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Barbiturate Addiction: Symptoms, Effects, and Risks

Barbiturates are sedative drugs that are designed to help people sleep. They are also prescribed for anxiety and to control convulsions. Unfortunately, these drugs can lead to dependence that is difficult to overcome without professional barbiturate addiction treatment.

What Are Barbiturates?

Barbiturate medications are prescribed to treat seizures, muscle spasms, and anxiety. They are depressants that suppress the nervous system to enact their effects. Barbiturates were more prevalent in years past, and many physicians prefer other medications like benzodiazepines to treat the same conditions.

Sedative-hypnotic drugs are the fifth most common cause of death from overdoses, with barbiturates being one of the most common options.[1] A barbiturates overdose is often fatal.

There are many different types of barbiturates, and they fall under Schedule II, III, and IV according to the Controlled Substances Act. The most common barbiturates include Amobarbital(Amytal®), Butabarbital (Butisol®), and Phenobarbital (Donnatal®). Other options include Fiorina, Seconal, Nembutal, and Pentothal. These drugs belong in the sedative-hypnotic class of drugs.

Some of the most common street names for this drug include barbs, yellows, yellow jackets, red birds, and reds.

Barbiturate Addiction and Abuse

A barbiturate addiction can be diagnosed according to certain criteria. If you feel cravings for this drug and feel that you can’t function without it, you may be addicted. This is also true if you experience withdrawal symptoms when not taking it.

Signs of Addiction to Barbiturates

The presence of withdrawal symptoms is a clear indicator that someone may be dependent on the substance. Withdrawal symptoms occur when your body can no longer function properly without the presence of barbiturates. You may feel sick as a result.

Other signs of addiction include watery eyes, a runny nose, moodiness, fatigue, and muscle weakness.

Effects of Barbiturates Abuse

Barbiturate abuse can affect the brain and body in many ways. Because these drugs promote sleepiness, abuse can cause fatigue, slurred speech, forgetfulness, and difficulty concentrating. Many people also experience relaxation and euphoria, especially when injecting or snorting the drug. Abusing the drug also increases the risk of barbiturates overdose symptoms.

Dangers of Long-Term Barbiturate Use

Physical dependence and tolerance are two common symptoms of long-term barbiturate use. Once you take these drugs for long enough, it will be difficult to function without them. It may be difficult to sleep without them, and you may feel more anxious than before.

It can also damage the brain and cause memory loss, depression, and reduced cognitive function. Since the liver metabolizes this drug, this organ may become damaged as well.

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Barbiturates Quick Reference Chart

Drug Category Commercial & Street Names DEA Schedule Administration
Amobarbital Amytal®, barbs, downers, goofballs Schedule II Oral, IV, rectal
Butabarbital Butisol®, sleepers, sekkies, blockbusters Schedule III Oral tablet, IV
Phenobarbital Donnatal® Schedule IV Oral tablet, liquid elixir

Statistics on Barbiturate Use, Misuse, and Addiction

Barbiturate poisoning treatment is necessary when someone misuses or overdoses on this medication. As of 2021, drug overdose deaths have gone up 15%.[2] Barbiturates are one of the most abused sedative-hypnotic drugs after benzodiazepines, and their use poses a significant threat.

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Can You Overdose on Barbiturates?

It is possible to overdose on these drugs when you take too many of them at once or when you misuse them. It is also possible to overdose on barbiturates when you mix them with other sedative-hypnotic drugs. Mixing them with alcohol could also have dangerous consequences.

Signs and Symptoms of Barbiturates Overdose

An overdose presents symptoms of confusion, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. Many people will fall unconscious due to the hypnotic (sleep-inducing) nature of these drugs.

Their breathing will also become very shallow, and some may stop breathing completely. Others may have very slow heart rates, and it is possible for the heart to stop if it starts beating too slowly.

Most barbiturates, like phenobarbital, are quickly absorbed into the body and have a peak around two to four hours after administration.[3] If one takes too much orally or mixes it with other substances, this is when an overdose is most likely.

If a person snorted or injected the substance, the overdose symptoms would be almost instant.

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

A person who has overdosed must receive medical attention as soon as possible. This will increase their chance of survival. Always call for medical help if you find someone who has overdosed.

How Are Barbiturates Taken?

Some barbiturates are pills, while others are liquid. Oral pills should be swallowed whole. Liquid barbiturates should also be swallowed according to the prescription’s instructions. Misusing the drug makes the chance of addiction more likely.

Many people will crush and snort barbiturate tablets or melt them down and inject them. Others may take large doses of barbiturates at once.

Mixing Barbiturates with Other Drugs

You should never mix barbiturates with alcohol, as it may lead to an overdose, or your heart may stop. You should also avoid mixing barbiturates with other sedative-hypnotic drugs, as the same result may occur.

Barbiturates Addiction Treatment

Treating a substance use disorder may begin with detox to rid the body of harmful toxins. Once the natural state is restored, you are free to focus more on sobriety and recovery. After detox, the next level of care is Partial Hospitalization Programs or partial care. These are considered full-time treatment programs that still offer the flexibility to sleep at home.

After more intensive care has been completed, an Intensive Outpatient Program should follow to support long-term relapse prevention and lifelong recovery. A full continuum of care last between 90 days to several months or a year, depending on the severity of your disorder

Dual Diagnosis for Co-Occurring Disorders

Barbiturates often affect a person’s mental health in a negative way. You may feel more depressed when taking this medication. You may also feel more anxious than usual when you don’t use it. This can make it difficult to live a normal and mentally-healthy life without barbiturates.

Many barbiturate users may have anxiety and depression, in addition to substance use disorder. If you’re struggling with both a mental health disorder and substance misuse, addressing each condition separately with co-occurring disorder treatment is critical for long-term recovery.

Barbiturate Withdrawal Management Treatment

In most cases, Barbiturate acute withdrawal lasts a few days or a week, with residual effects lasting longer. Detoxing from harmful toxins can be a difficult process, but professional treatment can make it safer and more comfortable. Managing withdrawal symptoms with therapy and medication will ease the transition from dependence to freedom.

Drugs Used in Barbiturate Withdrawal Management

There are not many drugs used in barbiturate withdrawal management, but OTC options like Advil® may be used to reduce the pain.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Do Doctors Prescribe Barbiturates?

These drugs are often prescribed to those who have sleep problems or anxiety. Some doctors may also prescribe barbiturates to those who suffer from seizures. Barbiturates were more popular in years past, and many doctors prefer to use other drugs, like benzodiazepines, to treat the same conditions.

What Are the Complications of Taking Barbiturates?

A major complication is dependence. However, not everyone who takes barbiturates will become dependent. You are more likely to develop a dependence when misusing the drug.

Another complication is overdosing, but this is also more likely when you misuse the drug or mix it with other substances like alcohol or sedatives.

Are Barbiturates and Benzodiazepines the Same?

Many people confuse these two drugs because they can treat many of the same conditions and work in similar ways. However, benzodiazepines are prescribed more often because they don’t have as many side effects and are slightly less addictive.

What Happens If You Mix Alcohol with Barbiturates?

Alcohol and barbiturates work together to enhance their effects when taken at the same time. This creates an intense sedative effect that can be dangerous and can lead to a coma or death.


  1. Addiction to prescription drugs. Harvard Health. (2014, December 2). Retrieved from on May 18, 2023.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, May 11). U.S. overdose deaths in 2021 increased half as much as in 2020 – but are still up 15%. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from on May 18, 2023.
  3. Barbiturates – statpearls – NCBI bookshelf. (n.d.) Retrieved from on May 18, 2023.
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