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Barbiturate Use, Addiction, And Treatment Options

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Barbiturate use can lead to dependence on the drug, and dependence can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. Many who struggle with barbiturate dependence and addiction will need a medically supervised detoxification, combined with a stay at an inpatient rehab center.

Barbiturates are highly addictive substances, which means you can become reliant on them with prolonged or frequent use or use. Barbituates also foster dependence, which means if you suddenly stop taking them, or try to stop abusing them, you’ll experience some adverse and possibly dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

Treatment for barbiturate use, addiction, and dependence must be comprehensive, working not only to treat the symptoms but also to prevent further use and relapse.

What Are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are a class of depressant drugs. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration explains that barbiturates, “produce a wide spectrum of central nervous system depression from mild sedation to coma.” Barbiturates can be used as anesthetics, anticonvulsants, hypnotics, and sedatives.

While barbiturates are used in the treatment of a large range of conditions, they are most commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures, and as anesthetics for surgeries.

The medications are grouped into four categories: ultrashort-acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting. They are available in pill and tablet form, and rarely as solutions.


When sold illicitly on the street, the drugs may go by any number of names, including barbs, blockbusters, Christmas trees, goofballs, pinks, red devils, reds and blues, and yellow jackets.

People commonly use barbiturates due to the sedative and hypnotic effects of the drugs. They may crush the pills or tablets and snort the powder, or dissolve the powder in water to make a solution and inject it. People may use barbiturates to lessen the symptoms of anxiety or other conditions or to counter the effects of other drugs, such as stimulants.

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Who Uses Barbiturates?

Medical News Today reports that older adults are the patients most at risk for barbiturate overdoses. These medications were popular drugs of use from the 1900s on, largely in the 1970s, and are less commonly used today.

However, instances of use of barbiturates are still being reported to hospitals and treatment facilities, largely from people who have been prescribed the medications. There are about 12 barbiturates currently on the market.

It doesn’t take long for your body to become dependent on a barbiturate after you begin taking it regularly. Once you have grown dependent, and develop tolerance, you may not feel the effects anymore. As Medical News Today explains, “as barbiturates are used more, the difference between a dose that causes the desired effect and that of a fatal overdose becomes narrower.”

Anyone who is taking barbiturates regularly must carefully avoid use of the drugs, which can quickly lead to addiction and/or dependence.

Commonly Used Barbiturates

The following are some of the most commonly used barbiturates:

What Are The Side Effects Of Barbiturate Use?

Because barbiturates are depressants, they cause euphoria, calmness, and relaxation. These effects are what help the symptoms of anxiety, reduce seizures, and help people sleep. However, there is only a small difference between the dose for relieving symptoms of certain conditions and the dose that can cause people to overdose.

In addition to the calming, relaxing effects of barbiturates, you may experience a number of adverse effects, including:

  • Agitation or irritation
  • Drowsiness
  • Emotional instability or mood swings
  • Headache and/or vomiting
  • Impaired motor control
  • Lack of coordination
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slurring of speech
  • Trouble concentrating or confusion

The effects above are short-term effects, or what you’ll experience while taking or abusing barbiturates. If you are exposed to prolonged use of the drugs or use it in high doses, you’ll likely experience long-term effects as well, such as:

  • Coordination changes
  • Judgment impairment
  • Memory impairment
  • Paranoia
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Coma or death

What Are The Withdrawal Symptoms?

Barbiturates are physically addicting, which means they can cause dependence. Some drugs are only mentally addicting, which means people may not experience withdrawal symptoms when they quit them, and have only to break out of the cycle of addiction, difficult though that may be.

Barbiturates cause physical dependence, and if you decrease the dosage, miss a dose, or try to suddenly stop taking the drugs, you’ll likely experience withdrawal symptoms. Some of the symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal may be life-threatening.


For many, withdrawal may occur within eight to 16 hours of the last dose, or sooner if you have been abusing the drugs for quite some time. These symptoms can last a few days or up to two weeks or more and tend to be most severe at the beginning of withdrawal.

Barbiturate withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Psychosis
  • Restlessness
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Weakness

Excessive doses of barbiturates can cause breathing to become shallow and irregular, which can lead to lack of oxygen in the brain. Barbiturate overdose can lead to heart failure, coma, hyperthermia (extremely high body temperature), and death.

Signs Of Barbiturate Addiction

Signs of barbiturate addiction may not seem apparent at first. The signs are found in the side effects of use. People abusing the drugs may become overly drowsy or dizzy, have poor coordination and judgment.

When on high doses, they may become hostile, violent, or paranoid, displaying symptoms of psychosis. They may have trouble breathing or run high body temperatures, two signs which often precede overdose.

In addition to the physical or external signs of barbiturate use, it’s important to look for the general signs of addiction. When people become addicted to drugs, they tend to lose control of their drug use, and they are unable to stop the use of drugs even if they want to stop. This is especially true for those who are physically dependent on the drugs as well.

People caught in the grips of addiction may have a hard time admitting that they are addicted, as they may not realize the use of their medication has gone past safe terms of use. If confronted, some people may try to hide or cover up their drug use, either out of guilt or shame or because they feel they’re protecting those around them by hiding it.

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Signs Of Barbiturate Overdose

The U.S. National Library Of Medicine explains, “tolerance to the mood-altering effects of barbiturates develops rapidly with repeated use. But tolerance to the lethal effects develops more slowly, and the risk of severe poisoning increases with continued use.”

Because the gap between a dose of barbiturates that makes you intoxicated and a dose that can be lethal is so small, signs of a barbiturate overdose are similar to the signs of intoxication (use of barbiturates). People who are at risk of overdose may experience shallow or dangerously slowed breathing, high body temperature, nausea and vomiting, staggering, slurred speech, faulty judgment, drowsiness, or coma.


Barbiturate overdose is responsible for the death of many people. About one in 10 people who overdose on barbiturates will die, according to the U.S. National Library Of Medicine. If you suspect someone you know is abusing barbiturates or is at risk of overdose, seek medical attention right away.

What Treatments Are Available?

People who have become dependent on barbiturates will likely need medically-supervised detoxification. In detox, you’ll receive medical care to monitor your body functions, such as heart rate and breathing, and to ensure you stay safe while your body cleanses itself of the harmful toxins gained during use.

The best rehab centers will have access to excellent medically-supervised detox and will provide medication as needed to help quell the painful or uncomfortable symptoms of use. After you complete detox, you can begin traditional forms of therapy, such as group and individual, participate in counseling sessions, or in any number of alternative or holistic forms of healing as needed.

Barbiturates foster both physical dependence and mental addiction, so treatment for these conditions must work to heal all aspects of health. If you are seeking barbiturate addiction treatment options, you’ll want to find a rehab center that approaches addiction recovery with an integrated, comprehensive method.

How To Seek Help For Barbiturate Addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with barbiturate addiction or use, we can help you explore treatment options, find the right rehab center, and design a custom plan that meets your individual needs. Contact us today to learn more.