Pharmacological Aspects

CNS depressants, including barbiturate, benzodiazepine, and ethanol, produce a similar intoxication. These drugs are abused for their euphoric effects and as a means to reduce anxiety and limit insomnia. As the dose of depressant increases, along with the degree of intoxication, the effects progress from anxiety reduction and muscle relaxation to motor impairment and unconsciousness. The difference between the classes of drugs is primarily dose responsiveness. Intoxication progresses from mild to severe over a relatively narrow dose range in the case of the barbiturates. The benzodiazepine dose-response curve is such that great increases in dose are necessary to make such a transition. Thus, the benzodiazepines are a safer class of depressant drugs.

The acute effects of depressants can include euphoria, anxiety reduction, anticonvulsant activity, sedation, ataxia, motor incoordination, impaired judgment, anesthesia, coma, and respiratory depression resulting in death. The benzodiazepines are rarely involved in lethality, but all CNS depressants enhance the effects of other depressant drugs. The physiological effects of high-dose depressants include miosis, shallow respiration, and reduction in reflex responses.

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