..Short Cuts & Detours
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.
So what are
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
[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.
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
On the other hand, it’s not great if you’re basically normal
and just want to get wasted.
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.
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®,
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.
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
One reason is that users become addicted to the drugs
they use, which means they get sick or feel rotten if they stop
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.
So what’s the
final rap on downer drugs?
no single one, that’s for sure. Because in spite of all
the problems they
drugs can be a good thing for some people.
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.
not for everybody — or even for most people.
even the best tranquilizer doesn’t work as well as we do at reducing
stress or putting ourselves away in dreamland — the everyday
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.