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Overdose of Sedatives

What is an overdose of sedatives?

Sedatives are drugs that slow down the body's functions. Other terms for these drugs are tranquilizers or sleeping pills. They are used to calm anxiety or to help you sleep. If you take too much of a sedative, the overdose can cause unconsciousness and death.

The 2 main kinds of sedatives are benzodiazepines and barbiturates. Barbiturates are rarely prescribed these days. Examples of barbiturates are secobarbital (Seconal) and pentobarbital (Nembutal). Examples of benzodiazepines are diazepam (Valium), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), and clorazepate (Tranxene). All of these drugs can be dangerous when they are not taken according to a healthcare provider's instructions and especially if they are taken with alcohol.

How does it occur?

Deliberate overdose occurs when you purposefully take higher doses than prescribed or take the drugs more often than prescribed.

Accidental overdose can occur if you lose track of how much and how often you take the drugs.

Sedative overdose can be fatal. With these drugs there is little difference between the amount that helps you sleep and the amount that kills.

Overdose deaths can also occur when sedatives and alcohol are used together.

What are the symptoms?

Signs and symptoms of an overdose are:

  • trouble breathing
  • slurred speech
  • unsteadiness
  • dizziness or fainting spells
  • vomiting
  • being unable to think or respond normally
  • shock
  • coma

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will review your symptoms, take your medical history, and examine you. Your blood may be tested for drugs.

How is an overdose of sedatives treated?

If you have had an overdose of sedatives, you will be admitted to the hospital. You will be closely watched until you are out of danger. Treatment may involve the following:

  • You may be given medicine to make you vomit.
  • Your stomach may be pumped.
  • You may be given charcoal to absorb the drug.
  • You may be given medicine to help your body get rid of the drug through the bowels and bladder.
  • You may have intravenous (IV) fluids.
  • You may have a psychiatric evaluation.

If your overdose is severe, you will be put on a breathing machine to help you breathe and a dialysis machine to clean your blood.

How long will the effects last?

Sedative overdose can be fatal, especially if you also take other drugs or alcohol. Most people recover from sedative overdose if treatment is begun early. The effects of sedatives will last as long as you have them in your system.

How can I help prevent an overdose of sedatives?

You need to take steps to prevent another overdose if it was accidental:

  • Do not keep medicines on a bedside table. You may take the wrong medicine or wrong dose when you are not fully awake or alert. Do not take medicines in the dark.
  • Use a "dose-reminder" box. These boxes can help you see at a glance if you have taken your medicine for the day. Make sure that you take the right amount of medicine at the right time.
  • Talk with your provider about whether your dose can be changed, or if your symptoms can be treated in other ways.
  • Don't take more than directed. If the dosage no longer works, talk with your healthcare provider.

If you intentionally took too much of the drug, medical treatment and psychotherapy may keep it from happening again. Seek professional help to talk through anxiety-producing life events. Ask for help in developing positive ways to cope.

For more information, contact:

PO Box 9999
Van Nuys, California 91409 USA
(818) 773-9999
Web site:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-08-01
Last reviewed: 2010-04-26
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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