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- Drug-Free Workplace Advisor

Please note: The Department of Labor ended the drug-free workplace program in 2010. Accordingly, it does not currently administer a “Workplace drug testing” advisory web page and is not responsible for the content of the linked sites.


A depressant is a drug that depresses the central nervous system, resulting in sedation and a decrease in bodily activity. Depressants, taken as prescribed by physicians, can be beneficial for the relief of anxiety, irritability, stress and tension.


The effects of depressants are in many ways similar to the effects of alcohol. Small amounts can produce calmness and relaxed muscles, but somewhat larger doses can cause:

  • slurred speech
  • staggered walk
  • altered perception
  • respiratory depression
  • coma and death

The combination of depressants and alcohol can multiply the effects of the drugs, thereby multiplying the risks.


The use of depressants can cause both physical and psychological dependence. Regular use over time may result in a tolerance to the drug, leading the user to increase the quantity consumed.

The main classes of medical depressants are barbiturates and benzodiazepines. When regular users suddenly stop taking large doses, they can develop withdrawal symptoms ranging from restlessness, insomnia and anxiety to convulsions and death.

Babies born to mothers who abuse depressants during pregnancy may be physically dependent on the drugs and show withdrawal symptoms shortly after they are born. Birth defects and behavioral problems also may result.

Depressants are known as: barbiturates, downers and tranquilizers, such as Valium, Librium, Equanil, Serax, Tranxene and Zanax.


  • Mental clouding and drowsiness pose a fitness-for-duty concern.

  • Many employers also have work rules requiring the employee to disclose if they are taking any sedating medications that could impact their ability to work safely.

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