Several other classes of drugs act as depressants on the central nervous system. The profile of impairment with barbiturate intoxication largely resembles the acute effects of alcohol. Because of the relatively high abuse potential and severe withdrawal associated with these drugs, the Benzodiazepines have largely displaced Barbiturates in prescriptions for SEDATIVE-HYPNOTIC drugs. Currently the most prescribed class of PSYCHOACTIVE drugs in Western industrialized countries, they are typically used for muscle relaxation, sedation, and reduction of ANXIETY. It has become clear that benzodiazepines (e.g., Valium)
can be associated with adverse behavioral changes, particularly in older individuals. In acute administration, they can cause impaired memory, slowing of reaction time and decision making, and disrupted attention. These effects are similar to those produced by drinking alcohol, and the effects of these two drugs taken together can be additive. Although patients appear to develop some tolerance to the sedating effects of benzodiazepines when they are administered for long periods, new evidence suggests that memory and cognitive impairments can remain or even increase with chronic administration. At present, it does not appear that these drugs have direct toxic effects on brain structures, so that their effects on behavior are likely mediated by a temporary and reversible pharmacological blocking of normal routes of neural information processing.
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