Barbiturates are a class of drug derived from barbituric acid that act as central nervous system depressants and have sedative-hypnotic effects ranging from mild sedation to coma or even death. They usually take the form of colored pills or tablets. Depending on their intended use, barbiturates are classed as Schedule II, III or IV drugs in the United States. People can become dependent on and addicted to barbiturates. The risk of overdose with barbiturates is very high and withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.
Barbiturates can be classified into categories based on how long they take to start working and the time-frame of effectiveness:
Some of the names that barbiturates are sold under include:
Although barbiturates played an important role in medical advances in the earlier part of the 20th century and regained popularity during the 1960s and 1970s, they are addictive, have many negative side-effects and run a high risk for overdose and death.
Benzodiazepines have largely replaced barbiturates, despite their associated risks of physical dependence, addiction and severely dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
Barbiturates were first manufactured for clinical use by Farbwerke Fr Bayer and Co in 1904 in the form of diethyl-barbituric acid. The introduction of these sedative-hypnotic drugs meant that doctors could now treat a host of neurological and psychiatric disorders with barbiturates – such as epileptic seizures, severe insomnia, psychosis and anxiety. This opened up new pharmaceutical treatment options for many previously untreatable patients. Barbiturates also provided new, safer options for anesthesia – meaning that anesthesia could now be used for minor surgeries.
Over the next century over 2,500 forms of barbiturates were created, about 50 of which were clinically adopted. Although some forms of barbiturates are still in use, 6 or less barbiturate derivatives could cover all of its current therapeutic uses. The use of and need for barbiturates seems to be decreasing (for example, thiopental was used to induce anesthesia up until 2011, when it was banned in the United States), yet some are still available.
During the 1950s and 1960s, when barbiturate prescription was at its peak, overdose rates and reports of physical dependence on these drugs led to barbiturates becoming Schedule II, III, and IV (depending on type and use). This helped to curb their use. Presently, barbiturates are extremely rare on the black market, but illicit barbiturates are still a concern due to their high potential for overdose.
Illicit barbiturates can be taken in pill form, crushed, snorted or dissolved in water and injected. According to the DEA, barbiturates are most often abused in an attempt to reduce anxiety, decrease inhibitions and counter unwanted effects of other illicit drugs. Although the availability of illicit barbiturates has decreased, it is still available.
Street names for illicit barbiturates include:
Barbiturates act similarly to the neurotransmitter gamma amino butyric acid (GABA), inhibiting (reducing) brain activation. They also block the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, further “slowing” the brain.
Barbiturates can have many short term side effects, including:
Long term side effects of barbiturates can include:
Although anyone can become dependent on or addicted to barbiturates some groups of people run additional risks. People over the age of 65 are particularly vulnerable to the dangerous side-effects of barbiturates. It is also dangerous to give to pregnant women, as the barbiturates pass to the fetus and can result in the new-born baby experiencing withdrawal. Barbiturates also have interactions with many medications.
Much like opioids, the body builds up a tolerance to barbiturates fairly quickly. This means that the person needs more and more of the drug to get the same effect. Within 1 month of taking barbiturates daily, physical dependence on the drug can form. If the person stops taking barbiturates, they will experience withdrawal – which can be life-threatening. Barbiturates should always be taken and discontinued under medical supervision. Detox from barbiturates should be undertaken in a medical detox facility.
Symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal include:
There is a very small difference in dosage between an effective dose and an overdose, making barbiturates very dangerous. Due to their low cost, however, they are often still prescribed in developing countries. Overdose and physical dependence on prescribed barbiturates is still a real concern in these countries.
This doesn’t mean that people in the US are immune to the effects of these drugs; just that they are less commonly used. Anyone who takes barbiturates still needs to measure their doses carefully and follow their doctor’s advice. The longer someone takes barbiturates, the narrower the gap between an effective dose versus a life-threatening dose becomes. Anyone taking barbiturates for more than 2 weeks becomes more at risk for overdose.
If you think that someone has overdosed on barbiturates (or any other drug) call 911 immediately.
Detox from Barbiturates
Detox is often the first step in a more comprehensive treatment plan for barbiturate addiction. During detox in a medically-assisted detoxification program, such as ours at Lakeview Health, the patient is under the direct care and supervision of medical professionals on a daily basis. As they begin to experience withdrawal symptoms, the team is able to administer medications that help keep the patient comfortable and safe.
Withdrawal from barbiturates can be fatal and stopping cold-turkey is not advised. More than 66 percent of people who go through detox and withdrawal for barbiturates can experience a few days of delirium. More than 75 percent of people will experience one or more seizures, especially if they are taking barbiturates to treat epilepsy. Withdrawal symptoms usually persist for about 8 days, but can extend to 2 weeks. Doctors usually taper the dosage of barbiturates during detox to minimize withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the patient’s needs and specific symptoms, other medications might be prescribed.
Considering the potentially life-threatening dangers of barbiturate withdrawal, it is essential to seek a qualified medical detox program and access to supportive therapeutic interventions. A rehabilitation treatment center, such as Lakeview Health, can provide the medical and psychological support you or your loved one needs.
Behavioral Treatments for Barbiturates
Behavioral treatments for barbiturate abuse involve “talk therapy” or counseling. Counseling is a vital part of treatment for any substance use disorder.
These therapies focus on introspection, mindfulness-techniques, teaching emotional intelligence and facilitating changes in your life that will assist you in your recovery journey.
Therapeutic treatments for barbiturates that are available at Lakeview Health include:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you to identify negative thought patterns so that you can change your reactions and reduce distress appropriately. It can help you recognize distortions in your thinking patterns and gain a better understanding of the behaviors and motivations of others.
Dialectical-behavioral therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on both acceptance and change. The person learns to accept past experiences and behaviors while also learning strategies to change negative behaviors. It incorporates both the mind and body and includes practical techniques to cope with trauma and stress.
There are also trauma-informed therapies that involve a focus on addiction as a response to trauma. Working through the trauma and how it has affected the person’s life can help the person understand how it may have fueled their addiction and other unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Engaging in therapy in a group setting offers an opportunity for people to interact with others and see that they are not alone with their addiction. Group therapy allows people to put new thinking patterns and communication exercises into practice.
The family of someone with barbiturate addiction can benefit from therapy sessions as well. Addiction can affect all members of the family, and learning to understand and deal with the addiction is vital for everyone.
During this type of therapy, counselors use activities to help improve a patient’s mental well-being as well as their physical health. It can include outdoor activities, exercise and art therapy. It can help promote socialization, stress relief and much more. These therapies allow individuals to participate in activities and events that can help them work through challenges and insecurities.
Cost of Treatment for Barbiturate Addiction
Treatment costs for barbiturate addiction will vary based on each person’s clinical needs and their insurance coverage or ability to pay out of pocket. Lakeview Health works with most major health insurance providers and our team does everything they can to ensure the insurance verification process is simple and stress-free.
If the patient does not have insurance coverage, the admissions team can work on a payment plan. Providing treatment is the main priority.
Seek Treatment for Barbiturate Addiction at Lakeview Health
If you think that you or a loved one has a problem with barbiturates, please reach out to Lakeview Health today at 866.704.7692 for more information. Our team has experience treating people from a range of backgrounds, giving each person the tools that they need to recover from substance use.
Taking the first step towards recovery can be daunting, but knowing your options for care is paramount to your success. Fill out the form below and one of our team members will reach out to help you get started.