Barbiturate Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Risks, and Treatment Resources

Updated On: Jan 13, 2024
Jump to Section Chevron Down

    The drug precursor to benzodiazepines, barbiturates depress your central nervous system (CNS). Their anticonvulsant and hypnotic qualities make them an ideal drug for epileptic and preoperative surgical patients.

    Tight regulations are responsible for a relatively low level of addiction compared to other drugs. Nevertheless, barbiturates are still dangerous because the difference between the therapeutic dose and the fatal dose is very, very small.

    Key Points

    • Barbiturates are a class of sedative medications commonly prescribed for treating epilepsy (seizure disorder) and preoperative anxiety.
    • Serious side effects include hypotension, coma, and respiratory depression.
    • Someone who has overdosed on barbiturates might seem drunk or intoxicated with slurred speech, impaired coordination, glassy eyes, altered consciousness, extreme fatigue, and coma.
    • Long-term barbiturate use has been associated with depression, loss of appetite, achiness, and rarely liver damage.
    • Treatment for barbiturate abuse includes medical detox, inpatient treatment, and long-term aftercare interventions.

    What are Barbiturates?

    Barbiturates are a class of sedative medications commonly prescribed for treating epilepsy (seizure disorder) and preoperative anxiety. They act on the CNS (central nervous system) in a similar manner to the inhibitory transmitter GABA.

    Barbiturates cause sleepiness and a hypnotic state conducive to general anesthesia before surgery. Historically, they were also commonly prescribed for insomnia but have now been largely replaced by benzodiazepines, which have a lower risk of overdose and an available antidote to reverse toxicity.[1][2]

    Barbiturates are tightly regulated and are difficult to find on the streets in countries like the United States, Australia, and Canada.

    However, there are still available barbiturates like Pentobarbital, which is widely used as a euthanasia agent by veterinarians. Until it was discontinued in 2011, Thiopental (another barbiturate) was widely used by veterinarians for euthanasia and by executioners as one drug in the lethal-injection cocktail given to inmates condemned to die.[3]

    In countries like Mexico that don’t tightly regulate who veterinarians can sell barbiturates to, barbiturates can be purchased with less difficulty. In the US, barbiturates are classified as a Schedule II-IV controlled substance.

    Side Effects of Barbiturates

    Serious side effects include hypotension, coma, and respiratory depression.[4] Some barbiturates can cause allergic reactions due to a release of histamine.[5] There also can be skin rashes associated with mild liver injury.

    If barbiturates are administered intravenously, blood pressure will be reduced, and the heart rate will increase. Respiratory depression may occur.

    How are Barbiturates Taken?

    There are three methods of administration:

    • Intramuscular
    • Intravenous
    • Orally

    Legal barbiturates are most commonly administered intravenously. They are fast acting and are classified according to short-acting (lasting from 2-4 hours) to long-acting (6+ hours).

    Illicit barbiturates are commonly administered orally. They are mixed into a strong-tasting liquid like whiskey to mask the supposed bitter taste. This situation is extremely dangerous, and a fatal dose of barbiturates can easily be misjudged as safe.

    Barbiturates Quick Reference

    Drug Category Commercial & Street Names DEA Schedule Administration
    Sedative- Hypnotic Commercial Names: Phenobarbital, Methohexital, Butalbital, Pentobarbital, Primidone, and Amobarbital. Street Names: Barbs, Downers, Christmas trees, Blue heavens, Blues, Goof balls, Blockbusters, Pinks, Rainbows, Reds, Red devils, Reds and blues, Sekkies, Sleepers, and Yellow jackets. Schedule II-IV Intramuscular Intravenous Orally

    Learn About Specific Barbiturates

    Barbiturates are a sedative-hypnotic class of medications. They are all produced in laboratories under very controlled conditions. They generally have no cutting agents. They are all controlled substances, though some have more accepted uses than others. The most common barbiturates are:

    • Phenobarbital
    • Methohexital
    • Butalbital
    • Pentobarbital
    • Primidone
    • Amobarbital

    Statistics on Barbiturate Use, Misuse, and Addiction

    Fewer barbiturates appear on the black market than in the past, so their rate of use and misuse is lower than other drugs. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association, around 405,000 Americans used barbiturates in 2018; in the same year, 32,000 people reported misusing them.[6][7]

    There is emerging research that shows barbiturates are increasing in popularity as a form of assisted suicide.[8]

    Substance Use Disorder Treatment by Substance

    Effects of Barbiturate Abuse

    Can You Overdose on Barbiturates?

    Yes. Too much barbiturates will depress your breathing and stall your heart. If your heart isn’t pumping, oxygenated blood isn’t reaching your brain. And, if your brain doesn’t get oxygenated blood, you will die.

    Signs and Symptoms of Barbiturate Overdose

    Someone who has overdosed on barbiturates might seem drunk or intoxicated:[9]

    • Slurred speech
    • Impaired coordination
    • Glassy eyes
    • Altered consciousness
    • Extreme fatigue
    • Coma

    What to do if you suspect someone is overdosing on Barbiturates:

    If you find somebody who you suspect is overdosing on barbiturates, call 911 immediately. They need medical professionals to stabilize them. While you are waiting for help to arrive, make sure they have no breathing obstructions.

    Death could occur if they are unconscious while vomiting and begin to choke (just like people who overdose on alcohol). Begin CPR if they’re unconscious and not breathing until emergency workers arrive.

    Dangers of Long-Term Barbiturate Use

    Long-term barbiturate use has been associated with depression, loss of appetite, achiness, and in rare cases, liver damage.[10]

    Abrupt cessation of barbiturates can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms. If possible, a more gradual approach is recommended to reduce dependency.

    Mixing Barbiturates with Other Drugs

    Barbiturates are sometimes mixed with alcohol or even opiates like heroin or fentanyl. It cannot be stressed enough how dangerous this is. It can intensify the effects of the other drugs.

    Barbiturate Addiction and Abuse

    According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), addiction to barbiturates is clinically referred to as a “Sedative, Hypnotic, and Anxiolytic Use Disorder.”

    A diagnosis requires at least 2 of the following criteria. The disorder is mild if 2-3 criteria are met, moderate if 4-5 are present, and severe with 6-7 or more:

    • Too much barbiturate use or for too long.
    • Unable to control barbiturate use.
    • Increasing mental energy expended to find barbiturates.
    • Craving
    • Recurrent barbiturate use, which significantly disrupts personal responsibilities.
    • Relationship problems caused by barbiturate use.
    • Discontinuing hobbies as a result of barbiturate use.
    • Use despite dangerous environments (e.g., used needles nearby)
    • Use despite physical and mental degeneration.
    • Need more and more barbiturates to achieve the same effect.
    • Not using barbiturates is painful.

    Are Barbiturates Addictive?

    Though barbiturates do not bind with opioid receptors, users can form unhealthy dependencies in order to alleviate symptoms like insomnia or seizure symptoms. So yes, barbiturates are addictive.

    How addictive a barbiturate is to an individual depends on how often they are taken and what dependencies the user has psychologically formed with them. The danger of barbiturates is that the therapeutic dose (the dose designed to alleviate symptoms) is very close to the lethal dose.

    Whether or not you are addicted, if you are self-administering outside the counsel of a medical professional, it is very easy to give yourself a fatal dose.

    Signs of Addiction to Barbiturates

    Signs of addiction to barbiturates could include trouble sleeping, inability to stay awake, reclusive behavior, responsibilities, interpersonal problems, increasing tolerance, and frequent urinary tract infections.

    Cutting Agents Used for Barbiturates

    Cutting agents are rarely found in barbiturates.

    Barbiturates Addiction Treatment

    Even though barbiturates aren’t physically addictive in the same way as other substances, treatment could still be complex. In many cases, detox and inpatient alone could take a few weeks to 3 months to truly address substance and related mental health concerns.

    Outpatient programs, 12-step programs, and aftercare could extend that time even longer. It will take however long you need to achieve your wellness goals. There is no price too high or time too long not worth being in control of your own life.

    Barbiturate Addiction Treatment Levels of Care

    We will meet you wherever you are. Here at Paramount Wellness, we have four different options for barbiturate addiction treatment. Wherever you are in your journey to recovery, we can help you. Whether you need immediate help with detox or you need community support in outpatient care, we’ve got you covered:

    Therapies Used in Barbiturates Addiction Treatment

    You are unique. You are a person, and what works for you might not work for anyone else. At Paramount Wellness, we offer many different kinds of barbiturate addiction therapy that is as unique as you are:

    Barbiturate Addiction and Mental Health

    Even though barbiturates are not physically addictive, they can still exist side-by-side with a mental health disorder. If you’re depressed, you might want to take barbiturates so you can go to sleep and forget about what concerns you.

    If you’re anxious, you might feel like you can’t get to sleep without barbiturates. Either way, your mental health will suffer if you abuse barbiturates. Taking barbiturates will not address the root cause of your mental disorder. You might need dual diagnosis treatment to address all concerns.

    Co-Occurring Disorders

    Co-occurring disorders like mental disorders are common in patients who also exhibit a substance use disorder. It’s a negative feedback cycle that’s difficult to escape. If that sounds like you, Dual Diagnosis treatment may be the solution you need.

    Your treatment team needs to identify each of your disorders and apply interventions separately. It’s powerful because dual diagnosis acknowledges that your disorders may feed into each other. In an effort to avoid the sobriety/addiction trigger/relapse cycle, your substance abuse will be examined alongside your mental health.

    Your treatment team will work with you to come up with a plan that takes into account what you can manage with your co-occurring disorders today but also your potential for growth in the future.

    How to Find Barbiturate Addiction Treatment in Connecticut

    Don’t get overwhelmed by the prospect of searching for the right treatment provider in Connecticut. There are resources available right here that can help you find the right provider.

    If any of your friends work in healthcare, ask them which treatment centers they see the most success with addiction referrals. Word of mouth is a good metric of quality.

    You can also contact your insurance company to see if there are any specifically approved providers and/or treatment modalities. Finding help through the “Behavioral Health Services Locator” tool offered by SAMHSA is a great free resource.[10]

    However you identify prospective treatment centers, it is imperative to read reviews online. See what past clients say. If you’re still interested, call them to set up a discovery session to see if they are the right fit for you.


    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is in barbiturates? Chevron Down
    What do barbiturates do? Chevron Down
    How do I detox from barbiturates? Chevron Down
    Sources Chevron Down

    We’re Glad You’re Here! Take The First Step In Recovery Today.

    We’re eager to meet you and help you succeed in your recovery journey. Contact us today to start now.