Barbiturate Addiction: Side Effects, Detox, Withdrawal, and Treatment
Barbiturates (frequently referred to as “barbs”) are a class of drugs that are central nervous system depressants. They work by increasing the activity of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, in the brain to produce feelings of calmness, relaxation, and euphoria.1
Barbiturates used to be more commonly prescribed by doctors, but today they have largely been replaced by benzodiazepines, which are said to be much safer. However, both benzodiazepines and barbiturates can be addictive.
Although they are not frequently used by doctors, sometimes barbiturates may be prescribed to treat epilepsy, head trauma, convulsions, migraines, trauma, jaundice, and alcohol or benzodiazepine overdose/withdrawal. They may also be used as an anesthetic.
When used for medical purposes, barbiturates can:
- Relieve feelings of anxiety
- Reduce muscle spasms
- Prevent seizures
- Induce sleep2
When used recreationally, they can produce effects that make the user seem drunk.
Barbiturates are manufactured in several different forms, including pills, liquid, and injectable form. They are controlled substances in the U.S. because they pose a high risk for abuse and addiction.
There are many different street names or slang terms for barbiturates, and depending on your geographical area, some of these names may be used while others may not. Street names for drugs are constantly changing, but the following terms are current street names for barbiturates:
- Blue heavens
- Double trouble
- Christmas trees
- Goof balls
- Red devils
- Red dolls
- Purple hearts
- Yellow jackets3
There are several different prescription drugs that are barbiturates. Some common barbiturate examples include:
- Amytal Sodium (amobarbital)
- Butisol (butabarbital)
- Esgic, Fioricet (butalbital, acetaminophen, and caffeine)
- Fiorinal Ascomp, Fortabs (butalbital, aspirin, and caffeine)
- Donnatal (belladonna and penobarbital)
- Mephobarbital (mephobarbital)
- Brevital Sodium (methohexital)
- Nembutal, Nembutal sodium (pentobarbital)
- Luminal (phenobarbital)
- Mysoline (primidone)
- Seconyl sodium (secobarbital)
- Pentothal (thiopental)
- Tuinal (amobarbital/secobarbital)4
Prescription barbiturates are less commonly prescribed today because benzodiazepines have largely taken their place. As a result, the barbiturates listed above are not frequently abused or sold on the black market. Although barbiturate addiction and abuse are rare today compared to other commonly abused drugs, it can still occur.
The drug class of barbiturates consists of several different drugs with many variations and the type of drug (short-acting, intermediate-acting, or long-acting) will affect how long it takes to be eliminated from the body.
For example, short-acting barbiturates like pentobarbital and secobarbital are eliminated from the body more quickly than long-acting barbiturates like phenobarbital. In addition, there are several other factors that affect how long barbiturates stay in your system, such as:
- The type of drug test being used
- Your metabolism
- The dose you took
- Your tolerance
- Any medical conditions you have
In general, the following detection times can be used as a guide for barbiturate use.5,6
- How long do barbiturates stay in your urine? 2-4 days
- How long do barbiturates stay in your blood? 1-2 days
- How long do barbiturates stay in your hair? 90 days
Tranquilizers are drugs that work by depressing the central nervous system. They are also commonly referred to as sedatives. Barbiturates are sometimes referred to as sedatives as well, but since “tranquilizers” is such a broad drug classification, the difference between barbiturates and tranquilizers isn’t relevant. It is simply another word used to describe the class of drugs.
Recreational abuse of barbiturates is very dangerous, as it is difficult to determine an appropriate dose of these drugs, let alone avoid overdose. Common side effects of barbiturate abuse include:
- Mood swings
- Slurred speech
- Poor physical coordination
- Reduced motor control
- Dull, slow thinking
The greatest risk of recreational abuse of barbiturates is a deadly overdose, which can occur if a person takes a large dose. About 1 in 10 people who overdose on barbiturates die, typically due to heart and breathing problems.7
Some of the signs of a barbiturate overdose include:
- Slurred speech
- Shallow breathing
- Difficulty thinking
- Poor judgment
- Kidney failure
If you think a loved one is overdosing on barbiturates, you should seek medical help immediately.
Once a person is addicted to barbiturates, it can be hard to stop using them, and quitting abruptly can cause severe or even deadly withdrawal symptoms. Barbiturate withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Increased heart rate
Withdrawal from barbiturates can be dangerous, especially if you quit cold turkey or try to detox on your own at home. Complications may include dehydration, psychological issues like depression or anxiety, seizures, and overdose. For these reasons, a medical detox program is the safest way to quit barbiturates and prevent relapse.
The barbiturate withdrawal timeline may vary greatly depending on the type of barbiturate you use. The half-life of the drug will affect how long it takes to leave your body. Below is a general barbiturate withdrawal timeline, although it will vary from person to person during barbiturate detox.
|Barbiturate Withdrawal Timeline|
|1-3 days after the last dose||A few days into barbiturate detox, mild symptoms of withdrawal begin to appear.|
|2-3 days after the last dose||Withdrawal symptoms during barbiturate detox intensify and may include anxiety, insomnia, vomiting, nausea, fast heart rate, and hallucinations, among others. Seizures may also occur.|
|3-7 days after the last dose||Withdrawal symptoms gradually begin to dissipate several days to a week after starting barbiturate detox.|
|14+ days after the last dose||Withdrawal symptoms are usually gone but some people may continue to experience mild symptoms several weeks after discontinuing barbiturate use and completing barbiturate detox.|
If a person is addicted to barbiturates, he or she may display some of the following behaviors:
- Craving barbiturates
- Needing barbiturates to feel normal
- Taking large doses of barbiturates frequently
- Faking symptoms to get prescriptions for barbiturates
- Foregoing hobbies and interests to use barbiturates instead
- Isolating oneself from friends and family
- Trying to stop using barbiturates but being unable to
Addiction is defined as a relapsing disease of the brain and barbiturate addiction will require ongoing treatment and therapy to overcome. A complete continuum of care that includes barbiturate detox, residential rehab, IOP, and sober living will provide the structure and support a person needs to recover from barbiturate addiction.
During barbiturate rehab, clients participate in various types of evidence-based therapies and treatment methods to make positive life changes. These typically include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Individual counseling
- Group counseling
- Family counseling
- Chemical dependency education
- 12-Step facilitation therapy
- Life skill development
- Relapse prevention education
- Specialized therapies (art therapy, music therapy, etc.)
Although there are many different types of programs for barbiturate rehab, your doctor or an addiction treatment professional can provide recommendations based on your treatment needs and financial ability.
Many barbiturate rehab programs also accept insurance, which can help make barbiturate treatment programs of all kinds (including detox, IOP, and residential rehab) more affordable and accessible. If you don’t have health insurance, other payment options and resources include:
- Employee Assistance Program benefits
- Financed healthcare loans
- Personal loans from family members
- Medical credit cards
- Scholarships or grants
If you or a loved one is suffering from barbiturate addiction, call Nova Recovery Center today. We can help you get started with a customized treatment plan that addresses your personal needs and we can help you explore the different payment options for barbiturate rehab.
Nova Recovery Center offers a large range of substance abuse treatment services: detox, residential, outpatient and sober living.
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