Option D.

4 - Depressants
D.4.1 - Describe the effects of depressants. Low Doses  Usually little or no effect  Some tranquilising effect Moderate Doses  Sedation (soothing, reduction of anxiety)  Calmness  Very relaxed muscles High Doses  Induces sleep  Slurred speech  Altered perception  Extreme amounts can cause death o This is caused by the slowed breathing and heart rate Most depressants increase the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which in turn slows down brain activity, breathing rate and dulls emotional responses. Side effects can include slurred speech, dizziness and loss of coordination. These are often used as antidepressants because they relieve symptoms of depression, including anxiety. They may also be given to insomniacs to help them sleep. Other names for depressants include sedatives, tranquilisers, anxiolytics, soporifics and sleeping pills.

D.4.2 - Discuss the social and physiological effects of the use and abuse of ethanol Ethanol is commonly consumed in alcoholic drinks, as it is the only member of the alcohol series that can be drunk safely. As a depressant, it induces a sense of relaxation in the drinker. However, if larger quantities are consumed, it can significantly slow response time, causing the user to be dangerous if they operate a vehicle or heavy machinery.


Addiction to ethanol is called alcoholism. This condition presents many problems to the addict and their family. They may suffer from financial difficulties due to the high costs of alcohol, and because the money is not being spent on more essential items. This pressure is increased since the addict will often be less productive at work and become unemployed. People in this condition are also prone to violence and bad tempers, which poses a threat to the wellbeing of their families. Short-Term Health Effects Alcohol slows thought and reaction time, and reduces coordination, hence creating an anaesthetic effect. Heart rate and blood pressure increase slightly, vision becomes blurry and speech is slurred. If too much is consumed at once, the liver may become overloaded, which causes the headaches and illness commonly called a ‘hangover.’ It also leads to dehydration, heartburn, sickness and diarrhoea. Users lose their sense of restraint, balance and judgement, which often leads to risk-taking behaviour. In some cases, the user may become unconscious, and if their heart fails, they may die. Some people may suffocate on their vomit if they are unconscious. Long-Term Health Effects Liver damage is most common since it is the only place that sufficient alcohol dehydrogenase is produced. Over extended periods of time, the cells of the liver will not perform their primary function of metabolising fats, and will instead focus on oxidising alcohol. This can further lead to conditions include cirrhosis, cancer, higher risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, as well as causing anxiety, depression, malnutrition, alcoholic hepatitis and fatty liver. The expanded blood vessels on the surface of the skin cause some alcoholics to have ruddiness in the face and a purple, bulbous nose. It can also lead to permanent brain damage. In addition, pregnant women who drink excessively are more likely to miscarry or have underweight or abnormal babies, called fetal alcohol syndrome.


D.4.3 - Describe and explain the techniques used for the detection of ethanol in the breath and in the blood or urine. Breath Testing When alcohol is consumed, it is taken up into the bloodstream. However, since ethanol is very volatile, some will also move into the lungs and be found in the breath in proportion to the concentration in the blood. Using breathalyser tests, police are able to determine the concentration of alcohol in a person’s blood. If they have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05%, there is 0.05g of ethanol per 100cm3 of blood. The LD50 of alcohol is 0.40%. Breathalysers contain acidified potassium dichromate (VI), which is reduced in the presence of ethanol. The ethanol is oxidised into ethanoic acid.

Whilst widely used, there are still problems with the accuracy of breathalyser tests. Depending on the individual, the ratio between their BAC and the alcohol concentration of their breath can vary widely. Also, not all of the alcohol may have been absorbed from the stomach at the time of the test, with some of it still in the stomach. In the test, the reduction of chromium causes a colour change from orange to green:

In these reactions, the flow of electrons produces a current that is measured by the breathalyser. A higher current indicates a higher alcohol concentration.


Chromatography In gas-liquid chromatography (GLC), the components of the blood or urine sample are separated based on their attraction to a stationary phase and a mobile phase. 1. Blood is heated so that volatile components (i.e. ethanol) move into their gaseous phase, and are swept along the column by the inert carrier gas (mobile phase) 2. The stationary phase is a liquid that is found on the surface of the solid inert particles in the column. Since the column is very long and narrow, all the components will be accurately separated based on solubility. 3. Another sample of ethanol is also run through the GLC to compare with the blood sample. Each type of substance will leave the first column at a different time, depending on their volatility and solubility, called its retention time. This peak on the graph at the same place as the ethanol would indicate the presence of ethanol in the blood, with the area under the peak representing the amount present.

Absorption of Infra-Red Radiation in an Intoximeter This method can be used to verify readings from breathalysers, since it is more accurate. If a person is being brought to court for drunk driving, then this can be used as evidence. An intoximeter works by passing the infra-red radiation through the sample. The -OH group will cause a certain wavelength to be absorbed, and the amount of absorption is relative to the ethanol concentration in the breath.

The blood alcohol concentration may also be measured using test strips on samples of urine, however this is very inaccurate and cannot be used in a court of law.



Describe the synergistic effects of ethanol with other drugs

A synergistic effect is when the actions of the other drugs are enhanced by the presence of alcohol. This can be very dangerous and sometimes fatal. Aspirin When aspirin is taken with alcohol, it can cause the stomach lining to bleed and increases the risk of ulcers. Sedatives Alcohol can magnify their effect, leading to heavy sedation and sometimes induces a coma. Tobacco There is increased risk off intestinal and liver cancer. Since alcohol overloads the liver, it can extend the effects of other drugs because the body is not able to metabolise them.

B.4.5 - List other commonly used depressants and describe their structures. The drugs that act as depressants are found in different groups, one of which is the benzodiazepines. These suppress emotions, making them useful as tranquilisers for patients with anxiety and insomnia. They help to induce sleep and relax muscles, and have few side effects. However, most people tolerate them very well and can easily become dependent, so they are usually only prescribed on a short-term basis. Valium® This is also called diazepam. It has two benzene rings and a diazepine structure. The molecule is non-polar, making them lipid-soluble and able to cross the blood-brain barrier. Mogadon® This is also called nitrazepam, and also has two benzene rings and a diazepine structure. This gives it the same properties as Valium, in that it is non-polar and lipid-soluble.


Prozac® This is fluoxetine hydrochloride, which is also used as an anti-depressant. However, unlike the other two examples, it is not depressant; instead, it acts by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, making it useful for treating depression, eating and panic disorders.


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