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Barbiturate Addiction

Sections: What Are Barbiturates? | Types | How They Take Hold | Signs & SymptomsEffects | Withdrawal | Treatment | Hope

What Are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are a category of drugs that function as nervous system depressants. Because the nervous system is responsible for controlling nearly every function of the body’s many muscles and organs, reducing or slowing its activity can cause significant muscle relaxation, lowered heart rate, slowed breathing, etc. Barbiturates were often prescribed in the past for things like seizures, insomnia, and chronic headaches, but their use in medicine is much less common today.¹


Types of Barbiturate Drugs

Barbiturates are available in different chemical formulations to treat a variety of symptoms and conditions. Examples of common barbiturate medications include the following:¹

  • Amytal (amobarbital)
  • Fortabs (butalbital, aspirin, and caffeine)
  • Butisol (butabarbital)
  • Seconal (secobarbital)
  • Nembutal (pentobarbital)
  • Fioricet (butalbital, acetaminophen, and caffeine)

How Barbiturate Addiction Takes Hold

Barbiturates create a strong relaxed feeling that can be quite pleasurable. However, factors like genetic predisposition and changes to brain chemistry are the primary physiological mechanisms of addiction. It is important to remember that barbiturate addiction isn’t just about wanting to feel good—it’s a medically defined disease with a clear physical basis.

A person prescribed a barbiturate for a seizure disorder may take an extra dose out of desperation and accidentally trigger an addiction. Or, someone who is already addicted to a stimulant drug may take a barbiturate drug to calm them down from an excitable, overactive stimulant high (counteracting an “upper” with a “downer”).²


Identifying a Barbiturate Addiction: Telltale Signs and Symptoms

Drugaddictsittingonthefloor15197656755674136Like any drug addiction, excessive use of barbiturates can have significant effects on a person’s health. Physically, barbiturates can cause symptoms like the following:

  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Intoxicated feeling (similar to being drunk on alcohol)
  • Difficulty walking
  • Slurring of words
  • Confusion
  • Lowered inhibitions (doing things that they might otherwise find risky or embarrassing)
  • Overall appearance of being “slower” or “sleepier”
  • Coma or death (in the case of an overdose)


There are also a number of mental, emotional and behavioral repercussions of barbiturate addiction:

  • Isolation, withdrawal from even close friends and family
  • Increased defensiveness, particularly when confronted concerning changes to their health, behavior, or medication use
  • Sleeping more than usual (due to constantly depressed nervous system)
  • Increased feelings of depression
  • Lack of interest in former hobbies

How Barbiturates Affect the Brain and Body

Barbiturate drugs are classed as sedative medications, as they chemically inhibit brain activity. The natural mechanism of this is a neurotransmitter known as gamma-aminobutyric acid—or GABA—which inhibits (or “shuts off”) certain brain activity when necessary.

Barbiturate drugs attach themselves to the receptors for GABA, triggering the “shut off” process and inhibiting brain activity, just as the neurotransmitter would normally do. This allows a person to imitate GABA function and sedate themselves on demand, as needed. Over time, a person can build a tolerance, leading to higher doses and increased risk of addiction.³


The Dangerous Reality of Barbiturate Withdrawals

When a person has been taking barbiturates for a long time, withdrawal symptoms can be incredibly severe. In fact, attempts to go “cold turkey” or detox without professional help can be life-threatening.

Common symptoms of withdrawal include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Uncontrollable tremors
  • High fever (extremely dangerous)
  • Seizures, convulsions
  • Anxiety, irritability
  • Hallucinations, delirium

Getting Professional Treatment for an Addiction to Barbiturates

When it comes to treating barbiturate addiction, it is of the utmost importance that the process is overseen by experienced medical professionals and addiction recovery specialists. While an addiction to something like nicotine is relatively safe to give up altogether, quitting barbiturates is not something that should ever be done at home. The symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal are intense and can very quickly become a medical emergency.


Professional inpatient or outpatient treatment at a barbiturate addiction rehab center is one of the safest, most comfortable, and most effective ways to get help. After admission to a program, patients go through barbiturate detox, during which they receive fully monitored medical care. In this controlled environment, the barbiturate drugs can be safely tapered off rather than suddenly withheld.

Talk Therapy

Once the cravings of the physical addiction are under control and withdrawal symptoms no longer pose a risk to the individual, he or she will be able to begin a variety of therapies and learn skills for maintaining sobriety and managing various life challenges outside of the program. The patient is supported by a team of compassionate rehab professionals throughout his or her program, and individuals often find strength in their relationships with others in recovery.

Usually, residential treatment programs will prohibit clients from having any contact with anyone off-site for some period of time at the beginning of the program. While this can be challenging for some, it is absolutely necessary to limit distractions and stressors from the outside world.

Professional rehabilitation programs also typically offer a variety of post-treatment resources designed to help individuals successfully transition out of rehab and back into regular life. Examples of such resources include job placement assistance, life skills classes, and recovery-friendly housing opportunities.

Find New Hope at Yellowstone Recovery

At Yellowstone Recovery in Southern California, we provide safe, understanding care to anyone seeking barbiturate addiction treatment.

Our full range of rehabilitation programs includes the following:

  • Residential treatment – primary care
  • Residential treatment – extended care
  • Outpatient treatment (aftercare for former residential clients)
  • Intensive outpatient (IOP) treatment (for those who do not need barbiturate detox)
  • Sober living

Our residential treatment program starts with an intensive 30-day primary care experience that allows clients to focus on themselves without distraction. Through a combination of 12-step meetings and counseling sessions on-site, residents work through personal issues and learn valuable coping strategies and life skills. This is followed by a 60-day extended care program, which focuses primarily on finding a job and becoming self-sufficient.

If you’re addicted to barbiturates and you’re ready to get back to doing what you love in life, let the experts at Yellowstone Recovery help you get there. Call us today at (888) 941-9048 to get started.






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