Updated on April 3, 2024
5 min read

Types of Tranquilizers & Prescription Sedatives: Uses & Side Effects

Key Takeaways

Types of Tranquilizers & Prescription Sedatives

Numerous tranquilizers are available for use. However, most of them require a prescription from a doctor. This is mainly due to the drug's high potential for misuse.

Prescription sedatives and tranquilizers include:


Benzodiazepines or "benzos" increase the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This helps reduce certain nerve-impulse transmissions. It also reduces anxiety and produces a calming effect.

However, benzos are one of the most commonly abused tranquilizers. Because of this, they're only prescribed to people with specific health problems, such as:

  • Seizures
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle spasms
  • Agitations
  • Panic attacks
  • Alcohol withdrawal

Commonly prescribed “benzos” include: 


Opioids are tranquilizers used for pain relief. They are often prescribed to treat severe, reoccurring (chronic) or sudden (acute) pain. However, narcotic drugs like opioids can cause deadly overdoses.

The risk of an overdose increases when opioids are mixed with other substances like benzos. Many people die from accidental overdoses because they overestimate the dose they need after their tolerance level decreases.

Commonly abused narcotic pain pills include:


Barbiturates are sleep-inducing sedative drugs derived from barbiturate acid. Because of their sedative effects, barbiturates can sometimes prevent convulsions or seizures.

Barbiturates are also used for anesthesia reasons and prescribed to treat conditions like:

  • Seizures
  • Migraines
  • Insomnia
  • Epilepsy

Commonly abused barbiturates include:

  • Phenobarbital (Luminal)
  • Secobarbital (Seconal)
  • Amobarbital (Amynal)
  • Pentobarbital (Nembutal)

Sleeping Pills

“Hypnotic” medications (sleeping pills) are usually prescribed to people with insomnia. These medications affect the brain differently than the other tranquilizing drugs listed above. 

Examples of sleep medications include:

Not long after the popular drug Ambien was released, people began reporting sleepwalking on a widespread basis.

What are Tranquilizers?

Tranquilizers refers to various drugs that depress the central nervous system (CNS) and have a calming effect. Most tranquilizers are controlled prescription drugs; however, some can be purchased over the counter (OTC).

Tranquilizers are often used in treating:

  • Psychotic disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep disorders
  • Seizures or high blood pressure (occasionally)

Major Tranquilizers vs Minor Tranquilizers

Major tranquilizers are also known as antipsychotic agents, and minor tranquilizers are referred to as antianxiety agents. Today, major and minor tranquilizers are more commonly known as neuroleptic and anxiolytic.

Major tranquilizers treat major mental disturbances in people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. On the other hand, minor tranquilizers treat minor states of tension and anxiety in healthy people with less severe mental disorders.


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Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drugs

Some potentially sedating OTC drugs are intended for insomnia, cold treatment, and other minor health issues. Two common OTC sedating medicines include: 

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) 
  • Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine)

These OTC drugs can produce a significant sedating effect. Generally, you should not combine them with other tranquilizing medicines. This is to prevent potential health and safety issues.

Kratom is an increasingly popular OTC narcotic marketed as alternative medicine. It mimics the effects of opioids.

However, Kratom is currently under inspection by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its tranquilizing properties. In some states, such as Indiana, Kratom is illegal.

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Should You Mix Tranquilizers with Alcohol?

Combining alcohol with any sedative drug can be dangerous. Mixing alcohol with tranquilizers can be fatal because of increased sedation. Mixing these substances can also lead to alcohol poisoning or overdose.

Substances you should never mix with alcohol or other drugs include:

  • Heroin
  • Ketamine
  • Marijuana

Side Effects of Tranquilizers

Tranquilizers can make you feel relaxed, drowsy, or sleepy. Common side effects of tranquilizers include:

  • Anxiety relief
  • Sedation 
  • Induced drowsiness or sleep
  • Prevents or stops seizures
  • Relaxes muscles

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Risks of Prescription Tranquilizers

Benzos can produce potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms when abused. Short-acting benzodiazepines like Xanax have the most significant withdrawal symptoms.

There is also a serious risk of an overdose if you combine benzos with opioids. Because many opioid medications are combined with acetaminophen (Tylenol, APAP), there is a serious risk of liver damage and organ failure.

Opioids can also cause respiratory depression and constipation. Other adverse side effects of tranquilizers include:

  • Pruritic itching
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Nausea
  • Lowered appetite
  • Seizures related to withdrawal
  • Lowered cognition
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Dependency or addiction

Are Tranquilizers Like Xanax and Valium Safe?

Minor tranquilizers can be effective and safe when used under a doctor's supervision. However, there can be potential adverse effects from benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium.

Although they are legal and safe, they can be just as dangerous as opioids. For some people, it only takes a few weeks to get addicted to Xanax or Valium. Drug intolerance is also a major concern.

If your doctor suggests a tranquilizer, talk to them about health risks and benefits. Inform your doctor if you have a history of drug use. They may decide on a different type of treatment.

Signs and Symptoms of a Tranquilizer Addiction

The clinical symptoms of physical dependency on tranquilizers include: 

  • Lowered inhibition
  • Unusual happiness or euphoria
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Noticeable change in appearance
  • Bruises, swelling, and minor injuries related to falling while sedated
  • Needle marks, bruising, and/or swelling caused by needle use
  • History of “doctor shopping” to fuel the habit (having multiple pill bottles with different prescribing doctors' names in possession)

Withdrawal Symptoms

If you stop using tranquilizers after long-term use, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Abruptly stopping the medication can cause life-threatening side effects, such as:

  • Seizures
  • Breathing problems and disturbances
  • Heart arrhythmia

Opioids have withdrawal symptoms that are well-documented or well-known, including:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Hot flashes
  • Chills
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Seizures

Benzodiazepine withdrawal, on the other hand, is often associated with:

  • Seizures
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle spasms
  • Tremors
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Psychosis

Treatment Options

Tranquilizers can lead to addiction over time, especially in long-term abuse cases. Contact a medical practitioner or go to the emergency room to get immediate help during the withdrawal phase of recovery.

Available treatment options for addiction include:

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Updated on April 3, 2024
8 sources cited
Updated on April 3, 2024
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  2. Oyefeso, Adenekan, et al. “Prevalence and Pattern of Benzodiazepine Abuse and Dependence Among Patients in a Methadone Detoxification Programme: A Repeated Cross-Sectional Analysis (Benzodiazepine Abuse Among Opiate Addicts).” Addiction Research, vol. 4, no. 1, 1996, pp. 57–64., doi:10.3109/16066359609005563

  3. Bonner, Loren. “Pain Patients on Trajectory for Long-Term Opioid Use after Just 5 Days, CDC Finds.” Pharmacy Today, vol. 23, no. 6, 2017, p. 31., doi:10.1016/j.ptdy.2017.05.019

  4. Karch, Steven B. “Diphenhydramine Toxicity: Comparisons of Postmortem Findings in Diphenhydramine-, Cocaine-, and Heroin-Related Deaths.” The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, vol. 19, no. 2, 1998, pp. 143–147., doi:10.1097/00000433-199806000-00008

  5. Muhuri PK, Gfroerer JC, Davies MC. “Associations of Nonmedical Pain Reliever Use and Initiation of Heroin Use in the United States.” Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2013.

  6. Poceta, J Steven. “Zolpidem Ingestion, Automatisms, and Sleep Driving: a Clinical and Legal Case Series.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine : JCSM : Official Publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 15 Dec. 2011

  7. “Kratom- A Lethal Drug On The Rise.” Journal of Addiction and Prevention, vol. 7, no. 1, 2019, pp. 01–06., doi:10.13188/2330-2178.1000046

  8. Barrett, S.P., Darredeau, C. and Pihl, R.O. , “Patterns of simultaneous polysubstance use in drug-using university students.Hum. Psychopharmacol. Clin. Exp., 21: 255-263. doi:10.1002/hup.766.

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