Downers refer to a class of drugs that are all known to have similar sedating qualities. The term downer itself is an umbrella term that includes chemicals like benzodiazapines, barbiturates, and alcohol. Also known as depressants, downers also fall into one of the two classes’ tranquilizers and hypnotic sedatives. It is often considered its own class of drug because of the widespread social use of alcohol. The common denominator for downers is their effect on the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. GABA is responsible for soothing the central nervous system as well as slowing heart rate, inducing sleep and breathing. It works effectively to counter the effects of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, and together the two works in union to sustain proper heart rate, and alertness. On the other hand too much norepinephrine can lead to several anxiety disorders that can be responsible for ‘panic attacks’. Hence downers are frequently prescribed to treat these conditions.
There are narcotics and opiate based pain killers that are at times clubbed together with downers. Though opiates produce a sedating effect on the body, they do not directly affect the neurotransmitter GABA and are as a result a different class of drugs.
Today the most commonly prescribed downers are the benzodiazapines, that are at times called benzos. The more popular benzodiazapines include diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), lorazepam (Ativan). These drugs are generally prescribed for anxiety disorders, but also find uses in putting off seizures, and as muscle relaxants.
Prior to the discovery of benzodiazapines in the 1950s, barbiturates were widely used for various medical measures. Barbiturates are chemicals derived from the chemical barbituric acid. The most common barbiturates include phenobarbital, secobarbital, butalbital, butabarbital, pentobarbital and sodium thiopental. Barbiturates are considered more toxic than benzodiazapines, and also possess a much lower therapeutic index.
A therapeutic index is the range between the minimally effective therapeutic dose and the lethal dose of the substance. The drug is considered risky, if the marrow index means that a lethal dose of the drug is not much more than the recommended dosage. On this basis, benzodiazapines have mainly replaced barbiturates for use as medications. There are a number of pain medications that still have Barbiturates and thus find use as general anesthetics.
Downers all have a high potential for abuse, and are exceptionally addictive chemicals. Currently downers as a class of drugs that includes alcohol, they are certainly the most widely abused drugs on earth. Even without alcohol, they are ranked among the most abused and addictive prescription drugs. In fact benzodiazapines are easy to develop a physical dependence on, especially because of their high therapeutic index and low toxicity. Always consult a medical professional or a physician first, as all downers, including alcohol, have very severe withdrawal symptoms, and should not be discontinued from everyday use.