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At higher doses it may result in slurred speech, staggering gait, poor judgment, and slow, uncertain reflexes. Doses of sedatives such as benzodiazepines, when used to induce sleep, tend to be higher than amounts used to relieve anxiety, whereas only low doses are needed to provide a peaceful effect.
Sedatives can be misused to produce an overly-calming effect with alcohol being the classic and most common sedating drug). In the event of an overdose or if combined with another sedative, many of these drugs can cause unconsciousness (see hypnotic) and even death.
Doctors often administer sedatives to patients in order to dull the patient's anxiety related to painful or anxiety-provoking procedures. Although sedatives do not relieve pain in themselves, they can be a useful adjunct to analgesics in preparing patients for surgery, and are commonly given to patients before they are anaesthetized, or before other highly uncomfortable and invasive procedures. They also increase managability and compliance of children or troublesome or demanding patients.
There is some overlap between the terms "sedative" and "hypnotic".
Advances in pharmacology have permitted more specific targeting of receptors, and greater selectivity of agents, which necessitates greater precision when describing these agents and their effects:
Some sedatives can cause physiological and psychological dependence when taken regularly over a period of time, even at therapeutic doses. Dependent users may get withdrawal symptoms ranging from restlessness and insomnia to convulsions and death. When users become psychologically dependent, they feel as if they need the drug to function, although physical dependence does not necessarily occur, particularly with a short course of use. In both types of dependences, finding and using the sedative becomes the focus in life. Both physical and psychological dependence can be treated with therapy. (see Sedative Dependence).
Dangers of combining sedatives and alcohol
Sedatives and alcohol are sometimes combined recreationally or carelessly. Since alcohol is a strong depressants that slows brain function and depresses respiration, the two substances compound each other's actions and this combination can prove fatal.
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