer drugs like benzodiazepines are abused and sold illegally in Canada.

The History of Tranquilizers in Canada

Tranquilizers have a history in Canada of being prescribed to treat various psychological and physical ailments. Just like sedatives, tranquilizers are used to treat anxiety and sleep issues but are prescribed to treat mental health problems. Antipsychotic agents are known as neuroleptics and later chemical levels within the brain. Anti-anxiety agents are also known as anxiolytics and work by altering the brain's messaging system, and benzodiazepines are included in this class of drugs. Many tranquilizers date back to the 19th century. During the late 19th century, chloral hydrate and various bromide salts quickly gained popularity.

During the early 20th century, phenobarbital and other barbiturates, or minor tranquilizers, were adopted and considered a safer alternative to bromides. However, the problems with addiction and dependence soon became relevant, and overdose toxicity was quickly recognized. In the 1960s, benzodiazepines were the go-to minor tranquilizers and marketed as a safe and effective way to induce sleep. However, it created problems with dependence, withdrawal, and addiction. Widespread use among older people led to serious problems, including injuries and memory problems.

In the early 2000s, z-drugs became popular, another form of minor tranquilizers that include benzodiazepine. Intense marketing led to widespread use of these drugs, yet the pharmacological effects lead to dependence, withdrawal, injuries, memory problems, and limited effectiveness. From 2010 on, the use of sedating antidepressants and major tranquilizers like antipsychotics are marketed for treating insomnia. Unfortunately, these drugs cause similar issues with dependence and withdrawal.

According to Health Canada, benzodiazepines and barbiturates are sedatives and anesthetic drugs often required during surgeries and procedures in children and adults. Drugs like phenobarbital, midazolam, and lorazepam are available on the Canadian market, and thiopental is authorized for sale but not currently sold in Canada. Unfortunately, nonmedical prescription psychiatric drug use is an increasing global health problem. Darknet cryptomarkets are sources of procurement. Non-opioid drugs like psychiatric drugs that act on the central nervous system and have a high misuse potential are associated with high levels of dependency and fatal overdose.

What are the Long-Term and Short-Term Effects of Abusing Tranquilizers?

The long-term and short-term effects of tranquilizers vary and depend on if it is a minor or major sedative. Most sedatives or tranquilizers increase the activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA, which causes a decrease in brain activity. Some tranquilizers and central nervous system depressants like antidepressants and antipsychotics slow brain activity through different mechanisms. Overall, the short-term effects vary, and low to moderate doses of these drugs create a calming and relaxing effect. Larger or higher doses of these drugs create a sedating effect causing drowsiness and impaired coordination.

The short-term effects of tranquilizers include dilated pupils, slurred speech, irregular breathing, decreased heart rate and blood pressure, loss of inhibition, impaired judgment, learning and, memory problems. Most of these medications cause common side effects, but it varies depending on the individual. Common side effects are confusion, disorientation, amnesia, depression, and dizziness. Some of the rare side effects are agitation and hallucinations. Tranquilizers also impact the ability to operate a motor vehicle and increase the risk of collision, especially when used with alcohol or other drugs.

The long-term effects of tranquilizers are quite severe and cause chronic fatigue, vision problems, mood swings, aggressive behavior, slowed reflexes, breathing problems, liver damage, sleep problems, and sexual dysfunction. Long-term use of minor or major tranquilizers causes tolerance, dependence, and addiction. The potential for dependence and addiction increases with repeated use of higher doses. Most sedatives are prescribed to treat insomnia and anxiety but are meant for short-term use. According to some research, the long-term treatment with benzodiazepines has been described as causing impairment in several cognitive domains. For example, this includes visuospatial ability, speed of processing, and verbal learning.

Additionally, in a study released by Vanderbilt University, it indicated that nearly 80% of patients who stay in the ICU for a prolonged period while heavily sedated and ventilated experience cognitive problems a year or more later. The study found that 75% of patients developed delirium, and 50% exhibited problems similar to those of Alzheimer's disease. Furthermore, one year after discharge, 34% of patients exhibited signs of a moderate traumatic brain injury, and 24% exhibited signs of mild Alzheimer's disease.

Tranquilizers Overdose, does it Happen, and How Does it Occur?

When tranquilizers or sedatives are taken as directed, the risk of overdose is low. However, minor and major tranquilizers are easily abused and often abused with other drugs and alcohol. Someone abusing these drugs quickly develops a tolerance to them, requiring higher and higher doses to keep them working. Unfortunately, the longer this continues, the higher the chance that a person will become addicted to the drug. Patients also begin abusing these drugs if the maximum allowed dose is no longer working. There are numerous situations that lead to a tranquilizer overdose, but most overdose is preventable.

Many tranquilizers are central nervous system depressants. The central nervous system is an essential part of the brain that controls the most important bodily functions, like the heart and respiratory system. When an overdose occurs, these functions slow to dangerous levels. The primary danger in this situation is severely slowed breathing. When not enough oxygen can reach the brain, it causes rapid cell death leading to coma and brain damage.

The signs of a sedative or tranquilizer overdose are drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, slurred speech, blurred vision, loss of coordination, weakness, difficulty breathing, and coma. The longer a person abuses these drugs, the more likely they will experience an overdose. Tranquilizer overdose results in dangerous physical and mental symptoms that are not always fatal but do compromise the individual's health. For example, it can cause slowed or stopped breathing, extremely low blood pressure, unconsciousness or no responsiveness, hallucinations, and coma. Medical help is immediately necessary, especially if the person is already unconscious.

According to the Canadian Drug Summary for Sedatives, in 2014, 5,500 hospital stays in Canada were for conditions wholly or partially attributable to central nervous system depressants. Between 2014 and 2015, benzodiazepines were the most common co-occurring substance identified in opioid poisoning hospitalizations. Unfortunately, there are no national Canadian estimates for the prevalence of overdose deaths due to tranquilizers or sedatives. However, in 2014 there were 796 deaths in Canada caused by central nervous system depressants. In addition, in 2014, 324 fatal injured drivers who tested positive for drugs, approximately 40% were positive for central nervous system depressants and antipsychotic tranquilizers.

Tranquilizers Addiction and Recreational Drug use in Canada

There is a difference between recreational drug use and addiction. Prescription tranquilizers are commonly abused for recreational purposes. Many problems that stem from recreational sedative use begin with a prescription, and prescribing rates in Canada change. According to the Canadian Drug Summary for Sedatives, the overall quantity of benzodiazepines and benzodiazepines-related drugs dispensed in Canada has declined since 2012 and decreased 5.9% between 2016 and 2017. According to a Pan-Canadian Trends in the Prescribing of Opioids and Benzodiazepine report, the dispensing of benzos and benzodiazepine related drugs decreased from 13,010 defined daily doses per 1,000 population to 12,248 DDD per 1,000 population.

Recreational drug use is a term used to describe how often a drug is used and the impact it has on a person's life. Overall, it is casual, and something is done in one's spare time. However, problems do arise from recreational drug use like drug addiction. Other common risks include violence, sexual assault, impaired driving, and random accidents. Tolerance and dependency is a significant risk with recreational tranquilizer use. Recreational drug use affects the brain the same as daily drug use but at a slower rate. People abuse these drugs recreationally because of the euphoric effects and the fear of becoming physically dependent. However, psychological dependence is likely as recreational drug use continues.

Minor tranquilizers like benzodiazepines are highly addictive. When they are used recreationally, the abuse of the drug causes addiction much quicker. Most recreational drug users will use the drug with other recreational drugs. An addiction to most tranquilizers occurs due to surges of dopamine that are caused in the brain. The result is a change in the natural dopamine-producing cells and a deterioration of the cells that help a person function and maintain a sense of well-being. The temporary surge of dopamine cause great pleasure but also something that the brain becomes accustomed with.

People take tranquilizers or sedatives for a variety of different reasons; however, the recreational use of major or minor tranquilizers is dangerous. Minor tranquilizers are the most commonly prescribed in Canada, yet these medications can quickly produce a tolerance in people who take them long-term. Many of these drugs are also regularly involved in accidental overdose deaths and suicide attempts. Overusing tranquilizers can result in increased aggression and hostility.

Tranquilizers Addiction Treatment and Drug Detox in Canada

Tranquilizer addiction in Canada is not an uncommon problem, and it requires extensive treatment and rehabilitation. There is a significant social impact caused by drug addiction. The prolonged use of tranquilizers has a negative effect on an individual's social life. The person may experience estranged relationships with family and friends, difficulty engaging in social functions, isolation, and increased seclusion from loved ones. Someone abusing tranquilizers will also experience damage to other facets of their lives, such as financial responsibilities, career, work, and familial duties.

Treating tranquilizer addiction begins with proper withdrawal management. Tranquilizer withdrawal can be dangerous for the body, but it is dependent on the drug. Generally, there are various unpleasant symptoms that occur once the drug is no longer in the body's system. Symptoms vary from person to person depending on how long tranquilizers have been abused. It is usually important that the withdrawal process takes place under medical supervision within a medical detox center.

Typically, withdrawal symptoms begin anywhere from 6 to 36 hours after the last use of the drug. Some of the common withdrawal symptoms include seizures, convulsions, psychotic episodes, chills, hot flashes, loss of appetite, night sweats, rapid breathing, confusion, altered reality, muscle aches, irritability, and rage. Symptoms usually worsen and reach the peak of discomfort around the first to the second day of the withdrawal process. Medical detox programs usually prescribe medication to alleviate discomfort and ease withdrawal symptoms.

Tranquilizer addiction is treated much of the same way as any other drug addiction. An addiction assessment would help the family or addict determine what method of rehabilitation is the best fit. No one form of drug rehab is right for every person, and treatment settings and interventions should meet the needs of the addict. Long-term and short-term drug rehab in Canada is provided through residential and outpatient drug rehab centers. Long-term drug rehab can last three to six months or longer, whereas a short-term drug rehab can last three to six weeks and typically does not go longer unless requested.

Behavioral therapies are the most common approaches used to treat tranquilizer addiction. Common behavioral therapies include 12-step facilitation, cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, contingency management, and family therapies. Generally, well-rounded drug rehab involves treating the mind, body, and spirit. Most drug rehab centers provide rehabilitation for an individual's health like holistic treatment. Other drug rehab programs offer faith-based counseling to help strengthen a patient's spirituality. Additionally, it is important to consider aftercare support like 12-step meetings, peer support groups, or sober living homes.

According to the Canadian Drug Summary for Sedatives, among the general population, the prevalence of prescription sedative or tranquilizer use was 12% in 2017, and this has unchanged since 2015. Overall, youth have the lowest rates of prescription sedative use among all Canadians. In 2017, approximately 6.4% of youth aged 15 to 19 had used prescription tranquilizers in the past year. However, the use of prescription sedatives was higher among young adults aged 20 to 24 at 7.5%.

In addition, among adults aged 25 and over, the prevalence of past-year use of prescription sedatives in 2017 was 12.6%, which was two times higher than youth aged 15 to 24. The rate of past-year use of prescription sedatives among Canadian adults was similar in 2015 and 2017. Unfortunately, older adults have the highest rate of prescription sedative use among all Canadians at 16.5% in 2017, which was an increase from 15.6% in 2015.

Moreover, the past year's prevalence of prescription tranquilizer use is significantly higher among women at 14.3% than men at 9.1%. Among First Nations individuals aged 18 and older living on reserve in northern First Nations communities across Canada, 6.1% reported past-year use of prescription tranquilizers. Also, approximately 1.3% of First Nations youth aged 12 to 17 reported the use of prescription tranquilizers.

Additionally, among the general population in 2017, 1.4% of those individuals that used prescription tranquilizers reported using them for the euphoric experience or to get high. Between 2016 and 2017, 0.6% of students in grades 7 to 9 reported misusing tranquilizers, and this has remained unchanged since 2014-2015. Among students in grades 7 to 12, males reported higher rates of tranquilizer abuse compared to females. Survey data gathered from post-secondary students indicated that 2.2% of students had used tranquilizers that were not prescribed to them in the past 12 months.

Common Terminology for Tranquilizers Use in Canada

Terms Definitions
Minor Tranquilizers Central nervous system depressants or minor tranquilizers are drugs that have a calming effect and eliminate physical and psychological effects of anxiety or fear. The most common minor tranquilizers are benzodiazepines like diazepam, chlordiazepoxide, and alprazolam. These are the most widely prescribed drugs in the world.
Major Tranquilizers Antipsychotics or major tranquilizers are drugs used in alleviating delusions and hallucinations of psychotic patients. The drugs return an agitated, excited, and irrational patient to a state of rational calm. The basic types of major tranquilizers are phenothiazines, thioxanthones, butyrophenones, clozapine, and rauwolfia alkaloids.

CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ARTICLE

Marcel Gemme, DATS

Marcel Gemme, DATS

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on April 26, 2021

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