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    Barbiturates are prescription sedatives or “sleeping pills” and benzodiazepines are prescription tranquilizers. Both act as central nervous system depressants.[1]

    Medically, sedatives are prescribed for acute anxiety, tension and sleep disorders, and used to induce and maintain anesthesia. Tranquilizers are prescribed for anxiety, acute stress reactions, and panic attacks.[2]

    Commonly known medications include Xanax, Valium, Klonopin and Ativan. See the table below for a more complete list of prescription sedatives and tranquilizers.

    Understand the risks

    These drugs slow normal brain function, which may result in slurred speech, shallow breathing, sluggishness, fatigue, disorientation and lack of coordination or dilated pupils. Higher doses cause impaired memory, judgment and coordination; irritability; paranoia; and thoughts of suicide. Some people can become agitated or aggressive. Using prescription sedatives and tranquilizers with other substances — particularly alcohol — can slow breathing, or slow both the heart and respiration, and possibly lead to death.

    Continued use can lead to physical dependence and — when use is reduced or stopped abruptly — withdrawal symptoms may occur. Because all prescription sedatives and tranquilizers work by slowing the brain’s activity, when a person stops taking them, there can be a rebound effect, possibly leading to seizures and other harmful consequences. Tolerance to the drug’s effects can also occur, meaning that larger doses are needed to achieve similar effects as those experienced initially. This may lead users to take higher doses and risk the occurrence of an overdose. Prescription sedatives and tranquilizers can become addictive, meaning a person continues to take these drugs despite their harmful consequences.[1]

    Prevent misuse

    Take steps to protect your family and prevent medicine abuse.

    Safeguard Against Medicine Misuse: Securing and Disposing Medications

    Two-thirds of teens who report misusing Rx medication get it from friends, family and acquaintances. Learn proper storage and disposal to help prevent misuse.

    Learn more
    Talking With Your Kids and What to Say to Prevent Medicine Misuse

    Take action by having frequent conversations with the teens and young adults in your life about the dangers of medicine misuse. Learn how.

    Learn more

    Identify & address problem use

    If you suspect your child or a loved one is struggling with substance use or addiction, explore the following resources to learn where to start.

    Substance Use Disorder Vs. Addiction

    There is a spectrum of clinical diagnoses when it comes to problems with substance use. If it is negatively affecting a loved one’s life, learn how to help.

    Learn more
    How to Talk to Your Kids About Drugs

    It can be scary if your child is using drugs or alcohol, and it's important to confront it. We're here to give you tips and strategies on how to do it.

    Learn more
    Suggesting Treatment

    It can be difficult to persuade a loved one to consider treatment. Even when they are willing to consider it, it’s not uncommon for them to still feel unsure or say no. If your loved one expresses even a little willingness to start getting help — whether it’s attending a support group meeting, or getting a treatment consultation — it can be all the invitation you need to begin the conversation.

    Learn more

    Table of commonly prescribed sedatives & tranquilizers

    Generic Drug Composition Brand Name
    Barbituates (sedatives):
    Acetaminophen/Butalbital Phrenilin, Tencon, Bupap
    Acetaminophen/Butalbital/Caffeine Fioricet, Esgic, Orbivan, Esgic-Plus, Capacet, Zebutal, Margesic
    Aspirin/Butalbital/Caffeine Fiorinal
    Secobarbital Seconal
    Pentobarbital Nembutal
    Propofol Diprivan
    Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers):
    Amitriptyline/Chlordiazepoxide Limbitrol
    Diazepam Valium, Diastat
    Temazepam Restoril
    Alprazolam Niravam, Xanax
    Lorazepam Ativan
    Triazolam Halcion
    Clobazam Onfi
    Clonazepam Klonopin

    Last Updated

    October 2023

    [1]National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Research Suggests Benzodiazepine Use Is High While Use Disorder Rates Are Low.” NIDA, 18 Oct. 2018,

    [2]DEA. “Prescription for Disaster: How Teens Abuse Medcine.” Drug Enforcement Agency.

    Other Sources:

    Get Smart About Drugs: A DEA Resource for Parents, Educators & Caregivers

    Drug Enforcement Agency

    U.S. National Library of Medicine