104.jpg bar Title: Downer Drugs: An Inside Guide to the Downside's Flipside
Author: Jennifer James
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: August 2009
Catalog Number: 104

..Short Cuts & Detours

Sometimes it seems like the only thing we all have in common is our fascination with short cuts.

Whether it's the shortest Do-Not-Pass-Go straight line to bailing out of school in the afternoon or the quickest way to cram for tomorrow's history exam, we're all experts at the same thing -- looking for the fastest way to do all the stuff that life throws at us in the easiest way possible.

That's one reason that downer drugs are so widely used today.

From a distance, they look like a perfect short cut past the nervousness and tension and funky feelings that we'd all rather live without. But they only look that way from a distance.

In fact, the closer you look at downers, the more they look like a big fat ticket to nowhere at all.

That's why we put together this pamphlet: to bring you up to date, quickly and painlessly (more or less), on what you need to know about one of the most common drug groups in America today -- downers, or depressants.

And whether you know it or not, it's information you really do need to know.

Because, sometimes, short cuts are the longest detours any of us ever take.

..Getting Small

So what are downers?

Technically, any chemical that slows down the brain and central nervous system is a depressant drug.

But to keep things simple, we're going to 
shrink that definition a little, and define "downers" as a group of drugs used to relieve tension or induce sleep.

This leaves out drugs that cause similar effects, like alcohol and heroin -- because they're usually used for other reasons and cause different problems.

On the other hand, it lumps dozens of unrelated drugs together that are more alike than different, both in the way they're used and the effects they cause.

..Just the Effects, Ma'am

The main effect of downers is to depress the level of arousal in the brain by slowing down the firing of nerve cells in the central nervous system.

[Remember that. If you ever have a quiz on downers, a question about that will be in there somewhere. Guaranteed.]

Still, slowing down the firing of nerve cells is only the start of what downers do.

Because our brains and nervous systems aren't just sort of there, cluttering up the inside of our heads and strung around our bones, like lights on a Christmas tree.

They're a perfectly matched system that generates all our feelings, thoughts, and actions.

When downers get thrown into the mix, things do more than just get slow. They can also get stupid, fast.

Because two more things that downers do is dull thinking ability and reduce inhibitions -- which is fine, if you've thunk yourself into being seriously wired, and need to learn to cool out again.

On the other hand, it's not great if you're basically normal and just want to get wasted.

Doing stupid things -- even stuff you normally wouldn't -- can seem like a great idea when you're zonked out on downers.

Hey, maybe that's why they call it wasted.

..Chill Pills

It's because of their ability to ease anxiety and wipe away the worries that keep people awake at night that downers are most often prescribed today -- as tranquilizers and sleeping pills.

In fact, tranquilizers are one of the most prescribed groups of drugs in America. Examples include Valium®, Librium®, and Xanax®.

The list of most-prescribed sleeping pills includes such drugs as Dalmane®, Halcion®, and Restoril®.

Still, just because doctors prescribe them doesn't mean downers are good for you or harmless. They're not.

In fact, when they're misused, downers can cause big problems -- even Big Problem Numero Uno: death.

They do it thousands of times a year, especially when they're used with alcohol.

In fact, if you're still fuzzy about how downers affect people, think of alcohol.

It does a lot of the same things that downers do -- easing nervousness and tension, eventually even causing a drinker to fall asleep.

Because of its depressant effects, alcohol was used for centuries as a medicine.

But since it's poisonous, or toxic (think maybe that's where the word intoxication comes from?), it also causes effects that are bad for health.

That's the reason alcohol isn't used much in medicine anymore. And that's why the depressant drugs are.

As short-cuts go, they turned out to be better -- or, at least, more predictable and less messy -- than booze.

But they're still a long way from perfect.

..Sticky Stuff

One of the main things that keep downers a long way away from perfect is the risk of dependence.

What's dependence? It's the mental and physical
Krazy Glue that keeps people stuck when they begin to depend on something to help them cope.

That something might be downers, beer, or Triple Mocha Madness ice cream. In fact, it doesn't matter much what it is: If you have to have it to get through the day (or night), you've usually got a problem.

And while some dependencies are worse than others (Triple Mocha Madness is a bigger problem for a fat person than for a skinny one), drug problems are just about the biggest problem going.

One reason is that users become addicted to the drugs they use, which means they get sick or feel rotten if they stop taking it.

And while they're stuck to their particular Krazy Glue, their other problems can get worse and, often, a lot worse.

That's why taking downers to relax is like nailing a pillow over a smoke detector in a house that's on fire. The pillow might keep you from being bothered by the noise of the smoke detector, but it won't do zip to keep your house from burning down.

Other downer dangers involve the risk of overdose -- which happens if you take too many pills or mix downers with alcohol.

Either way, a depressant drug overdose is dangerous, even deadly. In fact, with downers, the line between getting down and getting dead can be so narrow that some people never see it at all.

..Rap Up

So what's the final rap on downer drugs?

Well, there's no single one, that's for sure. Because in spite of all the problems they

cause, downer drugs can be a good thing for some people.

Used carefully for a short time under a doctor's supervision, downers can help people cope with serious stress until they can learn to relax and solve their problems on their own.

Still, they're not for everybody -- or even for most people.

That's because even the best tranquilizer doesn't work as well as we do at reducing stress or putting ourselves away in dreamland -- the everyday way.

So unless a doctor tells you that you have to take them, it's a good idea to stay as far away from downers as you can.

They're a short cut that can turn into the biggest dead end you ever walk, run, or fall into.

This is one in a series of publications on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation.
Please call or write for a complete list of available titles, or check us out online at