What are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are central nervous system (CNS) depressants used to treat anxiety disorders, sleep-related disorders and seizure disorders, amongst several other medical issues. They are also sometimes used as a sedative before surgery.

These drugs work by slowing down a person’s nervous system, making them feel relaxed or drowsy. The feeling is very similar to that of drinking alcohol, and can make people feel happier and more sociable. These are among the foremost reasons people develop a barbiturate addiction or dependence.

Taken in larger doses, barbiturates can also serve as sedative hypnotic drugs. This effect is what often leads people to abuse barbiturates, which can quickly lead to the development of a barbiturate use disorder.

Types of Barbiturates

Types of Barbiturates

Barbiturates, or sleeping pills, come in three main forms: powder, pills, and capsules. They are often referred to on the street as “barbs,” “gorilla pills,” or “downers.” Barbiturates are only prescribed to be taken orally in pill form, with an injectable liquid form reserved for hospital use.

Some abusers and addicts instead crush the pills and snort them or dissolve them in a liquid base, which can then be injected intravenously. Using barbiturates in this way greatly increases a person’s risk of developing a physical dependence on them.

There are about 12 different barbiturates available via prescription, the most common of which are:

  • Amytal
  • Butabarbital
  • Nembutal
  • Phenobarbital
  • Seconal

Are Barbiturates Addictive?

When taking barbiturates in a way that falls outside of an individual’s prescription guidelines or without an actual need for them, the sedative effects and mild euphoria produced by these drugs can become addictive.

Continuing to use these drugs over a prolonged period of time in order to continue feeling these effects can change a person’s brain chemistry, so that it becomes dependent upon them in order to be able to produce these pleasant feelings.

Thus, the individual will develop an addiction to barbiturates, a condition which will only continue to grow worse with continued use over time.

Who is at Risk of Abusing Barbiturates?

Barbiturate use began in the early 1900s, and by the 1960s, a startling rise in both accidental and intentional overdoses made many doctors turn to other medications instead. Recreational use of barbiturates was rampant in the 1970s before tapering off in the 1980s.

Despite this decline in usage, barbiturates still have their place in modern medicine. Nowadays the people most at risk of abusing these drugs are the people who it is prescribed to. This is because taking these medications inappropriately can very quickly lead to an addiction.

People with a mental health condition that is undiagnosed or left untreated may also turn to barbiturate abuse. This is because their mental illness may cause unwanted thoughts and feelings for these individuals who, as a result, self-medicate through drugs or alcohol.

Once a substance use disorder has developed alongside their mental health disorder, these conditions will be referred to as co-occurring disorders, or dual diagnosis. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders with barbiturate abuse are anxiety and panic disorders.

The problem with barbiturates is that your body can become tolerant to the dosage, meaning that you will need to take more for it to relieve your symptoms. This makes the body become dependent on barbiturates, and withdrawal symptoms are common when you stop using them.

Having a barbiturate dependence makes it easier to in turn eventually develop addiction problems, as well as to potentially get caught up in other forms of drug abuse.

Immediate Help For Barbiturates Addiction

The Side Effects Of Barbiturate Abuse

When prescribed by a doctor and taken in the appropriate dosage, sedative drugs such as barbiturates are able to reduce anxiety, induce sleep and prevent sleep disturbances, and prevent seizures.

If they are taken in high doses or otherwise abused, however, individuals may experience several uncomfortable, and potentially extremely dangerous, side effects.

Short-Term Effects

Someone whose barbiturate abuse has only occurred for a short period of time may experience several unpleasant side effects. These may include:

  • Agitation or irritation
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Impaired motor control
  • Mood swings
  • Poor coordination
  • Problems concentrating
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting

Long-Term Effects

In addition to these short-term effects, those who abuse barbiturates over long periods of time, will increase their risk of experiencing more severe side effects, including:

  • Changes in your coordination
  • Paranoia
  • Poor judgment
  • Problems with short term memory
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Cardiovascular shock
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death


CNS damage, respiratory depression, coma, and death are all also possibilities of chronic barbiturate abuse. This is why individuals struggling with this form of substance abuse are strongly encouraged to seek out professional addiction treatment as soon as possible.

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Recognizing the Signs of Substance Abuse

There are several barbiturate abuse signs and symptoms that can be looked out for when trying to determine if you or a loved one may be struggling with addiction.

For people who are abusing barbiturates by taking exceedingly high doses, the signs of addiction can also include hostility, violence, extreme paranoia, breathing problems, and high body temperature. Other signs of addiction are the same as for other drugs, and can include:

  • Regularly having to increase the dosage or frequency of barbiturate use in order to feel the effects.
  • Spending significant amounts of time acquiring, using, or recovering from the effects of barbiturate use.
  • Repeated unsuccessful attempts to decrease or stop barbiturate usage.
  • Giving up other previously enjoyable hobbies or activities in order to continue barbiturate use.
  • Developing symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal when not using the drug or decreasing the dosage.
  • Continuing to use barbiturates despite this causing or worsening physical or mental health issues.
  • Increasingly strained relationships with family, friends, and others due to barbiturate use.

Is it Possible to Overdose on Barbiturates?

Overdose on Barbiturates

Barbiturates are very potent. The difference between a “safe” dose and one that will lead to an overdose can be difficult to measure. This is why it is so important to use these medications exactly as prescribed.

If someone is taking barbiturates in too high a dosage, this can result in overdose, or barbiturate intoxication; something that can quickly become life-threatening if not properly addressed. This risk is even more significant when mixing barbiturates with alcohol or other illicit drugs.

If you or someone you know regularly uses barbiturates, knowing the signs of overdose can be life-saving. These include:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Problems thinking
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Shallow breathing


If left unmanaged, these symptoms can result in coma or even death. Thus, if you or someone you know is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it is crucial that you seek out emergency medical care immediately.

How Barbiturate Addiction is Treated

When someone has a drug dependence of any kind, especially one on barbiturates, the first step in their treatment program should be going through a medically supervised detox program.

This is because many substances can present severe withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop using them. Barbiturates are included amongst these substances, often presenting symptoms that can be life-threatening without proper support.

Once the detox process has been completed, the next step of a person’s treatment process can begin. This will typically entail their participation in inpatient and outpatient treatment programs, each of which may offer medication-assisted treatment options and therapeutic services.

Dual diagnosis treatment programs will be recommended to those struggling with both an addiction and a co-occurring mental illness, as these can help them address both their drug use and the underlying causes of these habits.

Because no two people are the same, rehab centers offer a range of different therapy options, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, family therapy, group therapy, and more.

By personalizing your treatment program, rehab centers help ensure that you get exactly the right care that you need to get sober and stay that way. They will also help you to choose aftercare services for continued support even after you leave the facility.

Being addicted to any substance can be difficult to overcome and requires the expert help of a rehab treatment facility. That is why seeking help at a facility that has specialized experience in barbiturate addiction is an important part of choosing your recovery treatment program.

These facilities will ensure that you get all of the help and support that you need in order to overcome your addiction and get on a path to lasting sobriety.

Speaking with your healthcare provider or an addiction specialist, such as a Find Addiction Rehabs representative, can help you narrow down which treatment options will best serve your personal care needs.

How Can Medical Detox Help Treat a Barbiturate Addiction?

Medical Detox Help Treat a Barbiturate Addiction

As discussed, the withdrawal period associated with barbiturates can be extremely dangerous, and potentially life-threatening. Thus, it is never recommended for someone to attempt to detox from these drugs on their own.

When undergoing a medical detox treatment process, individuals will be gradually weaned off an abused substance under the constant care and supervision of licensed medical professionals.

This can help to manage and even prevent more severe effects of barbiturate withdrawal. These programs may also offer the administration of specific addiction medicine, which can help reduce drug cravings and further prevent a person’s risk of relapse.

Barbiturate Withdrawal Symptoms

There are several common symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal that a person may experience during this period, including:

  • Agitation
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Tremors
  • Dangerously high fevers
  • Hallucinations
  • Aggression
  • Seizures


Being at a detox program will mean that you have 24/7 support from clinical professionals who can give you medications to make these symptoms much less severe – and help you in case a medical emergency arises.

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Finding Addiction Treatment Locations and Recovery Support Services Near You

If you or a loved one is struggling with a barbiturate addiction, or any other form of drug abuse, you do not have to suffer alone. At Find Addiction Rehabs, we are dedicated to helping people like you find addiction treatment options that provide all of you or your loved one’s care needs.

Our hotline is available 24/7, so that you can access recovery support tools and resources, anytime you need them. So don’t wait; make the right choice, and call now to get started on your path to sobriety and achieving a happy, healthy, substance-free life, today!