Tranquilizers are substances that produce a state of calmness in agitated people. Minor tranquilizers—such as barbiturates —are used in the treatment of anxiety (fearfulness). Major tranquilizers are known as antipsychotics. Antipsychotics can alleviate symptoms of major psychotic illnesses (severe mental disorders that prevent patients from knowing the difference between what is real and what is fantasized). Schizophrenia (a severe disorder known for such symptoms as delusions, hallucinations, and inappropriate behavior) is an example of a major psychotic illness. In psychotic illness, normal thinking and the ability to interact appropriately with others deteriorates until patients withdraw from reality. Antipsychotics reduce the agitation and distress that patients feel, while providing the patients with emotional serenity (calmness) and indifference to what is going on around them.

Unlike minor tranquilizers, major tranquilizers of the antipsychotic type are not addictive. Patients generally do not build up a tolerance to them. Psychotic patients can take the drugs for years without needing to increase their dosage.

It is almost impossible to overdose on major tranquilizers. An overdose of barbiturates, however, can cause total respiratory arrest. Possible side effects that may be experienced with therapeutic (medicinal) use of antipsychotics include increased heart rate, dry mouth, blurred vision, and constipation.

A variety of tranquilizers.
A variety of tranquilizers.

Tranquilizers Found Useful for

The tranquilizer chlorpromazine was found to be beneficial during surgery by reducing the amount of anesthetic needed. Chlorpromazine appeared to profoundly alter patients' mental awareness: patients were conscious, yet they felt quiet, sedate, and unconcerned with events occurring around them.

These effects led doctors to try chlorpromazine in the treatment of mental illness. The doctors discovered that the drug relieved psychotic episodes (which occur when a person loses touch with reality). Patients who were institutionalized (living full time) in mental hospitals in the United States began to use antipsychotics in the early 1950s. The drug chlorpromazine allowed many such patients to recover enough to leave the hospital, helping to reduce the populations of mental hospital by two-thirds in less than 25 years. For the first time a drug had been discovered that targeted the central nervous system without profoundly affecting other behavioral or motor functions.


American doctors also tested a drug called Reserpine on mentally ill patients. The drug did not make patients sleepy and allowed them to participate in activities.

Reserpine and other tranquilizers produce positive results. They reduce the fear, hostility, agitation, delusions, and hallucinations experienced by seriously mentally ill people. (When healthy people take these drugs, however, they experience slower thinking and react more slowly.)

Despite initially positive results, Reserpine use steadily decreased as more patients experienced a number of side effects, including reduced blood pressure, diarrhea, and depression.

Other Options

In the 1960s Belgian scientists developed a class of drugs that later became available in the United States under the names haloperidol (Halol) and droperidol (Inapsine), increasing the number of treatment options for patients with mental illnesses.

User Contributions:

this is very good information. i had to do a health report on tranquilizers and this was my main source. Although, I think you should add the timing of when a tranquilizer kicks in.
Clare debaun
my boyfirend has MPD and i want to know what would be best used on it and what i can do to help and i'm extremly worried about him..i need help...can i get help on find out more?
thank you for your time,

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